It was bound to happen.
Joe Mauer's decision to ask out of the lineup with a sore neck last week on the same day that Michael Cuddyer asked in with a sore wrist unleashed a torrent of fury from the media, with Mauer being labeled "soft" -- either explicitly or implicitly -- by no less than three local scribes.
The crux of all three pieces linked above is that Mauer ought to set a tone for his teammates by forcing himself into the lineup and playing through pain. Apparently, there's some sort of unspoken honor code that is being violated by Mauer's lack of eagerness to play when he deems himself physically unable. One of the articles went so far as to suggest that the backstop would be fulfilling his duty as a leader by playing hurt and striking out three times.
Never mind that Mauer -- whose neck strain has only tacked onto leg problems that have bothered him all season and sapped his production -- hadn't sat out an entire game since coming off the disabled list in mid-June. And never mind that Cuddyer, who is cast against Mauer in all three articles as some sort of heroic iron man, missed nine games earlier this month after hurting his own neck during batting practice.
No, there's an axe to grind, because the highly paid and soft-spoken Mauer is an easy target for columnists who have run out of scapegoats in this joke of a season. What exactly would he be accomplishing by talking his way into the lineup for this completely irrelevant club? Playing poorly in a meaningless game and exposing himself to further injury risk?
What should be obvious is apparently not to everyone, so let's put it out there: an injured player is NOT helping his team by taking the field against his better judgment. This is a lesson we've learned many times before, like when Mauer rushed himself back in spring training, and when Nick Blackburn withheld an achy elbow from the team last year on the way to career-worst numbers, and when Cuddyer battled through numerous ailments back in 2008 to finish with a sub-.700 OPS.
You don't turn into one of the game's premier players by being a sissy. This perception that Mauer is "soft" is being perpetuated by accusatory columnists and a manager that seems oddly reluctant to stick up for his star player. For his part, the catcher has tried his best to fight through a mysterious and debilitating ailment that has surely frustrated him more than anyone else.
Even setting aside the neck injury, it'd probably be in the team's best interests at this point to shut Mauer down for the season with an eye on getting him strong and healthy for 2012. Contrary to what you might have read, brazen stupidity is not an admirable trait.