Very much under the radar all season in baseball was a really great story in Colorado — the comeback of Justin Morneau, one of the best Canadian players ever in baseball history.
Morneau was putting together a solid Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Twins when he suffered a major concussion in 2010 after he was kneed in the head in a play at second base. His post concussion symptoms were so severe there was talk about whether he would ever be able to play again. A second concussion in 2011 nearly ended his career.
Morneau was very much talked about in the past sense the last few years. He was called a shell of his former self. It was tragic. He hit more than 30 home runs three times with the Twins, drove in over 100 runs four times, hit over .300 twice, won an MVP in 2006 and finished second in the MVP vote in 2008. Really, he seemed certain for the Hall of Fame. He hit for average, he hit for power, he drove in a ton of runs (470 RBIs in four seasons). He even helped Team Canada beat Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t just the best Canadian in MLB, he was one of the top 5 players in the game, period.
Then 2010 came along. Morneau was having his best year ever — he was hitting .345 with 18 HRs and 56 RBIs in early July (literally the 81st game of the year — the midpoint of his season) when he took a knee to the head while making a hard slide at second base against the Toronto Blue Jays. He developed severe post-concussion syndrome symptoms and did not return to play the rest of the year.
Morneau tried to play in 2011, but a variety of injuries held him back, including a second concussion. For anyone who has dealt with concussions knows, when they pile up, they become more severe. Morneau had two in less than a year (plus a third concussion in 2005).
After playing only 69 games in 2011, and only hit .227 with four home runs, he managed to come back to the Twins in 2012, but he was nowhere near the same player who was dominant from 2006-2010. He hit .267 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs. Not bad for a lot of guys, but down considerably from his glory years where Morneau was almost an automatic .300/30/100 guy.
The next year, Morneau, despite signing a huge, long-term deal with Minnesota in 2010, was traded. He had another OK year, hitting .259 with 17 HRs and 77 RBIS. Late in the year, the Twins parted ways with him and traded him to Pittsburgh, where he played 25 games and didn’t hit a single home run. The end appeared near for Morneau.
Morneau quietly signed a two-year deal with Colorado for $14 million, well down from the 6-year, $80 million contract he signed several years earlier with Minnesota. He simply wasn’t the same player he once was and couldn’t demand a huge contract any longer.
Well, amazingly, without hardly anyone outside of Colorado noticing, Morneau went out and had a great year. He didn’t hit a huge number of home runs (17), but he did bat .319, his highest average since 2010 and the highest in a full season since 2006, which was good enough to win the National League batting title. So, on top of his MVP award, Morneau is now also a batting champion in a different league. Not very many people have ever done that. He also had 82 RBIs, the most he’s had since 2009.
So, is Morneau all the way back? 2015 will tell. He didn’t show the same power he had between 2006-2010, but the .319 average showed he is finally all the way back from his concussions and post-concussion syndrome. A guy who essentially lost four years of his career and who was counted out repeatedly the past four years won the batting title.
At this point, I don’t know if Morneau is headed to the Hall of Fame. He’d have to have four or five really good years to make his case. He is still only 33 and could have several more years left.