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Justin Morneau: What went wrong in 2005?

Posted at 9:53 AM on September 29, 2005 by David Zingler (9 Comments)

morneau-05a.jpg

It's no secret that Justin Morneau's first full big league has not gone as well as expected. He, better than anyone, knows that. "I am not doing what everyone expected me to do," the Twins first baseman bluntly commented. "Whatever numbers everyone else put out there, I had (no control of). I said before the year started that my only goal was to get back to the playoffs. We didn't do that."

He's heard the criticism, felt the heat and, although it hasn't always been easy, remained positive. "Obviously my confidence is not what it could be, but I try not to worry about that kind of stuff. I just try to have good at-bats and not let (the bad) stuff carry over. I've struggled more than I'd like to, but I've learned from it, I am learning from it and I will be better for it next year."

Here's something else positive that even he wasn't aware of: At age 24, Morneau has more career homeruns than Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell and Richie Sexson. "That's pretty good," he shrugged with a slight smile when learning of that fact. "Those guys have hit a lot of homeruns."

After smacking 19 homers in just 280 at bats last season, most observers thought that it was a forgone conclusion that he would become the first Twin in nearly two decades to reach the 30-homerun plateau. Stuck at 21, it won't happen. Thus, we are left looking for answers.

The frustration began last winter when the British Columbia native endured bouts of appendicitis, chicken pox, pleurisy and pneumonia. As a result, he was unable to build up the proper stamina. "The biggest thing for me this year is that I didn't have a full winter to work out -- I got weak," he explained. "The first month (of the season), I was fine, but after that my body started to get tired. That's when I lost a lot of confidence and started doing things I normally don�t do at the plate...this year I just want to be healthy, get weight lifting in for a good three months before spring training."

Since the Twins haven't had a power hitter for so long, they aren't quite sure how to handle one. With no veteran power presence to act as a mentor and offer protection in the line-up, Morneau has sometimes looked lost. "Losing (Corey) Koskie was big for me this year," the struggling slugger pointed out. "He is a big left-handed hitter similar to myself, he had good at-bats and I could learn from him. He was somebody that I looked up to and who took care of me a lot. That is the biggest difference this year for me -- not having him around. A guy like that - everyone could feed off of his at-bats. He was a leader. He was hurt a lot, but played and battled."

To his credit, Morneau has been resourceful, seeking the advice of accomplished opponents. "I talked to (Kansas City's Mike) Sweeney (on Tuesday) after my first at bat when he was on first base," he commented. "Just to have a guy like that to talk to, that's been through it, makes a difference for everyone else."

The fact that he's been playing with bone spurs in his left elbow for over half the season hasn't helped either, "(It hurts) every time I swing," Morneau confessed. "I had an MRI...it didn't show too much, but I am having one on my forearm (today) to see if anything is there."

While the reasons for his disappointing season range from bad luck to organizational ineptitude, the bulk of the responsibility lies on squarely Morneau's young shoulders. Theories such from coach-ability to immaturity have been floated, but you get the sense concentration may be an issue.

"The thing is that is so frustrating is that day to day, at-bat to at-bat -- I feel different," he said with a hint of resignation. "My first at-bat I will see the ball great, feel good and then I will get up there the next at-bat and for some reason I don't see it as well. That's been the most frustrating thing."


Comments (9)

Excellent synopsis of his season David. Gives me at least some hope for next year.

Posted by Moe | September 29, 2005 1:26 PM


I don't know what to think of Justin. I hope he will break out of it....but I would not bet on it. I bet Pete Rose would. hehe

Posted by michael | September 29, 2005 2:56 PM


Being ill during the winter is a very big deal. Pitchers also made adjustments and Justin was not able to adjust this year. He will be much better next year.

Posted by Dave Lawler | September 29, 2005 3:12 PM


Great insight to what was behind some of his struggles this year. Justin looks to have the talent to put up some bigger numbers next season and a healthy off-season with weight training should make a huge difference.

Posted by Tom | September 29, 2005 4:07 PM


I think Justin is safe. I can't imagine the Twins want ANOTHER David Ortiz situation. I think Justin will get every opportunity to show what he's capable of for at least two more years.

Posted by Bob Collins | September 29, 2005 5:52 PM


This is one the best stories on Justin I've read so far this year. It's refreshing to hear his honest view on his career so far.

Posted by lynn | September 29, 2005 10:42 PM


I have Hope for Justin Morneau, and I thought he had a ok '05 season, I always give him my support whatever is happen to him on the field, I do Hope he'll have a better season in '06 with the Twins. I'm glad to see Justin hit 21 Homer on 9/19/05,

Posted by Sarah | September 30, 2005 4:05 PM


Justin's health problems have been well documented and hopefully he can get through the winter months healthy and able to work out on a regular basis. You all have to remember that this is Justin's first full year in the majors and in my opinion he will, in time, fill all those expectations that other people put on him. The thing that will ultimately make Justin a bona fide major league baseball player is the expectations he puts on himself. You negative nellies out there will be talking out of the other side of your collective mouth's when you see the kind of numbers that Justin will put up in the very near future. If the Twins have any thoughts of rebounding in the near future they had make dam sure that Justin is a part of the process. Young players with his power and attitude don't come along every day and when he gets accustomed to a steady diet of major league pitching and this season was a big part of that learning process, he will have a tremendous future with the Twins.

Posted by Bill Jack | October 1, 2005 12:41 AM


I hope he has a good year, but reading all his reasons/excuses for last year makes me wonder. Public Relations people with the Twins and other teams would be smart to remaind their players to not make excuses for poor play. In the real world, excuses just don't play very well.

Posted by David | March 25, 2006 7:10 AM


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