Justin Morneau doesn’t like to think about what could have been.
So when the New Westminster native was asked Wednesday at his retirement ceremony about the concussion that derailed his 2010 MVP-calibre season, he cracked a joke about it instead.
Morneau took a knee to the head from Blue Jays infielder John McDonald while sliding into second base during a game in Toronto, resulting in concussion symptoms that cost him half of that season and lingered for years.
“One of the lessons I wrote down here — you know, hard work, be humble — one of them says ‘don’t break up a double play with your head,”’ the 36-year-old said with a laugh during his news conference at Target Field. “It was one of those things, just a random play.
“I look at it now and it’s kinda funny because you can’t break up a double play anymore — what would have happened, you know? But what’s the point in (thinking) that, it doesn’t do you any good. What ifs and what could have beens don’t matter.”
Morneau, who was drafted by the Twins in 1999 out of New Westminster High School, played 11 seasons in Minnesota from 2003 to 2013. His best year came in 2006, when he won the American League MVP award while leading the Twins to a Central Division title.
The four-time all-star first baseman was batting .345 with a 1.055 on-base plus slugging percentage through 81 games when he slid head-first into McDonald’s knee.
But Morneau holds no hard feelings for McDonald, who approached him with a “genuine, heartfelt apology” years after the play.
“It was still on his mind years later that he had impacted my career in that way and obviously unintentionally,” Morneau said. “You have a lot of respect for a guy like that who can take time out of their day to do something like that.”
Morneau produced one more strong year after the concussion, winning an NL batting title with the Colorado Rockies in 2014.
He didn’t play last season but appeared in 58 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and finished his career with 1,603 hits and 247 home runs.
Morneau, who will now serve as a special assistant to baseball operations with the Twins, helping with the amateur draft and being a resource for player acquisitions, said he knew it was time to retire after going unsigned as a free agent last season.
“When you’re getting more calls to coach the kid’s T-ball team (than calls from MLB teams) … sometimes that decision gets made for you,” Morneau said with a smile. “As much as you want to play, and I think I’ll always have that desire to compete … it was time. The game lets you know.”
While he didn’t appear in a major league game in 2017, Morneau, a staunch supporter of Canadian baseball, did suit up for Canada’s World Baseball Classic team. He also played in each of the previous three WBC’s.
Cale Iorg, a teammate of Morneau’s on the 2013 WBC roster and son of former Blue Jay Garth Iorg, remembers Morneau organizing a street hockey game in his Arizona cul-de-sac after a day of training at the park.
“We all hung out, ate, swam in his pool and played some intense street hockey,” Iorg said in an email to The Canadian Press. “That was the only time I ever got to meet him, but what a great guy. I really enjoyed being around him.”
Morneau said Wednesday he’s looking forward to his new role with the Twins and the possibility of “having an impact on a younger player’s career.”
That’s something he already has some experience with.
Former Twins teammate Andrew Albers of North Battleford, Sask., said Morneau took him under his wings when he was called up to the big leagues in 2013.
“He was a big influence on me. He showed me the ins and outs up there,” Albers said. “Not only that but he exemplified how a professional baseball player should go about his business on a daily basis.
“He had tremendous character and leadership and he was such a hard worker. He exemplified what it took to get to that elite level.”
- Melissa Coutu, The Canadian Press