Sunday, November 14, 2004

Where are they Now?

Last week we took a look at Randy Bush, a player that spent his entire career in a Minnesota Twins uniform. This weeks feature is on a player, Chuck Knoblauch, who should have spent his entire career with the Twins. Chuck Knoblauch stepped into the Twins starting line-up in 1991 and transformed the Twins weakest positions into one of their strongest.



The 1990 Minnesota Twins finished in last place in the American League West. They had a platoon of second basemen in Al Newman, Fred Manrique and Nelson Liriano that combined for a .243 average and a .295 on base percentage. The next season chuck Knoblauch stepped in and batted .281 with an OBP of .351 on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. In the post season his remarkable play continued as he hit .326 while getting on base .423. Knoblauch helped take the Twins from worst to first.

His career in Minnesota continued to thrive. In 1994 he was on pace to break Earl Webb's major league record of 67 doubles before the season was cut short due to strike. He finished the season with 45 doubles in 109 games. Knoblauch hit career highs in homeruns and batting average in 1996 as he hit .341 with 13 homers. He had become the best second basemen in the league. Chuck Knoblauch played the game the way it was meant to be played, with 100% pure hustle. He was a great role model for any youth learning the game.



In August of 1996 Knoblauch said he wanted to be Twin his entire. He then signed a longterm contract with the team. The following year he stole a career high 62 bases and won the Gold Glove award. However, by the end of the 1997 season the losing in Minnesota started to get to Chuck. His relationship with Tom Kelly was on the rocks and an incident with a Twins fan gave him a bad rep in Minnesota. In September Knoblauch demanded a trade to a contending team. That offseason he was dealt to the Yankees. He finished his Twins career with an average of .304, an OBP of .384 and 276 stolen bases.

His first two years with the Yankees looked promising. Knoblauch hit 17 and 18 homeruns and the Yankees won two World Championships. However, two years removed from his gold glove season Knoblauch developed a mental tic in the field. After fielding the ball he would hesitate before making a throw to first. This caused a career high 26 errors. Midway through the 2000 season it was clear that Knoblauch would nolonger be able to play second base and he was moved to left field.

Returning to the Dome in 2001 marked one of the saddest moments I ever had as a Twins fan. Never before in my life was I embarrassed to call myself a Twins fan, but that was the case when Knoblauch returned. Here was a guy who helped lead the Twins to a World Championship, stole more bases then anyone else in team history, hustled his butt off for seven seasons and did everything that was asked of him. When upper management would not surround him with any other players he asked to leave. How did we repay Knoblauch? By throwing batteries at him in left field. He was booed and tormented to the point that Tom Kelly had to escort him to his position to get fans to stop throwing foreign objects.

After his downfall at second base Knoblauch's career quickly ended. By the start of the 2002 season he was playing with the Royals. His limited playing time and lack of production led to his retirement following the season. Where is Chuck Knoblauch now?

Today Knoblauch is still retired and at the age of 35 is watching more baseball then he had when he was playing in the majors. He is loving retirement and enjoys watching games from his home in Houston. He has been following the career of another Yankee very closely. Bubba Crosby was coached by Knoblauch's father growing up and Crosby helped lead his father's team to a state title in his final season of coaching at Bellaire High School. Bubba Crosby credits the Knoblauch's with a lot of his success today. In fact before the 2004 season began Chuck had Bubba Crosby over for dinner. Bubba's chances of making the Yankee roster were pretty slim. Knoblauch told him not to let the Yankees cut him. Bubba did just that. Having a great spring training he made the final roster (although he was sent down to the minors later in the season).

Knoblauch has been sited at many ballparks around the country. Only this time in the stands, not on the field. His return to the majors is very unlikely, but I will always cherish the years he spent in Minnesota. Hustling around the base paths and making great plays at second is his trademark. Part of me always hoped that he would make a Blylevenlike return to Minnesota, but Chuck has insisted that those days are behind him. Who knows, maybe one day he will be spotted at a Twins game cheering on his old team.

5 comments:

Jeremy A Hipps said...

Good article, but you leave out one of the primary reasons that he was disliked in Minnesota. His choking of a fan that asked for his autograph in a local resturaunt. I can understand not wanting to sign an autograph when you are at dinner with your wife, but that is no excuse for violence. In Minnesota, whether good or bad, we appreciate 'class acts' over ass-hole all stars.

James Zamjahn said...

Dear Kuke,

Thanks for the updates on all of my favorite old Twins. I do have one suggestion on a new weekly column. With all the Twins wheeling and dealing this off-season, I would like for you to write your opinions on each new pick up and lost free agent. Since it is hard to catch all the latest gossip on startribune.com, I think your comments will be much more positive then those out of the mouth of Patrick Ruesse.

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