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Remembering the Greatness that was Chuck Knoblauch

Chuck Knoblauch was a great player and an enigmatic person. With the recent announcement of his upcoming induction to the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame, it seems like an apt moment to remember the player.

Marilyn Indahl

To put it simply: Chuck Knoblauch is the second-best second baseman in the history of the Minnesota Twins organization. When the only guy better than you through 53 seasons is Rod Carew, second place doesn't look so bad.

Not that anyone remembered that when Knoblauch held Minnesota's front office at metaphorical gunpoint and forced a trade. But Knoblauch certainly remembers his departure, enforced by what can only be described as a nasty and embarrassing display by Twins fans on May 2, 2001. He'd never had a particularly warm welcome to the Dome between 1998 and 2000, but the throwing of hot dogs and bottles and batteries (and Tom Kelly being reduced to having to admonish his own fans) went hand-in-hand with Knoblauch's move into left field. He was closer to the fans; the fans clearly were too close to a breakup four years prior. And probably drunk.

Since his departure from baseball, Knoblauch has been something of a hermit - at least, by traditional retired-sports-player standards. He's avoided the sport like someone who would rather annex that portion of his life. Remember this from a story in the Star Tribune back in 2011?

The house holds no reminder that, 20 years ago, Knoblauch was a feisty 5-8 second baseman wrapping up a Rookie of the Year season with the Twins. There are no mementos from the 1991 World Series championship that followed, from the three titles he won in New York or from his four All-Star appearances. There are no hints of his 12 seasons in the majors at all.

The memories on his walls are of smiling faces in family photos. His living room is filled with board games.

Fifteen miles away, in the condo where Knoblauch spent his offseasons as a player, boxes line the walls. All of it is junk. That's what he told his real estate agent when he gave her instructions to toss the stuff.

She opened one of the boxes and found a Gold Glove.

So it's not really a surprise that he didn't turn up for the 20th anniversary of the 1991 World Series two years ago. You get the sense that he's fought his own internal battles - from not being able to deal with the spotlights that go hand-in-hand with being a pro athlete, to the fiasco with being named in the Mitchell report and being forced to testify, to the fact that it really seems like he refuses to even acknowledge baseball as a part of his past.

Through the entire story of Chuck Knoblauch, yes, it is easy to forget how good he really was as a second baseman for the Minnesota Twins. We've been through a lot since then, as has he. Let's put his legacy into context, so we can know and remember exactly what kind of player we had for seven seasons.

Top 3 Second Basemen by WAR in Twins History
Player Career WAR
Rod Carew 37.5
Chuck Knoblauch 33.6
John Castino 12.8

Carew accumulated 56.9 Wins Above Replacement for Minnesota, but 19.4 of those wins came after his move to first base in 1976. Castino, meanwhile, gets credit for every single win in spite of being a second baseman, primarily, in two seasons. I know, it's not ideal, but once you get past Castino the next guys on the list are Nick Punto, Tim Teufel, and Rob Wilfong.

If anything, the track record of mediocre second basemen manning the position over the last 53 years just goes to show exactly how good Knoblauch really was. Carew is a Hall of Famer, but if we're just talking about the Twins and we're just talking about second basemen, it's a closer race than you might imagine.

Through their age-28 seasons, which was Knoblauch's final season as a member of the Minnesota Twins, it was actually Knoblauch who had accumulated more value in his career. Carew would play four more seasons in Minnesota, finishing after his age-32 campaign, and we know about the turn that Knoblauch's career took, but we're not talking about whole careers. We're talking about the guy's career as a Twin.

If that hasn't convinced you that the guy is undoubtedly deserving of being ushered into the Twins Hall of Fame, let's compare him to his contemporaries. Looking specifically at 1991 to 1997, who would Knoblauch's contemporaries have been? Considering that 1991 was his age-22 season, here's the short list - including the player's age in 1991 just so we have a sense of context.

  • Craig Biggio (25, 4th year)
  • Roberto Alomar (22, 3rd year)
  • Delino DeShields (22, 2nd year)
  • Carlos Baerga (22, 2nd year)
  • Jeff Kent (23, debut in 1992)
From 1991 to 1997, these were the best young second basemen in baseball. Here's how each of those players fared in a number of categories in that period.

Chuck Knoblauch .304 .391 .416 276 11.2 9.9 .363 22.1 117.9 67.5 33.6
Craig Biggio * .296 .394 .452 197 11.6 12.5 .377 13.5 192.0 11.6 33.3
Roberto Alomar .314 .387 .469 232 10.6 9.3 .377 23.2 170.9 -24.3 29.2
Delino DeShields .265 .349 .365 314 11.2 16.4 .324 23.4 19.4 8.8 16.1
Carlos Baerga .299 .338 .442 50 4.9 9.0 .342 1.7 28.7 -12.6 15.7
Jeff Kent * .269 .324 .455 27 6.3 18.4 .339 -3.7 18.9 16.9 13.3

* = 1992 to 1997 only; Biggio was a catcher in '91, and Kent didn't debut until '92

Legend: wOBA = weighted on-base average; BsR = base running runs above average; Off = offensive runs above average; Def = defensive runs above average;
all stats courtesy of FanGraphs

There were other guys who did things better than Knoblauch. Biggio's combination of strike zone judgement and power made his offense the pride of the position in the National League while Alomar played that part in the American League; DeShields stole the most bases and was the best base runner. But in terms of overall value, you can easily build a case that Knoblauch was the game's best second baseman from 1991 through 1997.

The next fact doesn't necessarily build his case, but it shows how dominant he was: from 1994 through 1996, Knoblauch hit .330/.422/.491 while averaging 42 stolen bases and 56 extra-base hits.

I realize that, for some of you, this article is preaching to the converted. But for others, who don't really remember how good Knoblauch was or who, perhaps, are still hung up about how he left Minnesota - this post is your evidence. Chuck Knoblauch deserves to be in the Twins Hall of Fame because, and I'll end as I started, with something simple: he was that good, he deserves it, and 1997 was 17 years ago so it's time to move on.

Let's support Knoblauch in his induction in August. It's not going to be easy for him, partially for his own reasons but also because he doesn't seem to have very many memories about the game of baseball that he cherishes. Let's give him one.