Top 100 Yankees of All-Time...#89, Chuck Knoblauch

Chuck Knoblauch was always the guy that stirred the drink on teams. He wasn't the type of player that could carry a team on his own, but the teams he played for would not have been the same without him. He brought speed, defense and tenacity at the plate to four different championship teams. Sadly, a freakish throwing problem likely put an end to "Knobby's" career, but he easily makes this list as our Greatest Yankee #89.

The pesky right-hander quickly earned a reputation as a difficult out.  Knoblauch's specialty was crowding the plate and using his quick line-drive stroke to punch balls to right field.  He rarely bunted for base hits, but his speed allowed him to stretch singles into doubles.  Speed was the most prolific part of the second-baseman's game, as he averaged almost 40 steals a season as a Twin.

Knoblauch's arrival at the Metrodome was one of the final pieces in the Twins' puzzle.  Minnesota finished dead last in 1990, but turned everything around to not only make the playoffs, but win the World Series the very next year.  The Twins also added power-hitter Chili Davis to their lineup in '91, and Jack Morris was brought in to lead a young pitching staff.  

In his first season in the majors, Knobby hit .281 with just one homerun (ironically off of future teammate Mike Mussina) and 50 RBI.  He also stole 25 bases and struck out just 40 times compared to 59 walks.  He quickly earned a reputation for having a stellar glove at second base, despite his 18 errors that season.  His hard work didn't go unnoticed, and Knoblauch won the Rookie of the Year award, tallying all but two of the first-place votes.

Knoblauch became an All-Star in Minnesota over the next few seasons, being named to the team in 1992, '94, '96 and '97.  He hit a career-high .341 in 1996, stole 62 bases in 1997 and was on pace to break the single-season record for doubles in 1994 when the strike hit.  He also won his first and only Gold Glove award in 1997, when he committed just 11 errors (his career-best was actually 6 errors in '92) and turned a whopping 101 double plays.

The honeymoon didn't last forever for Chucky and the Twins.  Frustrated and annoyed at Minnesota's lack of ability to contend year after year, Knoblauch started lashing out.  He ended up demanding a trade to a contender in 1997 and, after a bidding war between Atlanta, Cleveland and the Yankees, was dealt to New York for Eric Milton, Danny Mota, Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman and $3 million.

Knoblauch was a big part of the Yankees' magical 1998 season, filling two holes as their leadoff hitter and everyday second baseman.  He hit for his lowest average up to that point, but slammed 17 homeruns and stole 31 bases.  People were concerned that Knoblauch was focusing too much on pulling the ball for power, and he was, but he was still a necessary, and vital, part of the team that won 114 regular season games.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

1998

Yankees

.265

603

17

64

117

31

76

70

.361

.405

1999

Yankees

.292

603

18

68

120

28

83

57

.393

.454

2000

Yankees

.282

400

5

26

75

15

46

45

.366

.385

2001 Yankees .250 521 9 44 66 38 58 73 .339 .351

The new Yankee had a miserable ALDS and ALCS in which he garnered just six combined hits and made one of the biggest bonehead plays in Yankee history.  In the 12th inning of game two of the ALCS against Cleveland, Knoblauch covered first base on a sacrifice bunt attempt.  The ball, fielded by Tino Martinez, hit the runner in the back and rolled away.  Instead of going after the ball, Knoblauch stopped to argue with the umpire, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

Knobby made up for it in the World Series with a game-tying, three-run homerun against the Padres in the first game of the World Series, but fans will probably not forget his block-headed play against Cleveland.

During the 1998 season, Knoblauch started showing signs of the problem that would eventually derail his career.  He developed a mental problem that caused him to repeatedly botch throws to first base.  Balls began sailing all over the place and only the fine defense of Tino Martinez at first base saved Knoblauch from looking yet more foolish.

The problem came to a head in 1999, when Knoblauch committed 26 errors, 14 of which were throwing errors.  His production at the plate remained at a high level however, so benching him wasn't an option.  Knoblauch hit .292 that year, with a career-high 18 homeruns and 28 more steals.  He came through again in the playoffs, cracking a game-tying homerun against the Braves in game three of the World Series.  The Yanks went on to win that game 6-5 in 10 innings.

Knoblauch was a vital cog

Knoblauch's throwing problems persisted however and, in 2001, manager Joe Torre was forced to move Knoblauch to left field.  Knobby took the change well, and learned the position quickly.  Better still, the move allowed the Yankees to call up Alfonso Soriano to man Knoblauch's old position. 

Unfortunately, Knoblauch's production couldn't stay consistent that season.  He began losing playing time to Shane Spencer and David Justice and saw more time at DH.  Knobby hit just .250 that season; he still managed to steal 38 bases, but he struck out more times than he walked for just the second time in his career.

The Yankees bade farewell to Knoblauch after the 2001 World Series loss to Arizona, and Knoblauch tried to continue his career as an outfield with the Kansas City Royals. After a dismal season, in which he hit just .210 and was injured more often than not, Knoblauch hung up his spikes for the 2003 campaign.  He isn't considered retired, but the chances of him returning are, unfortunately, slim.

Most analysts would blame the throwing problems for the downturn in Knoblauch's career. He was just 33 when he played his final season with the Royals, and the loss of confidence from the fielding issues are more than likely the reason for his all-too-early demise.  When Knoblauch was good, he was really good, and it's a shame that he was robbed of a more illustrious career.

While most people will remember Chuck Knoblauch for his enormous arm pad (which he used to draw 139 career hit-by-pitches) and throwing problems, we prefer to remember him as a vital cog in the Yankees 1998-2000 World Championship run.  Without Knoblauch, the Yankees would not have been the team that they were and, some would argue, they couldn't have won without him in the lineup, the field and the clubhouse.  For all these reasons, Chuck Knoblauch is our Greatest Yankee #89.


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