Knoblauch gets first crack at Hall
Former second baseman spent bulk of his career in Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- There was a time in the 1990s when Chuck Knoblauch appeared well on his way to becoming enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y.A .304 hitter in seven seasons as the Twins' second baseman, Knoblauch was on a similar statistical path of Rod Carew, a Hall of Famer and former Twin. Add that to his trademark defense and all-around heads-up play on the diamond and Knoblauch seemed to fit the perfect mold of a Hall of Fame player. But following a trade to the Yankees before the '98 season, Knoblauch's career endured some setbacks that put his candidacy in danger. And now it will be up to the voters to see if that early success for Knoblauch will be enough to gain him induction into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. This year marks Knoblauch's first opportunity to be on the ballot. He's joined by fellow first-time players such as Tim Raines and David Justice. Candidates on the ballot must receive 75 percent of the vote to gain election. Results of the 2008 Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame election will be announced on Jan. 8. A .289 career hitter who tallied 322 doubles, 1,839 hits and 615 RBIs over his 12 years in the big leagues, Knoblauch was known just as much for the little things he did on the field -- little things like fundamental defense and taking advantage of his speed on the basepaths. Knoblauch stole 25 or more bases in 10 of those 12 seasons, and he finished with a total of 407 in his career. "If you are looking for an ideal second baseman -- range, base stealer, handler of the bat, catalyst, plenty of arm strength -- he was that guy," former Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of Knoblauch. After selecting Knoblauch as a shortstop in the first round of the 1989 First-Year Player Draft, the Twins moved the infielder to second base -- due to Greg Gagne's lock on the position -- and he thrived at the spot. When the Twins had the opening at second in Spring Training of '91, it was Knoblauch who earned the spot and helped push the club to the World Series in his rookie season. Savvy defensive plays were a part of Knoblauch's repertoire from the very beginning of his career. Just like the infamous one he made when he deked the Braves' Lonnie Smith in Game 7 of the World Series by pretending to field a ball in the eighth inning that actually had been hit into the outfield. The play delayed Smith's advance to third and kept him from possibly scoring the go-ahead run. But it was more than just Knoblauch's defense which helped the Twins capture their second World Series title in five seasons. After batting .281 in 151 games during the regular season, the '91 Rookie of the Year hit .350 in the American League Championship Series and .308 in the World Series against the Braves. Current Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was the third-base coach for Minnesota during Knoblauch's rookie season. He knew particularly well the type of talent that Knoblauch possessed, having managed him the previous season at Class A Orlando. "He was a solid defensive player," Gardenhire said. "A great student of the game. He ran the bases well. He played pretty well for the Twins. A stellar rookie season was just the start of Knoblauch's success in Minnesota. He went on to become a four-time All-Star while playing there, hitting over .300 in three of his final four seasons as a Twin.
Knoblauch had some great individual seasons during his seven-year stint in Minnesota, including '97, when he set the Twins' single-season record for most stolen bases (62). The 140 runs he scored in '96 are also a club record."He had the type of ability where you could hit him up at the top of the lineup and he's going to score a lot of runs," Ryan said. "He's going to take walks. He was a threat with the bat. He had a lot of those great attributes. Chuck was just a winning player." Ryan and Knoblauch have been forever linked, considering that it was the former Twins GM who orchestrated the deal which sent the cornerstone player to the Yankees in 1998 for four players and $3 million. It was a trade that Knoblauch had requested just one year into a five-year contract, having grown a tad frustrated with losing in Minnesota. The move didn't gain Knoblauch much accord with Twins fans, but it led to greater team success. Knoblauch would go on to win three straight World Series with the Yankees in 1998, '99 and 2000. That included a solid first season when he hit a career-high 17 home runs, as the Yankees won a then-AL record 114 games in '98. But it was during that span of time that his trademark defense began to slip. The once-failproof arm of the second baseman disappeared, as Knoblauch began having trouble making the routine throw to first base. In 2000, after two seasons with the Yankees and numerous throwing errors, Knoblauch began seeing more time at the designated-hitter position. He was eventually moved to left field before leaving the Yankees after the '01 season. Knoblauch then spent one year in Kansas City in '02, and it was after that season that he called it a career. Besides the decline he endured in his final few seasons, Knoblauch's candidacy took another hit when his name was included in the Mitchell Report. According to interviews in the Report with former Yankees assistant strength coach Brian McNamee, Knoblauch used human growth hormone in 2001. McNamee said that he injected Knoblauch at least seven to nine times that year. But while the focus currently is on what Knoblauch may or may not have done late in his career, those like Gardenhire and Ryan choose to focus on the player they knew during his time in Minnesota. "He really played the game the right way," Gardenhire said. "I always respected that of him and liked that about him. He came to play every day and he played the game hard."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.