Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Those Damn Yankees: Chuck Knoblauch

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Yankees are headed to town in the beginning of July. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the first of four Twins postseason defeats at the hands of the Bronx Bombers, so we thought we'd take the opportunity to look back at what has been a lopsided -- but always entertaining and memorable -- rivalry between the two franchises. Over the next couple weeks leading up to the Yankees series at Target Field, various writers at Twins Daily will look back at some of the Yankee moments that stick out in our minds.

Chuck Knoblauch

The name alone can bring up a wide-range of feelings for Twins fans. From World Series champion to the business end of a flying sea of hot dogs, Knoblauch suffered through some highs and lows in Minnesota. These opposite ends of the spectrum are what make his story so intriguing. 

One of the biggest high points in Knoblauch's career had to have been the Twins run to the 1991 World Series. The rookie second baseman would put up strong numbers in the World Series by hitting .308/.387/.346. In the pivotal seventh game of the series, Knoblauch and shortstop Greg Gange appeared to deceive Lonnie Smith. Terry Pendleton hit a clear double but Knoblach pretended to start a double play and Smith only made it to third base. This run would be critical in a tight game.

During his time with the Twins, Knoblauch compiled some very good on the field numbers. From 1991-1997, he hit .304/.391/.416 with 210 doubles, 51 triples, and 43 home runs. His best three-year stretch was from 1994-1996 when he batted .330/.422/.491. Before he was traded away, Knoblauch accumulated a career 37.8 WAR which puts him in some elite company in the Twins organization.

Knoblauch's Twins tenure didn't end the greatest as he suffered through some of the toughest years in Twins Territory. He wanted to go to a winning team and the Twins didn't look to be moving in that direction. The club would trade him to the New York Yankees following the 1997 season for a package of players. Minnesota got the best years out of Knoblauch and there would be some dark moments ahead for him.

Two future All-Stars, Cristian Guzman and Eric Milton were among the players that were part of the Knoblauch deal. In a strange turn of events, Knoblauch left town because he wanted to win and the players he was traded for would be part of Minnesota's new winning tradition. Here is how the package of players fared in their Twins careers:
  1. Eric Milton 14.7 WAR (6 seasons)
  2. Cristian Guzman 7.5 WAR (6 seasons)
  3. Brian Buchanan 0.3 WAR (3 seasons)
  4. Danny Mota 0.0 WAR (1 season)
While the Twins got back a value of 22.5 WAR, Knoblauch would produce 7.4 WAR during his time in a Yankees uniform. He would help New York to three consecutive World Series Championships from 1998 to 2000. Knoblauch had important home runs in the 1998 and 1999 series and the Yankees won the American League pennant every year he was with the team. 

Things weren't all positive during his years in New York. In 1999, he began to have a tough time making throws to first base. This condition would worsen enough in 2000 that he began to play more time at DH. In 2001, he didn't play a game at second as the team moved him to left field and this allowed Alfonso Soriano to slide into the line-up.

One of the most memorable moments in Metrodome history took place after Knoblauch moved to the outfield. When the Yankees visited Minnesota at the beginning of May 2001, things turned ugly in the outfield stands. It was "Dollar Dog Night" so fans had access to plenty of cheap ammo. Minnesota was still trying to get back to respectability in the AL so tickets were cheap. This lead to some poor decisions from the Metrodome faithful.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Twins took a three run lead on a Matt Lawton single. The fans had plenty of rounds of beer and hot dogs in them by this point in the game. As excitement rang from the crowd, hot dogs and other objects were thrown on the field.  PA Announcer Bob Casey did his best to calm to raucous crowd but it wasn't until manager Tom Kelly walked out and spoke with the fans that things would finally get back to order. 

Overall, Knoblauch put together some solid numbers in his 12-year MLB career. His post-playing career has been filled with more than one black eye and this has tarnished some of his on the field legacy. Some Twins fans will remember the solid second baseman that helped the club to win a championship. Others will think of flying hot dogs and steroid accusations. 

Either way, Knoblauch is a very polarizing figure. It also doesn't help that he was a damn Yankee.

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