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The curious case of Chuck Knoblauch
The Yankees acquired Chuck Knoblauch on February 6, 1998, and in Knobluach's four years in pinstripes, the Yankees played in four World Series, winning three. Yet anyone under Yankees employ during that time, and probably most hard-core Yankees fans, would agree that the trade proved something of a disappointment.
Knoblauch joined the Yankees on a Hall of Fame track. When his name came up on the Hall of Fame ballot this year, he received one vote. He has made far more news for being the most surprising invitee to the Feb. 13 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Roger Clemens' challenge of the Mitchell Report. Knoblauch clearly has no interest in returning the public eye, as the Committee has resorted to sending a subpoena to ensure his participation.
In the 12 years I've covered baseball, Knoblauch undoubtedly goes down as the oddest player I've met. He reported to Legends Field in 1998 eager to please; within a week, he had memorized the names of the nine reporters who travelled with the team. I recall sitting with him at Tampa International Airport that spring and chatting, as our wives were on the same flight coming down from LaGuardia.
He wasn't awful that first year, but he didn't give the Yankees what they expected, either, swinging often with an uppercut that produced a career high 17 homers and a disappointing .361 on-base percentage. And he displayed the first signs of those throwing yips that eventually doomed him.
He put up a pretty good 1999, but the yips surged in 2000, and in 2001, the Yankees switched him to leftfield. The more he struggled, offensively and defensively, the less he spoke with not only the media, but pretty much everyone.
Here's what fascinated me most about Knoblauch: In his four years with the Yankees, he had four distinct group of friends. He jumped from clique to clique, like Jill in Judy Blume's "Blubber." In 1998, he hung out with the devout Scott Brosius and Chad Curtis and their families. Then he divorced his wife, so in 1999, he joined Derek Jeter in what can probably best be called the Page Six crowd. He had a falling-out with Jeter in 2000 and started associating with Jason Grimsley - and you need only read this to know what they had in common. The Yankees let Grimsley go after 2000, and Knoblauch turned to reserve players Clay Bellinger, Todd Greene and Shane Spencer.
We all theorized at the time what in the world was going on with Knoblauch. Was he traumatized by his father's Alzheimer's Disease? His divorce? Could he simply not handle New York? But that was all guesswork, and Knoblauch, who could most certainly be engaging during specific junctures, had no profound answer for what had become of his career.
I look forward to seeing him at the Feb. 13 hearing, just to see what he looks like, if nothing else. But honestly, as a human being, you just hope that he has found the peace that so clearly wasn't there during the Yankees years.