Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The sad end for Chuck Knoblauch

I remember Chuck Knoblauch.  He was a second baseman who came up with the Minnesota Twins in 1991 and had a stellar year.  He was American League Rookie of the Year, and played a key role in their Cinderella World Series Championship.

But his career as a whole was not a great one.  He had a few good years in the mid 90s but fell out of favor with the local fans by insisting on being traded.  He ended up with the hated New York Yankees. Minnesota fans - generally among the best behaved in the game - jeered and booed him.  Very unusually, they even threw things at him.

His fielding went first.  Soon he was routinely launching throws past the first baseman.  A move to the outfield did not help.  Eventually he was traded to the lowly Kansas City Royals.  By now he was not hitting much either.  He was released and not offered a position by anyone else.

So, what finally happened to Chuck Knoblauch?  I found the answer in a market in Alsace... row down...

I meant to quit right there.  Just another minor post that makes a bit of harmless fun out of the fact that a player I mildly disliked had the same name (it means garlic) as a variety of German sausage.  But sometimes a story keeps going even after you thought you had wrapped it up.

Because the story of Chuck Knoblauch really does have a sad end.

Playing well is not enough when you wear a Yankee uniform.  Excellence is demanded.  "Knobby" started to make some notable mental errors.  In a post season game in 1998 he stood and argued with an umpire while a ball was still in play.  An alert Cleveland base runner scored all the way from first.

His fielding deteriorated.  Much like the pitcher "Nuke" Laloosh in the classic movie Bull Durham you never quite knew where his throws to first would end up.  He once hit the mother of sportscaster Keith Olberman square on the head.

On June 16th, 2000 he hit bottom as a ball player.  He made three throwing errors in six innings before "voluntarily" leaving the game.  He then put on this street clothes and left the stadium while the game was still in progress.

For my non baseball fan readers I will point out that both of these deeds - asking to be taken out of a game and then abandoning your team with a game in progress - are Unthinkable Acts in baseball tradition.  It brings to mind a quote from Bull Durham. Witless pitcher "Nuke" Laloosh asks his catcher:

   "How come you don't like me?"

   "Because you don't respect yourself, which is your problem.
     But you don't respect the game, and that's my problem."

When the Kansas City Royals don't want you any more your career as a player is over. And with his attitude Knoblauch could not have expected to find work as a coach or scout.

Things seemed to go from bad to worse.  He divorced his first wife in 1997.  He pleaded guilty to domestic assault on his second wife after an incident where he choked her.  They divorced in 2010.  He is now married for the third time.

He was named in the investigations regarding performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Eventually he was allowed to avoid testifying when he simply admitted that he had used such substances...and that they had done him no good.

He is one of the few players from the 1991 Twins who never comes to reunions.  He has four World Series rings but his only friend in the baseball world is a journeyman player he got to know in the final twilight of his career.  When he sold the condo that had been his home during his playing days he told the real estate agent to "just throw all the junk away".  Looking in boxes she found among other things his Gold Glove Award.

In the few interviews he has given post baseball he seems puzzled, listless.  His was such a meteoric rise.  And such a complete fall.

It brings to mind another Bull Durham quote.  A frustrated and intoxicated "Crash" Davis holds up the arm of the young pitching phenom and says:

"You see this?  This arm is worth a million dollars.  All the parts of me together aren't worth fifty cents a pound."

Although for the record the Knoblauch sausage did cost a bit more than that.

But it is what our society does with athletes.  We find them young.  We train them hard.  We make their path in life easy, so very easy that maturity and responsibility rarely develop.  We laud them, we worship them, these Demigods in pinstripes or shoulder pads.

Then when the knees, or the timing, or the stamina slip....we abandon them.

Shed no tears for Chuck Knoblauch.  He made a lot of money in his career.  Most of the young men pursuing their "hoop dreams" or their NFL contract, or their signing bonus get discarded long before they attain any success.  They limp along on their bad knees, telling tedious stories of past greatness.

More sausage ground up and spit out by the sports machine.

It sounds as if Chuck Knoblauch has found some peace.  He is married again.  He has two children. He atypically for his peers did not lie about his using performance enhancing drugs.  When asked why he did not attend a reunion of the 1991 World Series team he said he did not think he could stand having his kids hear him booed.

In this at least he seems to have found wisdom.

 He has admitted his guilt, paid the legal penalties.

And when a man has learned that his true stature is how he stands in the eyes of his children he may at last have become a real man.

He is not my favorite Old Ball Player.  But if he had the courage to step back on the field I would not boo him.

Update 24 July, 2014

The news of the day is that Knoblauch has been arrested again, this time for assaulting his current wife.  The details are sordid.  He is said to have been drunk and to have beaten her in a room where one of their children was sleeping.  The Minnesota Twins have quite properly cancelled his induction into the team's Hall of Fame, scheduled for one month from today.

Legally of course Knoblauch is innocent until proven guilty.  Morally however there can be little doubt that he is a troubled, disgusting individual.  It is to be hoped that his next uniform is blaze orange.

Is there ever a point at which redemption becomes impossible?  C.S. Lewis had some interesting thoughts on the matter.  It was in a somewhat different context but he proposed the theory that if a first Fall from Grace required a certain amount of atonement, a second would require that amount squared and a third would require that the amount be cubed.  So as Knoblauch's sins increase linearly the measures he would have to take to get right with his former fans and fellow citizens increase exponentially.  I doubt he has it in him.

My thoughts and prayers to the family of this man.  They deserve far better.

Chuck Knoblauch is now the poster boy for spoiled, entitled, greedy athletes who treat the world, even that part of it that should be dearest to them, with contempt.
Update 11 August, 2014

For a post that started out being about sausage and that was probably tossed together in about 15 minutes this one has generated quite a bit of interest.  And some criticism.  As I have tried to make entirely clear, I have no sympathy whatsoever for domestic abusers.  But after much reflection I have decided that the piece is in fact better when I delete one sentence.  I have not done this before in over three years of regular posting, and am in fact a little reluctant to do so now.  But the reality is that I can't expect my readers to see the world through the perspective of an ER doctor, and that their misconstruing my intent is through no fault of theirs.

Besides the subsequent behaviour of Mr. Knoblauch has cast a darker shadow on the entire matter.

Thanks to the anonymous poster who suggested the ideas came through better for this - one time only - post facto editing.  T


Honeybee said...

Good one, T.

Katie said...

You can understand a man choking his wife, but you can't forgive it? I dont see what the difference is and you are actually condoning violence against women with that type of statement.

Tacitus2 said...


No. I don't condone violence against women in any form. I abhor it and when this sort of stuff comes through my ER I urge women to press charges vigorously. I let my professional mode down just a little and speak of such men as contemptable cowards who need to have the greater force of society come down on them hard.

In my work I see so much stuff...substance abuse, mental illness. I see not only women getting abused but elders, men...society still seems to have some residual taboos on child abuse so that is thankfully less frequent.

I don't understand this in the sense that I could put myself in that mindset and see how it could make sense to do it. I understand it only in the "pattern recognition" way.


Anonymous said...

This is a well written and informed piece on Knobs. Thanks for that, but you should consider taking out that part about understanding a man choking his wife. It's not funny in anyway. Hint, take it out and this becomes a classic piece. Leave it and it draws all the attention. Not to mention it's a fucked up thing to say.

Tacitus2 said...

I regret that part of the essay. It did not come across the way I had intended it. I have a few misgivings about changing things that I write but agree that the latest sad chapter in this saga makes the whole story sadder and nastier.
If I delete it I hope readers will not think me to be dishonest...