The "yips" fascinate me. Jon Lester is the most recent example, but it's not a new phenomenon. Starting today, I'm doing a three week series on the most famous cases of baseball yips. This week is Chuck Knoblauch; the next two weeks will be Rick Ankiel and Mackey Sasser. ESPN has a great 30 for 30 short on the topic if you want to get a head start. Might as well watch Psych while you're at it.
Like me, you may have forgotten that Chucky Knoblauch had a very good career. Four-time All-Star, 1991 Rookie of the Year, 400 steals, and a lifetime .378 OBP. His career 44.6 WAR includes three years over 6. The teams he played on were great, winning the World Series four times. That's why it must be incredibly frustrating for Chuck that he is mostly remembered for being a terrible fielder.
Knoblauch was taken 25th overall by the Twins in the 1989 draft. It only took him a year-and-a-half to make his way to the majors. The Twins won the 1991 World Series and Knoblauch won Rookie of the Year, though his one home run (151 games) has to be the lowest for a ROY winner. Chuck's tenure in Minnesota was rocky, however. After seven seasons, he was granted his wish to be traded before the 1998 season.
As best I can tell, Knoblauch's yips only started after his trade to the Yankees. From 1991-1997, he averaged 143 games at second base. In those 143 games, Knoblauch committed an average of just nine errors. In 1998, Chuck had 13 errors in in 149 games. Not terrible. In 1999, things really fell apart. 26 errors. In 2000, he made 15 more in only 82 games. Although he kept playing in the majors—mostly as an outfielder—Knoblauch never played second base again.
You could make the argument that Knoblauch was on his way to a Hall of Fame career before the defensive issues hit. Through his age-30 season, he had a WAR of 44.1. Even with a natural aging curve, he was poised to be on the cusp of Cooperstown. For instance, Robinson Cano had a 45.3 WAR at age 30.
Knoblauch didn't handle the yips well. After a three-error performance in June of 2000, he left Yankee Stadium in the middle of the game. Here's Buster Olney's write-up:
The Yankees made a pitching change in the sixth inning, shortly after Knoblauch made his third error of the night, and while the rest of the infielders gathered at the mound and three outfielders met in center field, Knoblauch stood alone at second base, his hands on his hips, his frustration apparent in his expression. The inning ended on a ground ball to the shortstop Derek Jeter, Knoblauch circling behind first base to back up the play, as he has done so many times in his 10-year career.
Holding his glove in his right hand, Knoblauch descended the dugout steps and said something to Torre as he passed the manager on the bench before both headed for the runway that leads to the clubhouse. Torre returned shortly thereafter; Knoblauch did not.
Within minutes, Knoblauch left Yankee Stadium, according to uniformed personnel, and was driven away from the park by a clubhouse attendant.
Knoblauch said last month that he had two possible career paths: either he would solve his throwing problems, or he would ''take it to the house'' -- as in quit baseball. There was no immediate word during the game from the Yankees about what Knoblauch's intentions were when he left the field.