His Houston condominium looks like an underused warehouse. His
rookie of the year plaque and his World Series ring, both won in
1991, are carefully hidden away. The walls of the condominium
are nearly bare, and there is enough open space for a pet
elephant. Though Chuck Knoblauch earns millions of dollars a
year, the spoils of wealth are nowhere to be found. Why the
Twins second baseman spends his off-season in an austere
apartment perched 11 floors above the Houston cityscape can be
distilled into two words: the view.
Knoblauch's icy hazel eyes twinkle as he gazes out his bay
windows. "It's mesmerizing," Knoblauch says of the vista. "I've
spent countless hours just looking out the window and reflecting
on my life. I don't go out much, and I don't have a lot of
things in my condo, so I end up spending a lot of time in the
off-season sitting here and thinking."
Away from his castle in the clouds, Edward Charles Knoblauch,
27, doesn't have a lot of time for contemplation. Generously
listed at 5'9" and 181 pounds, he is neither big nor strong nor
fast for a major leaguer; but through sheer hard work and
determination, over the last five years he has turned himself
into one of the game's elite players. "Chuck is one of the
brightest guys in baseball," Twins manager Tom Kelly says. "He
has become a player that I count on in the clutch. With his
knowledge of hitting and fielding and how to play batters, he's
shown that he's got the full package."
"I always try to be thinking about the next play I have to make
when I'm on the field," says Knoblauch. "But even now, when I
look out the window, I'm thinking about the situations that I'll
be in and the plays that I'll need to make."
Although his team tumbled to a 56-88 record last season,
Knoblauch posted career highs in batting average (.333), home
runs (11), RBIs (63), runs scored (107) and stolen bases (46).
He led all leadoff hitters with a .423 on-base average, and his
.985 fielding percentage ranked him second among American League
When Minnesota selected Knoblauch out of Texas A&M in the first
round of the '89 draft, then-Twins general manager Andy MacPhail
was publicly second-guessed for using his top pick on a
diminutive infielder who, with his cherubic face and apple
cheeks, looked like he should be playing Little League ball. But
MacPhail saw in Knoblauch a soft-handed solution to Minnesota's
decade-old problem of stone gloves at second base. MacPhail was
prescient. Though Knoblauch initially struggled in the field, he
jumped from Double A Orlando to the majors in just one year.
Knoblauch possesses the intuitive feel for the game that you
would expect from a coach's son. He established his reputation
as a quick thinker during the 1991 World Series, in the eighth
inning of a scoreless Game 7. Atlanta's Lonnie Smith was on
first base with no outs when Knoblauch duped him into believing
that a Terry Pendleton liner to left center was a grounder.
Knoblauch pretended to field the ball, and Smith hesitated as he
rounded second, costing the Braves a run. The Twins would go on
to win 1-0 in 10 innings.
"Chuck tried that play all the time in high school," says his
father, Ray. "Sometimes a guy is dumb enough to fall for it."
Ray, a former minor league pitcher who has spent 26 years
coaching at Bellaire High in Houston, gave Chuck his first glove
when he was four. As the youngest of six children, Chuck was
pampered as a baby, but he grew to have a Texas-sized temper.
When he was on the losing end of a game of Sorry or Monopoly,
Chuck would more often than not slam his fist on the board and
send the game pieces sailing.
"Chuck has always been really competitive," says his mother,
Linda. "I remember once in Little League when his team was
losing badly. He finally got so upset that he walked straight
off the field. He didn't even go back to the dugout."
Perhaps this explains why Knoblauch annually ranks among the
league leaders in batting helmets thrown. But no one could blame
him for being upset in 1994 when the players' strike
short-circuited his attempt to break Earl Webb's 63-year-old
mark of 67 doubles in a season; Knoblauch finished with 45
two-baggers in 109 games. That same year he came within four
games of breaking Jerry Adair's AL record of 89 consecutive
games without an error.
"There was one good thing, though, that came out of the strike,"
says Knoblauch, reaching for his wife's hand. "It gave me a
chance to get to know Lisa."
"Yeah, even though the strike was bad for baseball, it was great
for us," says the former Lisa Johnson.
One week before the strike, a mutual friend set up Chuck and
Lisa on a date, and the long layoff gave them a chance to spend
time together. The couple were married in November in St. Paul.
Today the Knoblauchs stay at home nearly every night, adding to
the list of more than 150 movies they've rented and watched
Even though Knoblauch doesn't get out much, he is the
second-most-popular athlete in the Twin Cities, right behind
Kirby Puckett. So for the Twins, it will be as much a public
relations problem as a baseball concern if Knoblauch is declared
a free agent at the end of the season.
"I'd like to finish my career with the Twins," says Knoblauch,
"but who knows if a new contract will get done?"
With that, Knoblauch turns and peers out at the hazy afternoon.
Heaven knows exactly what he's thinking, but it's certain to
have something to do with baseball.
COLOR PHOTO: J.D. CUBAN/ALLSPORT Knoblauch keeps an eye on the game even when his head is in the clouds. [Chuck Knoblauch]
COLOR PHOTO: J.D. CUBAN/ALLSPORT Knoblauch's soft hands and quick arm solved the Twins' problems at second. [Chuck Knoblauch in game]