It’s not that The Rolling Stones were wrong, per se. I mean, you can’t always get what you want. But sometimes you do get exactly what you’ve been hoping for. And sometimes, when you get what your heart wants, you come to regret ever wanting it in the first place.
Nerds like me, who have been praying for NBC to renew Community, are going through this right now. We got the groundbreaking spiritual successor to the golden age Simpsons back for a
fifth fourth season, but without the creative team responsible for making the show what it had been. The writing staff has completely turned over from the show’s first season, and showrunner and creator Dan Harmon has essentially been fired. So Community is coming back, but what form it takes and how it measures up to its past, when it was the most innovative and consistently hilarious show on television, is still up in the air. We could really end up regretting that the show didn’t wrap up with what seemed like a perfect series finale last week.
Chuck Knoblauch once wanted things too. Knobby was perhaps the fiercest competitor on the 1991 Twins as a baby-faced rookie, who developed into the best second baseman in the game from 1992-1997 (according to rWAR, Knoblauch was ever so slightly better on balance than Craig Biggio and far, far, far better than Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar). And he wanted to be paid like it. So, still reeling from the sudden and horrific retirement of Kirby Puckett, the then small-market, penny-pinching Twins actually bit the bullet and paid Knoblauch what he was worth, signing him to a five year deal for $30 million.
And then, almost immediately, Knoblauch changed his mind. Just a year after the ink had dried, Knoblauch decided that, more than anything else, he wanted to play for a contender. Given that the Twins had finished below .500 every season since 1993, and would go into 1998 featuring him, a 41 year old Paul Molitor and a 36 year old Terry Steinbach, Knobby’s skepticism about the Twins’ future was well placed. So he demanded a trade in September of 1997, and the Twins obliged, sending him to the Yankees for Christian Guzman, Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan, Danny Mota, and cash.
Again, Knoblauch got what he wanted, a trade to a contender, and the 1998 Yankees proved to be one of the best teams in baseball history. They won 114 games, rolled through the postseason with an 11-2 record, and won the World Series. And Knoblauch had a .361 OBP while leading off 150 of those games, and every single postseason contest. He also had earned the wrath of every single Twins fan, who viewed his reversal as a very personal betrayal and as a slap in the face to the team and the state. Whenever Knoblauch would appear at the Dome after that, he was showered with boos, and even once with golf balls and batteries (sorry Philadelphia, I know you thought you were special).
In 1999, the Yankees were great again, but Knoblauch developed a mental block that left him virtually incapable of throwing the ball to first base. Now, I’m someone who believes that all the talk about the Yankee Mystique and there being something special about being a Yankee is a bunch of hoodoo. And I think somewhere around 98% of Major League Baseball players would be able to handle baseball’s biggest stage. Unfortunately, Knoblauch, wound as tightly as he was, was probably one of the very few for whom playing in New York was made impossible.
The nature of his mental block, and the nature of Knoblauch, made it impossible to recover fully, especially with every failure so apparent to everyone in the stands and watching at home. The problem grew worse and worse, and eventually the Yankees were forced to move him off of second base and into left field. His performance at the plate deteriorated as well, so after 2001, the Yankees made no effort to re-sign him. Knoblauch drifted to the abysmal Kansas City Royals, who were by then worse the the Twins ever were, where he lasted a season as a poor-hitting left fielder before calling it a career at 33.
Now, under normal circumstances, a player who was as accomplished as Knoblauch (4 World Championships, 4 time All Star, .378 career OBP, 400+ stolen bases, a Gold Glove) would be welcomed back by his former teams. He would have a support structure in place to help him adjust to private life, and to allow him to occasionally bask in the glory of his career during Old Timers Days, championship anniversary celebrations, and maybe even coaching gigs. But Knoblauch not only burned his bridges in both Minnesota and New York with his trade demand and his poor play, he salted the Earth (to mix metaphors) by allowing himself to be connected to so-called performance enhancing drugs. No one would ever call Knoblauch again.
So Knoblauch moved back home to Texas. And he essentially disappeared until a New York Times profile in 2008, then he assaulted his wife in 2009, sent out a couple racist tweets in 2011, and finally was apparently hitting on random girls while drunk and wearing chef’s pants in the New York subway two nights ago. And soon he’ll be in court at the Roger Clemens trial, talking about his relationship to Brian McNamee.
How would Chuck Knoblauch’s life be different if he hadn’t gotten what he wanted in 1996 and 1998? What if he turned down the Twins’ offer, and became a free agent, allowing him to go wherever he wanted? What if the Twins had traded him to, say, the Rangers, where he would have been in his native Texas where he would have been more comfortable? What if he hadn’t managed to turn two fan bases against him?
I wish we could have found out, because for five years Chuck Knoblauch was one of my very favorite players to watch and root for, even if he had a reputation as kind of an ass. Because he worked that ass off and made himself into one of the best players in baseball. And for all the good memories he gave me, I really wish he was happy. I wish I could look at this new story and say, “Nah, no way. Too far-fetched. No chance at all.”
But we can’t always get what we want. And sometimes when we do, we wind up worse off than when we started. What a shame.
Update: Thanks to reader @hockeypuckers for pointing out that Knoblauch says he was in Houston at the time. Boy I hope that’s true. But who knows? He doesn’t have anyone to defend him, which is my point.