ANAHEIM, Calif. – Everyone was making a fuss over him, and it made Bobby Knoop feel a bit uncomfortable.
He was just a guy who loved the game, who played it hard and well, but he wasn’t sure if his career was worthy of all this. When the Angels called and said they wanted to induct him into the team’s Hall of Fame, he wondered why.
“When they first talked about it, I envisioned myself in a fantasy dream of standing on the field for 3½ hours giving the highlights of my career,” he said Thursday afternoon.
“But after careful review, I got it down to about 3 minutes and 10 seconds.”
That’s not quite right. Knoop’s nine seasons in the big leagues – almost 5½ of them with the Angels – were distinguished and productive. He won three Gold Gloves as a second baseman, and he and shortstop Jim Fregosi formed one of the best double-play combos in the American League.
But like most things he talks about, Knoop doesn’t much care for superlatives, about him or anyone else.
“I’m not so certain we knew how good we were,” he said. “We played. We did what we were supposed to do, or tried to do what we were supposed to do. Sometimes we were successful, and other times we weren’t.
“One of the things about making a lot of double plays, it kinds of means your pitching staff is in trouble once in a while. So it’s a good thing and maybe a not-so-good thing.”
Knoop played from 1964 to 1972, retiring with the Kansas City Royals after playing in 44 games hitting .237, which was one point higher than his career average. With the Angels, he made the All-Star team in 1966 and twice earned votes in MVP balloting.
But Knoop’s tenure in Anaheim extended beyond his playing career. He spent 18 seasons as a coach, the last in 1996, and this season rejoined the organization as a special assignment infield instructor.
“It took me all of five seconds to say yes” when the offer came, he said.
His succinct manner in evaluating young players during coaches’ meetings doesn’t go unnoticed.
“He’ll say five words and it’ll equal 50 or 60 that some of us will say,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “It usually hits home a lot harder and to the point.”
Perhaps that’s because Knoop, who is 74, knows what it takes to reach the majors. In 1956, his first season in pro ball, meal money on the road was 50 cents a day at the Class D level, the lowest of the lows. Players today get $98 per day.
He had to work in the offseason, even when he made it to the big leagues, so he drove a truck for a transit company. His first car cost $2,000. The most he ever made in one season was $37,500.
He doesn’t begrudge the money players earn today. If they’ve made it, they’re worth it.
And although he prefers not to get into comparisons between players of his era and those of today, he knows what he sees in Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
“You’ve got to be a complete dummy not to have a Mike Trout impression,” he said. “My goodness, look at what he’s done at such a young age. And he’s a wonderful young man.
“I know the first time I saw him walk away from me with an almost shaved head under that cap (and) with his shoulders about four foot wide, chiseled. I’m not comparing by any means to anybody, but the person that I thought of was (Mickey) Mantle.”
Trout, along with the rest of his Angels teammates, lined up against the dugout railing to watch Knoop accept his Hall of Fame ring and offer his thanks for the recognition. He was joined by Fregosi, who remains his friend today, and by others in the team’s Hall of Fame — Rod Carew, Brian Downing, Chuck Finley, Bobby Grich.
Knoop isn’t an emotional man, but he seemed genuinely touched. His career wasn’t good enough to get him into Cooperstown, but being remembered as one of the great early Angels was still very nice, and very appropriate.
“My memories of what has gone on in the past, I don’t think about,” he said. “I know it was fun. I had a great time, accomplished some things, but I just look forward to today and thank God I woke up this morning.”