Many of the anti-Knepper missives are short and not so sweet. Wrote Lydia Justice Edwards, the state treasurer of Idaho: "Go back to your cave!" And a Decatur, Ill., woman asked, "What rock have you been living under for the past 50 years?"
Knepper answers each letter with a photocopied three-page response citing Scripture he feels supports his statements about Postema. He also sent a similar explanation to Postema, who is once again calling balls and strikes in Triple A. She hasn't written back.
"God has created woman to be a special gift to man," says Knepper's boilerplate response. "As man has strayed far from God's word, man's relationship with woman has deteriorated...to the point of abuse.... It is little wonder that women have rebelled against man. The mere mention of the word 'submission' forms visions of cruelty, slavery and inequality.... Jesus made it very obvious that men and women were equal."
Knepper has never been afraid to express his opinions. He is also a bit out of step with the baseball world around him. He buries his nose in books in the clubhouse, and he prefers to spend free time with his family or alone with his thoughts. In the off-season, the Kneppers live on a 1,300-acre cattle ranch in Wilbur, Ore. Their place is tucked into the lush valley between the Coastal Range and the Cascades, 160 miles south of Portland. There, Knepper shuts out the complexities of modern society and seeks a simpler existence for his wife, Terri, and their three children, Jacob, 8, Tyler, 5, and Heather, 3. For guidance, he turns to the Bible.
"Choosing to live the life-style we do separates my family from the team," says Knepper. "I know that I'm responsible, but it doesn't make the loneliness any easier."
On the field, Knepper is very much a part of Houston's powerful pitching staff, which after the first two months of the season ranked third in the National League in earned run average. At week's end Knepper had a 7-1 record and the third-lowest ERA (1.91) in baseball. At 34, Knepper is also the most durable pitcher in the majors. Over the last decade he has averaged 33 starts per season. He has missed only one scheduled start, when he cut a finger slicing a grapefruit in 1980.
After his senior year at Calistoga ( Calif.) High, Knepper was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the second round of the 1972 free-agent draft. He had a 94-mph fastball, and while with the Triple A Fresno Giants in 1974, went 20-5 and struck out 247 in 239 innings. "They used to say I could throw ripe strawberries through battleships," Knepper says.
But his major league career has been erratic. His record is below .500 (129-136), and he has an overall 3.52 ERA. Personal difficulties off the field and a tendency to overanalyze his pitching evidently have prevented him from realizing his potential. "I've always been too introspective," says Knepper. "I'll break down my pitching mechanics, dissect them into a million little pieces. Then I'll put them all back together, and I'll look over and see some pieces are still left."
In 1978, his first full season with San Francisco, Knepper became a born-again Christian. He and several other Giants were outspokenly zealous about their faith, and they were nicknamed the God Squad by the local press. A newly serene Knepper breezed to a 17-11 record, including six shutouts. He struck out 147 batters and finished with a 2.63 ERA as the Giants came in third in the NL West. That year remains his best ever.
The next season, the Giants fell to fourth, and some players blamed the team's demise on the God Squad. The born-again Christians were accused of a lack of aggression. Knepper took the criticism to heart and faltered, finishing 9-12 with a 4.65 ERA. More tension erupted in 1980 after Knepper was quoted as saying that it was "God's will" when he gave up a game-winning home run against the San Diego Padres early in the season. Though he repeatedly denied making the remark, Knepper's psyche was damaged, and he came unglued. He wound up 9-16 with a 4.10 ERA and was traded that winter to Houston for third baseman Enos Cabell.