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Ankiel began his career in the majors as a starting pitcher, posting a solid rookie season in 2000 with 11 wins, 7 losses, and 194 strikeouts, but during the playoffs that year, he suddenly found himself unable to throw strikes consistently. After a few years of struggling with injuries and command, he abandoned pitching in 2005 and began to work his way back up to the major leagues as an outfielder, finally succeeding in August 2007. He is the only active major leaguer to have played as a full-time major-league pitcher and position player, and one of only a handful in history.
Rick attended Port St. Lucie High School in Florida, where he went 11–1 with a 0.47 ERA during his senior season, striking out 162 batters in 74.0 innings pitched, and was named the High School Player of the Year by USA Today in 1997. He was also a 1st Team High School All-American pitcher.
Ankiel signed with the Cardinals straight out of high school and was given a $2.5 million signing bonus, the fifth-highest ever given to an amateur player. In 1998, he was Carolina League All-Star starting pitcher, Baseball America's first team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher, voted the best pitching prospect in both the Carolina and Midwest leagues, and was Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year. That year he led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts, with 222.
In 1999, he was named the Minor League Player of the Year by both USA Today and Baseball America. He was also Texas League All-Star pitcher, Double-A All-Star starting pitcher, Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year, and Baseball America 1st team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher. He was considered one of the finest pitching prospects in several years.
Ankiel debuted in 1999 in Montreal, against the Expos. He pitched his first full season in 2000 at the age of 20 (second youngest in the league), posting an 11–7 record, a 3.50 ERA (ninth in the league), and 194 strikeouts (seventh in the league) in 30 games started.
The most impressive of Ankiel's stats showed his dominance over hitters — he struck out batters at a rate of 9.98 strikeouts per nine innings (second in the National League only to Randy Johnson), and allowed only 7.05 hits per nine innings (second only to Chan Ho Park). He came in second (to the Atlanta Braves' Rafael Furcal) in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Downfall as a pitcherEdit
The Cardinals won the National League Central Division championship in 2000. Injuries to other pitchers left Ankiel and Darryl Kile as the only fully healthy starters left on the Cardinal roster. Wanting to maximize their appearances, and due to the fact that Ankiel, only 21 years old and without much major league experience, needed four days of rest between starts, manager Tony La Russa chose Ankiel to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series against veteran pitcher Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves. Also wanting to shield Ankiel from the inevitable pressures of such a role, La Russa had Kile answer questions to the media as if he were starting Game 1, and it was only afterwards that he informed media members that Ankiel was in fact starting.
Game 1 started well for Ankiel, who did not allow a run through the first two innings. It was in the third inning that Ankiel lost control; he allowed 4 runs on 2 hits, walking 4 and throwing 5 wild pitches before being removed with two outs. Here is the play-by-play from that inning:
- Greg Maddux walked; Rafael Furcal popped to Will Clark in foul territory; Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Maddux to second); Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Maddux to third); Andruw Jones walked; Ankiel threw a wild pitch (A. Jones to 2nd); Chipper Jones was called out on strikes; Andrés Galarraga walked (Maddux scores, A. Jones to 3rd on wild pitch); Brian Jordan singled to Ray Lankford (A. Jones scored, Galarraga to 2nd); Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Galarraga to 3rd, Jordan to 2nd); Reggie Sanders walked; Walt Weiss singled to Lankford (Galarraga scored, Jordan scored, Sanders to 2nd); Mike James replaced Ankiel; Javy López popped to Fernando Viña; 4 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Braves 4, Cardinals 6.
Ankiel shrugged off the event, joking about the fact that he was the first pitcher to throw five wild pitches in an inning since Bert Cunningham of the Players League in 1890. But in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, Ankiel was removed in the first inning after throwing only 20 pitches, five of which went past catcher Eli Marrero (only two were official wild pitches, as no runners were on base for the others). Ankiel appeared again in the seventh inning of game five, facing four hitters, walking two, and throwing two more wild pitches. The Cardinals lost the series four games to one to the Mets.
The source of Ankiel's problems was apparently not mechanical. His decline has been compared to that of Steve Blass, who also became unable to consistently throw strikes for mysterious reasons.
Ankiel returned to the majors in 2001 but again had issues controlling his pitches, walking 25 batters and throwing five wild pitches in 24 innings, and was sent down to AAA. Here his problems became dramatic. In 4.1 innings, Ankiel walked 17 batters and threw 12 wild pitches, accumulating an ERA of 20.77. He was sent all the way down to the Rookie League Johnson City Cardinals, where he was successful as both a starting pitcher and a part-time designated hitter (sporting a .638 slugging percentage with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 105 at bats). He was voted Rookie Level Player of the Year, Appalachian League All-Star left-handed pitcher, Rookie League All-Star starting pitcher, Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year, and Appalachian League All-Star designated hitter.
In 2002, Ankiel sat the whole season with a left elbow sprain, and was finally cleared to pitch in December. He returned to the minors in 2003, posting a 6.20 ERA in 10 starts before undergoing season-ending ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) for his left elbow in July. In 54.1 innings, he walked 49 batters and threw 10 wild pitches.
Ankiel returned to the majors in September 2004, posting a 5.40 ERA in five relief appearances. Ankiel's control was impressive, as he walked just one while striking out nine in ten innings. In the minors, similarly, he walked only two batters in 23.2 innings, while striking out 23.
On March 9, 2005, after a successful winter pitching in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League, Ankiel announced that he was switching to the outfield, after an unsuccessful practice outing in which his wildness reappeared, as he threw only three strikes out of 20 pitches. He slugged .514 in single A, and .515 in double A, with 5 outfield assists in 55 games.
In 2006, Ankiel was invited to spring training with the major league squad again, but this time as an outfielder. He had a slim chance to make the team as a reserve player. His fielding impressed scouts and managers, and he had shown flashes of power hitting in the minor leagues.However, he injured his left knee before the season started; he had to have season-ending surgery on it on May 26, 2006.
Ankiel was invited to the Cardinals' 2007 spring training. In mid-March, manager Tony LaRussa said Ankiel probably didn't figure into the mix at the big-league level, but rather needed to play regularly at Class AAA Memphis as he continued his conversion from pitching. "It isn't because he isn't capable," La Russa said. "(But) unless you can guarantee that he would get 400 or 500 at-bats, it would be a bad move for him and for us."
On Memorial Day May 28, 2007, Ankiel hit two home runs in Round Rock, Texas against the Round Rock Express. He also hit an RBI double and made a running over-the-shoulder catch in deep center field that saved two runs.
Ankiel was named a starting outfielder for the 2007 Triple-A All-Star Game. Through August 8, he had 32 home runs, 89 RBIs and was hitting .267, including a three-home run performance on June 16 at Iowa. He was the home run leader in the Pacific Coast League at the time of his callup, plus tied for second in RBIs. Defensively, Ankiel had seven errors in 95 games.
Return to the majorsEdit
On August 9, 2007, the Cardinals promoted Ankiel  from the AAA Memphis Redbirds after a roster spot was vacated by Scott Spiezio due to a self-reported drug addiction problem. Ankiel batted second and played right field. In his first at bat in his return to the big leagues, Ankiel was greeted with a prolonged standing ovation from the appreciative St. Louis crowd. During the seventh inning, in his fourth at bat, he hit a three-run home run off Doug Brocail to right field to help the Cardinals defeat the San Diego Padres, 5–0. It was his first home run in the majors since April 20, 2000 when he hit it as a pitcher and this made him the first player since Clint Hartung (1947) to hit his first major league home run as a pitcher and then hit a later home run as a position player. The player before Hartung who accomplished this feat was Babe Ruth. After the game, manager Tony La Russa said that his only happier and prouder moment in a Cardinals' uniform was when he won the 2006 World Series.
Two days later, against the Dodgers on August 11, Ankiel drew three standing ovations with both his batting and fielding. At the plate he went 3–4, with two home runs and three RBIs and made a spectacular catch in right field in the eighth inning, which saved an almost certain extra base hit.
Ankiel's comeback prompted syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer to write on August 17, 2007: "His return after seven years—if only three days long—is the stuff of legend. Made even more perfect by the timing: Just two days after Barry Bonds sets a synthetic home run record in San Francisco, the Natural returns to St. Louis."
He hit the first grand slam of his career in the bottom of the 6th inning at St. Louis against left-hand pitcher Eddie Guardado of the Cincinnati Reds on August 31, 2007 with the team trailing 4–3, for an eventual 8–5 win that helped propel manager Tony La Russa to break a first-place tie with Red Schoendienst for most wins by a Cardinals' manager.
In a home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 6, he recorded his second two-home run game of the season with a 3-for-4, 7 RBI effort, along with an over-the-shoulder catch in deep right field to save an extra base hit and possibly a run. He had two curtain calls in this game.
It seemed as if his only issue on the field was his strikeout rate; he struck out 41 times in just 172 at-bats with the team in 2007, and 9 of them came from September 7–15 during a 9-game losing streak by the Cardinals, the longest by the team since 1980 when they lost 10 in a row, in which he also only had 2 hits. He had no RBIs during this stretch. Regardless, he finished the year with a .285 batting average, 11 home runs, 39 RBIs, a .328 on-base percentage, .535 slugging percentage and an .863 OPS in 47 games, and 172 at-bats. Unfortunately, the Cardinals' playoff hopes suffered with the previously mentioned nine-game losing streak in September. The Cardinals, who had won three division titles from 2004–2006 as well as the 2006 World Series, finished the 2007 season with a 78–84 record and missed the playoffs.
Ankiel eventually admitted to using HGH, but said he was following doctor's orders. HGH was not banned by Major League Baseball until 2005. The prescription itself could have had medical benefit to stimulate synthesis of collagen, which would have aided recovery from his Tommy John elbow surgery.
Ankiel began spring training 2008 in good shape. On March 14, he hit two homers, which helped the Cardinals defeat the Dodgers. On March 17, he helped the Cardinals win their match against Atlanta Braves, with a two-run hit. On March 23, Ankiel hit a two-run homer to help the Cardinals defeat the New York Mets 14 to 4.
Ankiel helped the Cardinals defeat the Colorado Rockies on May 6th by recording two outfield assists and a home run in the 8th inning to propel St. Louis to a 6 to 5 victory. The assists were important because both came on hits that would have advanced a runner to third base for the Rockies. Ankiel on both assists rocketed the ball from deep in center field to a perfect strike to Troy Glaus at third, who tagged the runners for the outs.
On May 4, 2009 Ankiel collided awkwardly with the outfield wall against the Philadelphia Phillies and was carted off the field. He was able to give the crowd a "thumbs up" prior to leaving the field. Reported "whiplash". He told of being in total body pain and was placed on the disabled list on May 7, and Shane Robinson was then called-up from AAA-Memphis. He was re-activated and scheduled to play against the Kansas City Royals, May 24.
|1998||Prince William Cannons||21||9||6||126.0||91||39||46||8||38||181||2.79|
|2001||Johnson City Cardinals||14||5||3||87.2||42||13||20||1||18||158||1.33|
|2004||Palm Beach Cardinals||3||0||1||8.2||5||2||4||0||0||11||2.08|
|1999||St. Louis Cardinals||9||0||1||33.0||26||12||12||2||14||39||3.27|
|2000||St. Louis Cardinals||31||11||7||175.0||137||68||80||21||90||194||3.50|
|2001||St. Louis Cardinals||6||1||2||24.0||25||19||21||7||25||27||7.13|
|2004||St. Louis Cardinals||5||1||0||10.0||10||6||6||2||1||9||5.40|
Bold - Career Best
(through May 4, 2009)
|2001||Johnson City Cardinals||41||105||30||7||0||10||35||21||0||0||11||26||.286||.364||.638|
|2005||Quad Cities River Bandits||51||185||50||10||1||11||45||33||0||0||27||37||.270||.368||.514|
|1999||St. Louis Cardinals||9||10||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||.100||.100||.100|
|2000||St. Louis Cardinals||33||68||17||1||1||2||2||9||0||0||4||20||.250||.292||.382|
|2001||St. Louis Cardinals||6||8||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||5||.000||.111||.000|
|2004||St. Louis Cardinals||5||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||.000||.500||.000|
|2007||St. Louis Cardinals||47||172||49||8||1||11||39||31||1||0||13||41||.285||.328||.535|
|2008||St. Louis Cardinals||120||413||109||21||2||25||71||65||2||1||42||100||.264||.337||.506|
|2009||St. Louis Cardinals||24||81||20||6||0||2||11||11||0||0||7||19||.247||.326||.395|
Bold = Career Best
Other players who had psychological throwing problemsEdit
- ↑ T.J. Quinn (2007-09-06). Ankiel received 12-month supply of HGH, News learns. NY Daily News. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ St. Louis Cardinals 7, Atlanta Braves 5. Retrosheet (2007-10-03). Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ Jim Salter (2007-08-09). Now in Outfield, Ankiel Returns to Cards. AOL Sports, AP. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ Matthew Leach (2005-03-09). Ankiel to switch from mound to outfield. MLB.com. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ Jim Salter (2007-09-09). Cardinals Call Up Ankiel As Outfielder. ABC News, ESPN Sports, AP. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ R.B. Fallstrom (2007-08-09). St. Louis 5, San Diego 0. Yahoo! Sports, AP. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ Charles Krauthammer (2007-08-17). The Natural Returns to St. Louis. Townhall.com. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ Roger Rubin (2007-09-08). Rick Ankiel says use of HGH was doctor's orders. NY Daily News. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Matthew Leach (2007-12-06). MLB concludes Ankiel investigation. MLB.com. Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑ (2004) Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
- ↑ Press Release: Gibbons, Guillen suspended. MLB.com (2007-12-06). Retrieved on 2007-12-14.
- ↑  2008 stats at ESPN
- ↑ Ankiel placed on DL in wake of collision: Outfielder out with shoulder contusion; Robinson called up. MLB.com (2007-05-07).
- ↑ Rick Ankiel Stats, Bio, Photos, Highlights
- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or ESPN, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Rick's Official Website
- Baseball Prospectus stats
- Rick Ankiel's page at stlcardinals.scout.com
- "A Mound of Troubles", Pat Jordan, The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 11, 2001
|Youngest Player in the|