Photo of Rick Ankiel via cardinalsnation.mlblogs.com
Holy crap. He did it.
You may or may not know that I run a baseball simulation league. Basically, starting with the 2000 season, we broke from Major League reality and carry our own baseball league out via software. In 2000, Rick Ankiel was the biggest pitching prospect since probably Dwight Gooden. Well, in our sim league (now in the year 2016 because software allows you to speed things up), Ankiel fulfilled his potential and is sitting with 300 career victories.
In real life, it didn’t really work out that way. At age 20 in 2000, Ankiel looked like he was going to live up to the hype. He won 11 games and posted a 3.50 ERA, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. But it all fell apart in the playoffs. In four innings, Ankiel walked 11 batters. He simply lost all control. It hit rock bottom when he set a modern record by throwing five wild pitches in one inning.
He would never recover. He struggled mightily in 2001 and missed all of 2002 with an injury. 2003 was equally disastrous as he pitched poorly at the AA level. In 2004, he actually made his way back to the majors, posting a 5.40 ERA in ten big league innings. He looked like he may be back.
However, in the spring of 2005, he shocked the Cardinals by retiring. As a pitcher. He decided that he had tried it as hard as he could. But he was going to embark on another career… as an outfielder.
21 home runs and 75 RBI in 85 minor league games in 2005 made people think that maybe this wasn’t such a crazy idea.
Unfortunately, Ankiel missed the entire 2006 season again with an injury. I can’t imagine how deflating that must have been to his momentum. But he picked up right where he left off in 2005, starting 2007 in AAA, one level below the big leagues. He is currently leading the entire minor leagues in home runs with 32. And he just got “the call” for the second time in his life.
He’s coming back to the major leagues—as a hitter, instead of a pitcher. It is really an amazing story. I wish Rick all the luck in the world.