Rick Ankiel

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Rick Ankiel
Rick Ankiel on May 21, 2013.jpg
Tenure with the New York Mets
Pitcher / Center fielder
Born: (1979-07-19) July 19, 1979 (age 35)
Fort Pierce, Florida
Batted: Left Threw: Left
MLB debut
August 23, 1999 for the St. Louis Cardinals
Last MLB appearance
June 8, 2013 for the New York Mets
Career statistics
Batting average .240
Home runs 76
Runs batted in 251
Win–loss record 13–10
Earned run average 3.90
Strikeouts 269
Teams

Richard Alexander Ankiel (/ˈæŋkl/; born July 19, 1979) is an American former professional baseball outfielder and pitcher.[1]

Ankiel was a pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1999 until 2004, when he lost his ability to throw strikes consistently. After trying to regain his pitching form in the minor leagues, he switched to the outfield in early 2005. For two and a half years, he honed his skills as a hitter and fielder in the Cardinals' minor-league system. He returned to the Cardinals on August 9, 2007. As a Cardinal (1999–2009), Ankiel hit 47 home runs as an outfielder and two as a pitcher.

After the 2009 season, Ankiel became a free agent. Subsequently, he was signed by the Kansas City Royals and later was traded to the Atlanta Braves. He is the first player since Babe Ruth to have won at least 10 games as a pitcher and also hit at least 50 home runs. Ankiel is also the only player other than Ruth to both start a postseason game as a pitcher and hit a home run in the postseason as a position player. His change of position, and the fact that he played for six teams in a five-season span, suggest that Ankiel's playing history represents "one of the stranger careers in baseball history" in the words of journalist Barry Petchesky.[2]

Early career[edit]

Ankiel attended Port St. Lucie High School in Florida, where he went 11–1 with a 0.47 earned run average (ERA) during his senior season, striking out 162 batters in 74.0 innings pitched,[3] and was named the High School Player of the Year by USA Today in 1997.[4] He was also a first-team high-school All-American pitcher.[citation needed]

The St. Louis Cardinals selected Ankiel in the second round of the 1997 Major League Baseball Draft, and Ankiel signed with the Cardinals, receiving a $2.5 million signing bonus, the fifth-highest ever given to an amateur player.[5] In 1998, he was voted the best pitching prospect in both the Carolina and Midwest leagues, and was the Carolina League's All-Star starting pitcher, Baseball America's first-team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher, and the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year. That year he led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts, with 222.[6]

In 1999, Ankiel was named the Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today.[7] He was also Texas League All-Star pitcher, Double-A All-Star starting pitcher, Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year,[8] and Baseball America First Team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher.[9]

Major league career[edit]

1999 and 2000 seasons[edit]

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 (tenth in the league), and 194 strikeouts (seventh in the league) in 30 games started.[1] Ankiel threw a 94- to 97-mph fastball, a heavy sinker, and a fall-off-the-table curveball that was his main strikeout pitch. 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.[1] He received The Sporting News Rookie Pitcher of the Year Award.

2000 postseason[edit]

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 roster. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa chose Ankiel to start Game One of the National League Division Series against veteran pitcher Greg Maddux of the Braves. To shield Ankiel from media pressure, La Russa had Kile answer questions to the media as if to start Game One, and afterwards informed the media that Ankiel was starting.[10]

In Game One, Ankiel did not allow a run through the first two innings. Ankiel's performance suddenly deteriorated in the third inning. He allowed four runs on two hits, four walks and throwing five wild pitches before being removed with two outs. Despite Ankiel facing eight batters and throwing 35 pitches, the Cardinals won the game.[11] Ankiel shrugged off the event, joking that he was the first pitcher to throw five wild pitches in an inning since Bert Cunningham of the Players' League in 1890.[12]

In his next start, in Game Two of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, Ankiel was removed in the first inning after throwing 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), and the first of which sailed over the head of Mets' hitter Timo Perez. 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 were unknown,[13] and his loss of control has been compared to that of Steve Blass, who also became unable to consistently throw strikes for unknown reasons. A section of a book about Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, Three Nights in August, details Ankiel's rise to the big leagues and loss of control as a pitcher in 2000–01. LaRussa has stated that putting Ankiel into Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS was "a decision that perhaps haunts him more than any he has ever made."[14]

Aftermath[edit]

Rick Ankiel in the minor leagues playing for the Swing of the Quad Cities in 2005

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,[1] and was sent down to Triple-A. His problems especially in the minors became dramatic. In 4.1 innings, Ankiel walked 17 batters and threw 12 wild pitches, accumulating an overwhelming 20.77 ERA.[1] He was demoted all the way down 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).[1] 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 out the season due to a left elbow sprain, and was not cleared to throw until December. He returned to the minors in 2003, posting a 6.29 ERA in 10 starts[1] 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.[1]

Ankiel returned to the majors in September 2004, posting a 5.40 ERA in five relief appearances. Ankiel's control problems appeared to be gone, as he walked just one while striking out nine in ten innings.[1] In the minors, he walked only two batters in 23.2 innings, while striking out 23. However, 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,[15] after a spring training game in which 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.

2006 season[edit]

In 2006, Ankiel was invited to spring training by the Cardinals with the major league squad as an outfielder, with 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, and had season-ending surgery on May 26.[16]

2007 season[edit]

Ankiel was invited to the Cardinals' 2007 spring training. In mid-March, manager LaRussa said[citation needed] Ankiel did not figure into the mix at the big-league level and needed to play regularly with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds as he continued his conversion from pitching.

On May 28, 2007, Ankiel hit two home runs in against the Round Rock Express. He also hit an RBI double and made an 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 against the Iowa Cubs. He was the home run leader in the Pacific Coast League, and tied for second in RBIs at the time of his callup. Defensively, Ankiel had seven errors in 95 games.

Ankiel batting for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007

Return to the majors[edit]

On August 9, 2007, the Cardinals promoted Ankiel[17] from Memphis after a roster spot was vacated by Scott Spiezio's departure. Ankiel batted second and played right field. In his first at bat, he received a prolonged standing ovation from the St. Louis crowd. During the seventh inning, 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 2000 (as a pitcher), and made him the first player since Clint Hartung (1947) to hit his first major league home run as a pitcher and then hit a home run as a position player. The player before Hartung who accomplished this was Babe Ruth. After the game, manager Tony La Russa said that his only happier moment as a Cardinal was when they won the 2006 World Series.[18] Two days later, against the Dodgers on August 11, Ankiel drew three standing ovations. He had three hits, including two home runs and three RBIs and made a spectacular catch in right field.

Ankiel's comeback prompted syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer to write on August 17, 2007:[19]

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.

Charles Krauthammer, Townhall.com, 2007

Ankiel hit his first grand slam at St. Louis against left-hander Eddie Guardado of the Cincinnati Reds on August 31 with the team trailing, 4–3, for an 8–5 win that broke a tie with Red Schoendienst for LaRussa 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. He had two curtain calls in this game. On September 23, Ankiel had his first walk-off hit, a two-run triple to win the last Sunday Night Baseball game of the season against the Astros, 4–3.

In 2007, Ankiel's strikeout rate was 41 out of 172 at-bats (.238). 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.[1] The Cardinals, who had won division titles from 2004–2006 and the 2006 World Series, finished 2007 with a 78–84 record and missed the playoffs.

Following the 2007 season, Ankiel admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH), but said he was following doctor's orders.[20] HGH was not banned by Major League Baseball until 2005.[21] Major League Baseball concluded that there was insufficient evidence of any wrongdoing by Ankiel.[21][22]

2008 season[edit]

Ankiel helped the Cardinals defeat the Colorado Rockies on May 6 by recording two outfield assists and a home run to propel St. Louis to a 6 to 5 victory. Ankiel, on both assists, threw the ball from deep center field to Troy Glaus at third. He finished 2008 with a .264 batting average, 25 home runs, and 71 runs batted in.[1]

2009 season[edit]

Ankiel was the Cardinals' leading hitter in spring training but struggled at the plate when the season started. During a May 4 game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Ankiel collided with the outfield wall and was carried off the field. The injury was reported as whiplash, and Ankiel was placed on the disabled list on May 7.[23] He was re-activated on May 24.[24] Ankiel was then platooned with Colby Rasmus for much of the remainder of the year. Ankiel finished the season with 11 home runs, 38 RBI, and a .231 batting average.[1]

2010 season[edit]

In January 2010, Ankiel signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Kansas City Royals.[25][26] Ankiel began the season as the Royals' starting center fielder, but was placed on the disabled list in early May with a strained right quadriceps after playing sparingly from April 24 on.[27] He was re-activated on July 23, and replaced an injured David DeJesus midway through the game in center field.[28] On July 31, Ankiel and reliever Kyle Farnsworth were traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jesse Chavez, Gregor Blanco and Tim Collins.[29]

On October 8, in the second game of the 2010 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, Ankiel hit his first career postseason home run into McCovey Cove off Giants reliever Ramón Ramírez in the top of the 11th inning, leading the Braves to a 5–4 win. Rick joined Barry Bonds as the only two players to hit a ball into the cove in the postseason.[30] Speaking on television after the game, Ankiel called the home run "the pinnacle of anything I've ever done."[31]

2011 season[edit]

Ankiel with the Washington Nationals in 2011 spring training

On November 2, 2010, the Braves declined Ankiel's club option, making him a free agent.[32] On December 20, 2010, the Washington Nationals signed Ankiel to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.

Ankiel played in 122 games for the Nationals in 2011, hitting .239 with 9 home runs and 37 RBIs while platooning in center field with Roger Bernadina. He had a .996 fielding percentage for the season, committing one error in 113 games in the outfield.[33]

2012 season[edit]

The Nationals re-signed Ankiel to a one-year, $1.25 million minor league deal.[34] He began the season on the disabled list, rehabbing in the minors. Once promoted, however, his role was limited as a backup outfielder for the Nationals. In 68 games, he hit .228 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 158 at-bats. He started 37 games in center field and played 62 total games in center with a .983 fielding percentage. On July 19, Nationals closer Drew Storen was added to the roster, and Ankiel was designated for assignment by the Nationals to make room.[35] On July 27, Ankiel was released by the Nationals.

2013 season[edit]

On January 17, 2013, the Houston Astros signed Ankiel as a non-roster invitee. On March 31, Ankiel homered in the Astros' regular season opener against the Texas Rangers in Houston. He was designated for assignment on May 6 and was released shortly thereafter.

One week later on May 13, the New York Mets signed Ankiel to a major league contract and immediately placed him into their starting lineup. He collected two hits, including a two-run homer, against the Cardinals in St. Louis on May 15.[36]

His offensive production regressed, and following an 0-for-4, three-strikeout performance against the Miami Marlins on June 8 (giving him a combined 60 strikeouts in 128 at-bats for the season), Ankiel was designated for assignment by the Mets. He became a free agent on June 13.

Retirement[edit]

Ankiel announced his retirement from Major League Baseball on March 5, 2014. He is reportedly seeking a front office job.[37]

Personal[edit]

Ankiel makes his off-season home in Jupiter, Florida, with wife, Lory.[38]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Batting and Pitching Splits, Matchups, and Daily Logs at Baseball-Reference.com
  2. ^ Petchesky, Barry (May 13, 2013). "The Mets Sign Rick Ankiel". Deadspin.com. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  3. ^ Nightengale, Bob (February 8, 2001). "The playing fields offered an escape". USA Today. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ "All-USA High School Baseball Team by USA Today". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  5. ^ LoBaido, Anthony C. (November 1, 2010). "Ankiel story: From dizzying heights through valley and back". World Net Daily. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Rick Ankiel Minor League Statistics & History". Baseball-Reference. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  7. ^ Jordan, Pat (February 11, 2001). "A Mound Of Troubles". New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Rick Ankiel Timeline". ESPN.com. September 7, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  9. ^ Greer, Jarvis. "Rick Ankiel Lights Up Triple-A- in Memphis/Looks for Return to Majors". wmctv.com. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  10. ^ Lewis, Brian (October 11, 2000). "Kile Might Get Chance to be Three-mendous". New York Post. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  11. ^ "St. Louis Cardinals 7, Atlanta Braves 5". Retrosheet. 2007-10-03. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  12. ^ Jim Salter (2007-08-09). "Now in Outfield, Ankiel Returns to Cards". AOL Sports. AP. Retrieved 2007-12-14. [dead link]
  13. ^ Difabbio, Ronald (July 1, 2006). The Baseball Gods. iUniverse. 
  14. ^ Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager, by Buzz Bissinger, Houghton Mifflin Company; First Mariner Books edition (2006, ISBN 978-0-618-71053-9)
  15. ^ Matthew Leach (2005-03-09). "Ankiel to switch from mound to outfield". MLB.com. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  16. ^ "Another Setback in Ankiel's Comeback". Washington Post. June 15, 2006. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  17. ^ Jim Salter (2007-09-09). "Cardinals Call Up Ankiel As Outfielder". ABC News, ESPN Sports, AP. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  18. ^ R.B. Fallstrom (2007-08-09). "St. Louis 5, San Diego 0". Yahoo! Sports, AP. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  19. ^ Charles Krauthammer (2007-08-17). "The Natural Returns to St. Louis". Townhall.com. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  20. ^ Roger Rubin (2007-09-08). "Rick Ankiel says use of HGH was doctor's orders". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  21. ^ a b Matthew Leach (2007-12-06). "MLB concludes Ankiel investigation". MLB.com. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  22. ^ "Press Release: Gibbons, Guillen suspended" (Press release). MLB.com. 2007-12-06. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  23. ^ "Ankiel placed on DL in wake of collision: Outfielder out with shoulder contusion; Robinson called up". MLB.com. 2007-05-07. 
  24. ^ "Yahoo Sports 2009 Game Log". Sports.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2013-04-01. 
  25. ^ Rick Ankiel signs one-year contract plus option with Royals[dead link]
  26. ^ Kaegel, Dick (25 January 2012). Ankiel rides across I-70 to Royals "Ankiel to play center field for Royals". MLB.com. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  27. ^ "Strained quadriceps land Ankiel on DL". ESPN.com. AP. 4 May 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  28. ^ "Jeter hits 2nd career inside-the-park HR". ESPN.com. AP. 23 July 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  29. ^ Associated Press (August 1, 2010). "Royals trade Ankiel, Farnsworth". ESPN.com. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  30. ^ Jeff Sullivan (2010-10-09). "Game 2: Rick Ankiel Splashdown Homer In 11th Gives Braves Dramatic Win". SB Nation. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  31. ^ Tim Brown (2010-10-09). "Ankiel's wild ride is finally a blast". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 9 October 2010. 
  32. ^ "Braves keep Gonzalez, Infante, pass on Ankiel, Farnsworth". CBS Sports. Associated Press. 2010-11-02. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  33. ^ "MLB.com - stats". Mlb.mlb.com. 2012-06-19. Retrieved 2013-04-01. 
  34. ^ "Rick Ankiel agrees to one-year deal with Washington Nationals". Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. February 7, 2012. Retrieved March 8, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Nationals activate Drew Storen". ESPN.com. Associated Press. 2012-07-19. Retrieved 19 July 2012. 
  36. ^ DiComo, Anthony (May 13, 2013). "Ankiel in lineup on first day with the Mets". MLB.com. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  37. ^ Cassavell, AJ (March 5, 2014). "Ankiel reportedly retires, seeks front office job". MLB.com. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  38. ^ "Rick Ankiel Stats, Bio, Photos, Highlights". Stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com. 2012-06-19. Retrieved 2013-04-01. 

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Adrián Beltré
1998
Youngest Player in the
National League

1999
Succeeded by
Corey Patterson
2000