Posted at 9:49 PM on September 6, 2007
by Chris Dall
There've been a number of stories this season that have a left a bad taste in baseball fans' mouths, from the death of St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Josh Hancock to the Barry Bonds saga to the uninspired play of the hometown nine, but if there's one story that makes you feel good about baseball, it's the story of Rick Ankiel.
Ankiel hit 2 home runs and drove in 7 runs today in the Cardinals' 16-4 romp over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and is now hitting .358 with 9 home runs and 29 RBI since being called up on August 9th. Those are pretty good numbers, and they're even better when you think about the path that he's traveled.
Ankiel has been better known for much of his career as a pitcher who, after going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 2000, completely lost his ability to find the strike zone. Ankiel's downfall as a pitcher began in the 2000 NLDS against Atlanta, when he threw 5 wild pitches in one inning, and continued in that year's NLCS against the Mets, when he was removed after 20 pitches. Whether it was due to his mechanics or his head, Ankiel went from being an ace in the making to nearly being out of the game.
After Tommy John surgery and a short, unsuccessful stint as a reliver, Ankiel gave up trying to make it back as a pitcher after the 2004 season and switched to the outfield. Now, after putting up some pretty good numbers in Triple A, he's helping the Cardinals with his bat in their fight to win the dreadful NL Central.
Of course, Ankiel's success with the bat may very well be short-term, and he could end up being just another journeyman major leaguer. But even if that is the case, at least he's provided baseball fans with another reason to love the game.
I don't remember who said it but I once heard baseball described as being about redemption. The long regular season, no clock, etc. make baseball a game where over the course of a game or a season or a career players and teams can go from goat to hero (and back again.)
Professional baseball is littered with stories of guys who couldn't hit the ball being turned into pitchers. The reverse is less common and maybe that contributes to the warm glow around Ankiel's success.