Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Farewell Rick Ankiel

One of my favorite players of all-time called it a career this afternoon via Twitter.  Rick Ankiel came up for a cup of coffee during the 1999 season, enjoyed one of the best rookie seasons ever for a pitcher, had a complete mental breakdown, remade himself as an outfielder in the minors, and made it all the way back up to the Majors as a position player.  Not the typical career path, but a fun player to watch, and definitely one player baseball fans could universally pull for on the field. 

I was introduced to Rick Ankiel sometime during the summer of 1998.  One of my old card shop haunts, All-Star Cards on Olive in Creve Couer, had a few Ankiel autographs.  I picked one up for safe keeping and added an Ankiel rookie card a year later when Fleer and Upper Deck issued rookie cards of the Cardinals prospect. 

As a prospect Ankiel was a big deal.  He should have been a first round pick, but his agent was Scott Boras.  The Cardinals drafted him and paid up getting Ankiel to skip college ball at the University of Miami.  Ankiel breezed through the minors.  In 1998 Ankiel made two stops in the minors for the Cardinals and pitched a total of 137 innings.  He struck out 194 batters.  That's Super Nintendo like.  In 1999 he appeared in the Futures Game at Fenway Park and also made his Cardinals debut making a spot start against the Expos.  


Ankiel had a fabulous 2000 season pitching full time with the Cardinals.  Ankiel won just 11 games, but struck out 194 batters in 175 innings of work.  He posted a WAR of 3.3 and an ERA+ of 134.  Both outstanding numbers for a young pitcher.  Then came the 2000 Postseason.  The Cardinals played the Braves in the first round and were pretty heavy underdogs.  Tony LaRussa started Ankiel in the first game and the Cardinals staked Ankiel to a 6-0 lead.  Then this happened....

Plenty of people pointed fingers in different directions, but Ankiel ended up in the minors.  He had a Tommy John surgery and reinvented himself as a relief pitcher.  Ankiel appeared briefly in 2004 at the end of the season as a relief pitcher making five appearances.  He then asked to be reassigned back to the minors as an outfielder.  Three years later...

Ankiel the position player ended up bouncing around.  He was a Cardinal, Royal, Brave, National, Met, and Astro.  Ankiel really became a great outfield arm, but was never able to make enough contact to stick around in the majors as a hitter.  Here's a little sample of the arm strength...

Ankiel has been a fun player to collect over the past decade.  The card companies cranked out plenty of Ankiel card in the early 2000s.  There are plenty of good ones out there and they are usually pretty inexpensive.  Less than $10 for some generally pretty cool looking cards.  Some of my favorites:


His 2001 Topps HD autograph is limited to a mere 250 copies, but is a sweet card from a sweet set.  Actually there are only four autographs in this set with the others being Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Helton, and Royal one year wonder Mark Quinn.  My favorite Ankiel autograph.  Another cool Ankiel auto...

The Pacific Revolution autographs are a little bit harder to put together with some bigger names, but then there is Ankiel.  Less than $10 and better than the Shane Andrews autograph.  Seriously cool set.  You can also check out his Crown Royale autograph from Pacific which is a die cut. 

 Sad there will be no Ankiel sightings next year, but after his last season with the Mets and Astros I cannot say it was not time.  I will have to pick up a few Ankiel cards just because.....



  1. Great writeup. I remember buying into the hype back in the late 90's. Had a couple of his autographs, but I think they've been traded away over the years.

    1. He was incredible to watch in person and also bought a ton of his cards. Spent a good deal of time and money on them. Wish it had worked out better for him.

  2. I am sad. I am not on Twitter and I am glad you posted this. I have always had a soft spot for him as I watched his meltdown live I never would have guessed he would make a comeback in any way shape or form.

    1. I was working the day of the Braves game and heard about it from a co-worker. I actually went to the NLCS game against the Mets, his next start, where he did not make it out of the first inning. Sad.