Rick Ankiel, a one-time phenom as a pitcher who made the rare transition to outfield after losing control of his fastball and getting hurt, announced his retirement from Major League Baseball on Wednesday. Ankiel played 11 years in the majors, mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals. He broke in with them in 1999 as a 19-year-old pitcher and was Baseball America's top-ranked prospect in 2000.
Ankiel was a rarity because he managed to fashion two distinct careers as an MLB player. By 2005, after it was obvious he could no longer sustain himself as a pitcher, Ankiel went back to the minors and became a respectable outfielder with the Cardinals. After stints with the Royals, Braves, Nationals and Astros, he last played in 2013 with the New York Mets.
He batted .240/.302/.422 with 76 homers and 555 strikeouts in 2,115 plate appearances for his career. As a pitcher, he posted a career 3.90 ERA with 269 strikeouts in 242 innings, utilizing a wicked fastball and a knee-buckling curve. But it was a six-walk, five wild-pitch performance against the Braves in Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS that sent Ankiel's pitching career spiraling. He walked 11 and tossed nine wild pitches in four innings during that series and never was the same.
Ankiel's most recent big moment came in the 2010 playoffs, playing for the Braves, when he hit a go-ahead home run into McCovey Cove to help win Game 2 of the NLDS. Other more recent moments aren't as happy, like when the Nats cut him on his birthday and the time Ankiel was showered with popcorn at Minute Maid Park. And yet, MLB.com's video pages are peppered with moments when Ankiel made an incredible throw from the outfield to cancel someone at second base, third or home plate. His transition to hitter was admirable, but Ankiel still shined the brightest when he got to flex his arm strength.
This one in 2011 is as good as any:
"Make the call! Make the call!"
Matthew Leach of MLB.com wrote a neat profile of Ankiel a year ago when it appeared the end was coming to his career. Ankiel was a great talent who didn't quite become a great player — but he had his moments.
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