After all those years of struggle, Rick Ankiel finally cashed in. Well, he isn't making Ryan Howard kind of money, but he signed a $2.85 million contract today with the Cardinals. He was just hours away from an arbitration hearing and the two sides split the difference in proposals. Ankiel's story is well documented and during that ordeal, he made major league minimum until last year when he played for $900,000.
Ankiel's story is one of those underdog stories you can't get enough of. He was a pitching phenom until that post season meltdown. He followed that horrid post season with the same problems in the spring. Then he hurt his arm, and yes, took a substance to try to heal, but it didn't work out and he had to give up pitching.
Blessed with natural athletic ability, Ankiel switched gears and switched to the outfield. He paid his dues in the minors (again) to build his tools up to major league standards. Three years went by and he worked toward making it back. To their credit, the Cardinals gave him every opportunity and after a three year absence, he was called up in 2007 and was given 172 at bats and he hit 11 homers along the way to an .863 OPS.
Last year, he played the majority of the Cardinals' games and got 413 at bats and hit 25 homers and produced an .843 OPS. How very cool is that?
Think about it. He was drafted in 1997. He got a cup of successful coffee in 1999. By 2000, he was a star with an 11-7 record, a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts in just 175 innings as a starter. He was the toast of the majors and his team made it to the playoffs. And then disaster strikes. Who knows how it happens. Ask Steve Stone or Chuck Knobloch. For some screwy reason, it just doesn't work anymore. What happened naturally for all those years is gone.
It was terrible to watch. Balls were flying back to the backstop. He could have killed someone. He tried it again in 2001 and walked 25 batters in 24 innings before the Cardinals mercifully pulled the plug. He then hurts his arm and doesn't pitch again until 2004. He appeared in five games all in relief and though he only walked one batter in ten innings pitched, he had a 5.40 ERA and gave it up.
And then followed those three long years back in the minors. He was forgotten and a footnote. He was a strange Mark Fidrych.
"Remember that guy who had that one good year?"
"Yeah, I remember him! It's too bad it didn't last longer."
Well, he's back and he's doing his best to stay back. It's an amazing story and should be made into a movie some day. The Fan would pay to watch that one.
Good luck to you, Mr. Ankiel. May you shag flies and hit homers for many years to come.