Rick Ankiel has one of the best baseball stories in the history of the game. Drafted by the St Louis Cardinals out of Port St Lucie High School in 1997, he went 11–1 with a 0.47 ERA during his senior season, striking out 162 batters in 74.0 innings pitched, and was named the High School Player of the Year by USA Today. He was also a first-team high-school All-American pitcher.
In 1999, he was named the Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today.
He was also Texas League All-Star pitcher, Double-A All-Star starting pitcher, Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year and Baseball America First Team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher.
Ankiel made his MLB debut 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. 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 league, and allowed only 7.05 hits per nine innings. He came in second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He received The Sporting News Rookie Player of the Year Award.
After a successful 2000 regular season in which Rick posted a 3.50 ERA and set a Cardinals record for strikeouts with 194, the postseason took a turn for the worst, Rick experienced what is called the yips, a condition that takes away control from a player with no known cause. Rick asked to be sent to the minors to work on his control. He had Tommy John surgery in 2003 and then battled his way back on the mound for the Cardinals in 2004.
In 2005 he switched positions and became an outfielder. Only 12 players in MLB History have debuted as a pitcher and then switched to be a position player. The last player to do it was in 1947. Rick played all three outfield positions. He has suited up for the Cardinals, Royals, Braves, Nationals, Astros and Mets. Rick was known for his defense and had arguably the best arm in all of baseball. Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox was quoted saying he had the best arm he had ever seen in 50 years in baseball.
Only two players in MLB history have pitched 20 innings and hit 25 home runs in a season and were the starting pitcher of a playoff game and homered in a playoff game, Rick Ankiel and Babe Ruth.
In addition to helping players with anxiety and the yips, Rick works as a on air host for FOX Sports Midwest. He is a Florida native and makes his offseason home in Jupiter, FL with his wife, Lory and two sons.
photo credit: jack bates