by Russ Roberts on September 7, 2007

in Sports

The Rick Ankiel story is amazing. I was at Busch Stadium when he fell apart as a pitcher (thank you, RM) and have happily noted his absurdly glorious comeback as an outfielder. Ankiel is in the news today as the WSJ’s Daily Fix reports:

Rick Ankiel had been one of the best stories in
baseball this year. Mr. Ankiel, the onetime rising pitcher star who
suddenly fizzled out and couldn’t throw a strike, returned to the St. Louis Cardinals in August as a slugging outfielder.

On Thursday afternoon, he hit two home runs and drove
in seven to up his season total to nine homers and 29 RBI in 23 games.
His performance has helped the Cards to pull within one game of the
Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers, who are tied for first-place in
the National League Central.

"He’s been putting up Nintendo numbers," shortstop Brendan Ryan told the St. Louis Dispatch’s Derrick Goold.
"To do it in September where every hit, every RBI is everything we need
to win is incredible. He’s going to be a better position player than
maybe he ever could have as a pitcher."

But on Thursday night, New York Daily News reporters T.J. Quinn, Christian Red, Michael O’Keeffe and Bill Madden broke the sad story that Mr. Ankiel received a 12-month supply of human growth hormone in 2004.

It’s unclear whether Mr. Ankiel will face any
repercussions legally or from Major League Baseball, which has been
accused of doing too little to rid the sport of performance-enhancing
drugs. Mr. Ankiel has not been accused of wrongdoing, and he stopped
receiving HGH before MLB banned it in 2005, according to the News.

But why do the authors call this a sad story? A kid who had the potential to be a Hall of Fame pitcher suddenly finds himself unable to find home plate. It must have been devastating. I suspect he tried a lot of things to resurrect his life and cope with the despair of disappointment–prayer, alcohol, hard work, perseverance, weight training, and according to the cited story, HGH. Three years ago. It wasn’t banned by baseball at the time. He wasn’t alone in using it. Are we supposed to think of him as a cheater? I don’t get it. Until we know how widespread the use of chemicals is and was in baseball, I have no idea what to think of Rick Ankiel’s use.

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LowcountryJoe September 7, 2007 at 1:51 pm

No one displayed the same kinds of sanctimonious indignation when Canseco was hitting lazer beams over the wall in the late 80s nor the many other power hitters whom were very musular During the same stretch.

McGwire and Sosa pratically brought fans back after the Players strike…their off field body-shaping activities were halfassed endorsed by MLB and its fans alike; what changed the opinion of the majority?

Adam September 7, 2007 at 2:14 pm

We were all ignorant (in the '80s) and then willfully blind (in the '90s). Over the past few years the evidence has become so overwhelming that no one but the most deluded can deny that there's a major drug problem in major league baseball.

The fact that drugs seem to be rampant doesn't excuse any one individual's use of them. It would be nice if there could be a feel-good story that doesn't have a cloud hanging over it, but these days they all do out of necessity. It's sad.

tom September 7, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I hate baseball and couldn't care less about the sport, but why is there a "cloud" over the guy's head for using a substance that hadn't been banned by baseball at the time? There is no such thing a retroactive cheating.

John Payne September 7, 2007 at 3:06 pm

Thank you for saying what I had been thinking since I first heard the story. Granted, I'm a Cardinals fan, so I'm not exactly objective, but the fact remains, it looks like he used it before it was banned. If baseball banned creatine tomorrow as a performace enhancing substance, would almost every baseball player be a cheater because they used it before the ban?

LowcountryJoe September 7, 2007 at 3:09 pm

Ignorance of steriod in baseball during the 80s? The fans in Boston would mockingly chant "steriods. steriods" (in the same manner they would chant "Darryl. Darryl" at Strawberry during the '86 WS) when Canseco would come to bat. Alledged steriod usage by players would euphamistically be called "drinking the Jose Canseco milkshakes" by prominent sports writers. There was no ignorance of this behavior since as early as the '88 season.

AC September 7, 2007 at 3:34 pm

If he didn't (hasn't) used them as a major leaguer, what does it matter? His stats aren't tainted.

Brad Hutchings September 7, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I thought this was all Barry Bonds' fault. I say if Ankiel is a nice guy and friendly to reporters, they should give him a pass. </sarcasm>

vidyohs September 8, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I was an athlete, back in the day, and I learned that eating a high carb meal the night before a morning game would give me more energy than the guy that wasn't aware of this and who ate low carb food.

Should I have been made to pitch to him from a distance of 75 feet instead of 60? Should he have received 5 balls and 4 strikes before his turn at the plate was complete?

My teammates that ate high carb meals and as a result were more successful at stealing bases and running down my mistakes, should they have had handicapping weights attached to their belts?

Perhaps we should have been investigated and banned for eating carbs, after all it gave us an advantage over those who did not.

Then to compound the whole problem, we also had a good trainer who taught us how to develop good muscles that gave us more power and speed, and all through his unique innovative training skills.

Were we to be banned for our "secret" unequal trainning?

How about the use of simple protein powder used by some athletes to aid in building muscle mass?

Then what do we do about all the high tech gloves and bats that men use today? Should their accomplishments (Gold Gloves) be marked in the record books with an astrick? After all early day players had ridiculous little crappy gloves to use and bats that they whittled out of thick sticks (virtually).

To me it is all "much ado about nothing". The steriod taker is really hurting himself in the long run more than he is "hurting" the game.

Dick White September 10, 2007 at 7:20 am

What's the big deal–this is what reporters do. Had Ankiel come up to the majors and hit .185, there would be no story. This is a man bites dog scenario and we have to deal with it.

Randy Drake September 21, 2007 at 4:05 pm

Hey guess what, Bill Madden spent 45 days in a alcoholic rehab unit in the 1990's. Hows the buzz Bill?

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