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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