One of the most fascinating ballplayers of his generation, Rick Ankiel, has officially retired, Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin announced on the air today (story via MLB.com's AJ Cassavell). Ankiel is hoping to stay in the game by catching on in a front office.
Ankiel is a 34-year-old, power-hitting, free-agent outfielder who was cut loose by two different clubs last year. That seemed an unlikely ending when he cracked the league at age 19 as a big-armed pitcher, announcing himself with a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings for the Cardinals. He followed that up with an outstanding rookie year, throwing 175 innings of 3.50 ERA ball, notching 10.0 K/9 against 4.6 BB/9.
Then, of course, came Ankiel's sudden and stunning meltdown on the mound during the 2000 postseason. He never recovered to regain his former promise, and seemed destined to fade into obscurity.
Things took a second, almost equally startling turn when Ankiel re-emerged as an outfielder. Returning to the bigs in August of 2007, Ankiel swatted a home run in his debut and never looked back. He ultimately logged 2,019 plate appearances, notching 74 home runs and compiling a .242/.304/.427 line. And, of course, he put his powerful arm to good use, unleashing a number of memorable throws that cut down baserunners looking to stretch an extra base.
Though he was reportedly still interested in playing as recently as February, Ankiel had not received any interest at that point. He apparently decided to hang up his spikes now, rather than waiting for another opportunity.
After his time in St. Louis, Ankiel roamed the outfield for several clubs, starting with the Royals and Braves. He played for two seasons with the Nationals before finishing his career in 2013 with the Astros and Mets. Ankiel's overall stat line does not stand out, at least until one notices that it encapsulates two separate careers. Ultimately, his remarkable story, hard-nosed play, and incredible arm ensure that he'll long be remembered as a ballplayer.