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Officially Ending An Era

Posted on January 22, 2010 at 9:35 AM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
I don't have much time today, but I couldn't let it pass without note.  Rick Ankiel will be playing for a team other than the Cardinals for the first time this coming season, signing a one-year deal with the Royals.  The Cardinals visit over there June 25-27, so mark your calendars accordingly.

I've always been a big fan of Ankiel.  Maybe not to the level of Will Leitch, of course, but I've followed him since he was coming up in the organization back in the late '90s.  Watching him pitch was a delight, and he was completely robbed of the Rookie of the Year in 2000, in my opinion.

Which made the '00 playoffs, and the resulting spring training in 2001, so painful to watch.  You knew the talent was still there.  He could still marshall enough control to show that.  It just wasn't regular enough, and nothing that the team or anyone else could do seemed to make that control return.

It's said that Mike Matheny still wishes he'd been behind the plate for that fateful game against the Braves, when everything started to unravel.  Would it have made a difference?  Could anything have been done to keep that electric arm in sync and on a path for ace status?  We'll never know.  Likely not, but it makes you wonder.

We watched him go through surgeries and setbacks before finally returning to the bigs in 2004.  He was coming out of the pen then, still feeling his way somewhat, but he was able to chalk up another big league win.  While the Cardinals weren't getting an ace, it looked like they'd at least have a servicable pitcher.

Then the twist.  The 2005 spring training when things started off bad and, instead of retiring, the team suggested he become an outfielder.  An outfielder?  Really?  Who is he, Smokey Joe Wood?

Back to the minors to adjust to his new position.  What surprised everyone, I think, was the amount of power that he had.  A 30-HR season?  Really?

The scene in 2007, when he was called up and hit a home run in his first game, was remarkable.  This was one of those "you can't make this up" moments.  Redemption appeared to be at hand, or at least until the HGH news broke.

The first half of 2008 showed what Ankiel could do when healthy.  He had a very strong start to the season, leading Cardinal fans to wonder if the team would sign him long-term and play him with Colby Rasmus to anchor the outfield.  His numbers tailed off during the second half, as he battled a sports hernia and, perhaps, as pitchers began to figure out he had some trouble hitting offspeed stuff.

Last year was pretty much a lost season for Rick, at least after his head-first dive into the Busch Stadium outfield wall.  He never seemed to recover from that, and even though his agent (Scott Boras, of course) wanted a three-year deal with big money, the best they could do was a one-year deal with an option in Kansas City.

While just Wednesday I was considering, if not advocating, his return as a fourth outfielder, it's not a bad thing to see Ankiel move on.  He will always be one of my favorites, but there just isn't a spot for him now and I'm not convinced he'll ever be that big hitter he flashed at the beginning of '08.

But as Ilsa says at the end of Casablanca, "Good luck, Rick.  God bless you."

Along the same vein, Joel Pineiro signed with the Angels earlier this week.  Pineiro's another one that we appreciate what he did for the club, but really didn't fit into the plans for the future.  Hopefully he does well in LA, though it'll be interesting to see if he can keep the ground ball rate that he had this year.  If not, it could get ugly fast.

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2 Comments | Leave a comment

With Ankiel gone (thank god!) do you think the Cards will be more inclined to sign Edmonds?

No, I don't think that affects anything in the Edmonds negotiations (or, apparently, lack of them). They'd prepared all offseason for Ankiel to move on, so this doesn't change anything for the front office.

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