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Friday, March 11, 2005

Rick Ankiel and Unrealistic Expectations 

It's a couple days old by now, but I can't ignore the news that Rick Ankiel is giving up pitching to try to become a big league outfielder. Ankiel was named the high school pitcher of the year and minor league pitcher of the year in the same season, and the following year, at age 20, was called up to pitch for the Cardinals. Expectations were beyond huge; Ankiel, a lefty with a blazing fastball and nasty curve, was immediately compared by just about everyone to the immortally great Sandy Koufax. When Ankiel started having his notorious control problems, so bad that he had trouble hitting the catcher let alone the strike zone, everyone seemed to have a solution except for Ankiel himself. After demotion to the minor leagues and arm surgery, Ankiel finally worked his way back to the Cardinals roster and pitched well, but this spring the wildness again reared its ugly head.

There have been many articles written about Ankiel's demise, none better than Brian Gunn's on The Hardball Times, that list and comment on the various prevailing theories about its causes. I personally buy into the Chuck Knoblauch hypothesis: thinking too much about a routine task dooms it to failure.

Rick Ankiel's attempt to convert himself into a Major League outfielder has few precedents, Babe Ruth most notably, and will undoubtedly be difficult to achieve. Unfortunately, he still can't get away from the gaudy expectations. I can't, off the top of my head, think of anyone besides Ruth that pitched in the major leagues and later became a successful position player. If he does indeed make it as an outfielder it will be a terrific story, and I wish Ankiel the best of luck.

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