The Cardinals newest slugger is Rick Ankiel. Once a superstar rookie pitcher, Ankiel imploded in the 2000 playoffs and has now completed the conversion to power-hitting outfielder. In about a month with the Big Club, the lefty rightfielder has nearly matched Jim Edmonds homerun output for the whole season. He has also easily eclipsed injured slugger Scott Rolen’s homerun total as the third baseman is now out for the season. Ankiel’s season totals read like this: .353 BA, 9 HRs, 29 RBIs, 30 Hits, and 6 doubles in just 85 at-bats. However, this once feel-good story of redemption has recently been spoiled by a performance enhancing drugs controversy. The New York Daily News reported that while living in Florida and recovering from ligament replacement surgery, Ankiel received 8 shipments of human growth hormone (HGH) between January and December, 2004. Ankiel was an injured pitcher at the time and pitched in just 5 games for the Cardinals that season.
Now Rick Ankiel has made a magnificent comeback to the majors. The day before the HGH story broke, the rightfielder had his second 2 homerun game and a career-high 7 RBIs in a Cardinals 16-4 victory over the Pirates. I awoke Friday morning, expecting to read all about this great hitting display by the newly converted slugger, only to read the Daily News story on the front page of STLtoday.com. This story seems to take all of the feel-good out of Ankiel’s return and he has neither admitted or denied receiving the shipments of the now banned substance. Cardinals General Manager, Walt Jocketty now finds himself doing damage control once again as he did with the LaRussa DWI and Josh Hancock’s fatal drunk driving crash. "We know that he was under the care of licensed physicians inFlorida…" Jocketty said. "All the medications and prescriptions he
received were legal (and prescribed) by licensed physicians. That’s all
we know at this point. There was no violation of Major League Baseball
rules. There was no violation of any laws." The tricky aspect of this situation is that HGH was not banned by Baseball until 2005, reportedly after Ankiel stopped receiving the substance. Cardinals fans, the media, and baseball fans in general wonder if we lump Ankiel into a Barry Bonds category and write him off as a cheater or do we treat this as we treated Mark McGwire’s admitted andro use. That is to say, both Ankiel and McGwuire’s alleged use of now banned substances occurred before MLB banned them.
This Cardinals season was finally fun to watch with Ankiel, and rookie Brendan Ryan leading the newly resurgent offense and Adam Wainwright leading the starting pitching staff. However, despite the suspect timing of the story, a cloud is now over all that Ankiel is accomplishing. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to cheer for Rick as he continues his dominance of Major League Pitching. Time will tell if he can continue to impress under this new cloud and avoid any punishment from MLB…