Former Major League Baseball pitcher and outfielder, Rick Ankiel has announced his plan to make a comeback in 2019. The former St. Louis Cardinals star made these plans official as part of the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast of the Cardinals–Marlins game on Monday night. Ankiel plans to return to baseball as a reliever.
Ankiel last played in the Major Leagues in 2013, but hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since the 2004 season with St. Louis. Ankiel was once a prized arm in the St. Louis organization, but a case of the “yips” derailed his professional pitching career.
Ankiel was the runner up for the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2000 for the Cardinals. He finished the regular season with a 11-7 record to go along with a 3.50 earned run average in his 31 appearances that season. Ankiel was tabbed as the game 1 starter in the NLDS that season, but things went sideways in a hurry for the lefthander. He threw five wild pitches in one inning of that game, and threw five more wild pitches in game 1 of the NLCS against the Mets that season. Ankiel finished the 2000 postseason with 11 walks in just four innings pitched.
The Cardinals transitioned Ankiel into an outfielder after a few more seasons of struggling on the mound. He made his debut as an outfielder for the Cardinals in 2007. Ankiel clubbed 25 homers as an outfielder for St. Louis in 2008, while providing stellar defense and one of the best outfield arms in baseball.
After the Cardinals declined to sign Ankiel after the 2009 season, he signed with the Kansas City Royals prior to the 2010 season. He finished the 2010 season as a member of the Atlanta Braves and then bounced around for the next three seasons. Ankiel appeared as a member of the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, and New York Mets before calling it quits in 2013.
Ankiel has spent a large part of his retirement working with young players who suffer through the same ailments as he had. He has been pitching regularly with the young players, and started to get the idea of a comeback during this time.
The 39 year old got a taste of live pitching when he appeared as a reliever in the Bluegrass World Series in Lexington, Kentucky. Ankiel was a part of a team of former Major League players who were facing off against a team of college stars. He came into the game and struck out the only batter he faced with a high fastball. Ankiel’s fastball topped out at 89 miles per hour in that game, which is well below what he was throwing before he retired.
It is unclear if Ankiel will be given an invitation to a spring training camp next February, but Major League teams will likely keep an eye on his comeback attempt. Ankiel is the first player since Babe Ruth to win at least 10 Major League Baseball games while also hitting at least 50 home runs.