A Tribute to Former Chief Rick Ankiel
With the news yesterday that Rick Ankiel is retiring, it is time to honor one of the Chiefs players from the 25th Anniversary team named in 2007. In 1998 (As an 18 year old!!), Ankiel made his pro debut as Peoria’s opening day starter at Kane County. He made seven starts going 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 12 walks in 35 innings before a May promotion to High-A Prince William. Two seasons later he was finishing 2nd to Rafael Furcal in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and starting the Cardinals first playoff game. And while 1998 would not be Rick’s last interaction in Peoria, those seven starts were brilliant, here are the highlights:
- Opening Day starter April 10, 1998 at Kane County. 8-3 Chiefs Win. 5ip, 5h, 0r, 2bb, 6k WIN
- May 1 vs. Quad Cities: 7-1 Chiefs win: 6ip, 0h, 0r, 2bb, 7k WIN. 2:08 gametime
- May 6 at Fort Wayne 4-3 Chiefs loss: 6.2ip, 0h, 0r, 1bb, 10k. Retired first 11 with 4k.
- May 11 at Lansing, 7-1 Chiefs win: 7ip, 2h, 1r, 5bb, 4k, WIN. Single by Lansing’s Juan Brito in 3rd ended Ankiel’s hitless streak at 17.2 innings. Chiefs ended a 7-game losing streak.
- May 17 vs. West Michigan, Chiefs lose in 10 innings. 5.2ip, 8h, 3r, ND. Ankiel promoted the next day
When I was a young Peoria Chiefs intern in 2002 one of the very first press releases I wrote was about the Cardinals assigning Rick Ankiel to the Chiefs on a 30-day rehab stint as he attempted to recover from a left elbow strain. As an intern that summer working with the media, you can imagine how popular Rick was with the local media members so he and I chatted quite a bit. He was always very gracious with his time, working with the other Chiefs players (who were on their way to a MWL Championship) including Yadier Molina, Danny Haren, Chris Duncan and Tyler Johnson. Ankiel never did appear in a Chiefs game during his month in Peoria in 2002. He warmed up a few times in the bullpen but never entered a game. He left to attend Darryl Kile’s funeral in mid-June and was then shut down with the elbow strain causing him to miss the entire 2002 season.
In 2005 Rick came back to Peoria, this time as a cleanup hitter and outfielder for the Swing of the Quad Cities. That was the first year the Cubs were affiliated in Peoria and the Cardinals were in Quad Cities. Ankiel was again very popular with the Peoria fans and media and once again gracious with his time. I interviewed him on the Chiefs radio broadcast and after he clubbed a grand slam off the Groundscrew shed he asked for a copy of the DVD so he could see his swing. In fact he hit three of his 11 MWL home runs against the Chiefs, two in Peoria, and had a six-RBI game on June 19 including the grand slam.
The stats are crazy when you remember that Ankiel was a 2nd round pick as a pitcher: 76 home runs, 251 RBI, 101 doubles, .240 average, 31 outfield assists. This was after he won 13 games with a 3.90 ERA in 41 starts while striking out 269 in 242 innings. Imagine if you will Shelby Miller never pitching again but going down to rookie ball and working his way back up all the way to St. Louis as a power-hitting outfielder! Or a player like Yasiel Puig never playing the field again after 2015 but returning to the Majors in 2019 as a #3 starter on the Dodgers. This just doesn’t happen. But Ankiel did it. I call him the most underrated athlete of our generation. Just watch these homers and throws and remember THIS IS A PITCHER!
Never again are we likely to see the same player turn in a season with 30 starts on the mound going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts and then seven years later batting .264 with 25 home runs, 21 doubles and 71 RBI, Enjoy the retirement Rick, happy fishing, and we hope to see you back in Peoria sometime soon!
Videos of Ankiel
Rick homered in 2007 in his debut as an outfielder
Extra inning home run in NL playoffs in 2010
A great throw for Washington
Peoria Chiefs slideshow of Rick Ankiel from 1998 and 2002 plus a couple baseball cards.