Ankiel was the hottest high school pitching prospect in the country in the late 1990s and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round in 1997. He would make his big league debut in 1999 at the age of 19. Ankiel won 11 games in his rookie season in 2000 striking out 194 batters in 175 innings.
But then during the post-season Ankiel lost it. He could not throw a strike tossing ten wild pitches in starts in the NLDS against the Braves and the NLCS against the Mets. To this day, nobody knows why it happened. Ankiel would win only two more big league games. Complicating matters was Tommy John Surgery which kept him out for all of the 2003 season.
Always a good hitting pitcher, Ankiel would reinvent himself beginning in 2005 when he went to the minors and converted into an outfielder. Ankiel made a triumphant return to the majors in 2007 which was the subject of one of Charles Krauthammer’s most memorable essays
and subsequently appeared in his bookThings That Matter.
Ankiel’s best offensive season came in 2008 when he hit 25 HR, drove in 71 runs and walked 100 times. However, after crashing in the outfield wall early the next season, his production would decline and between 2010 and 2013 Ankiel had stints with the Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and New York Mets. Ankiel achieved post-season glory in 2010 when he hit a walk off HR in for the Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. Ankiel finished his offensive career with .240 lifetime batting average, 76 HR and 251 RBI.