Sep 7, 2007

HGH and Ankiel

Today's New York Daily News is reporting that Rick Ankiel received shipments of Human Growth Hormone or HGH starting in 2004 and continuing into 2005. Those shipments supposedly ended before Major League Baseball included HGH as a banned substance in 2005. But it has put quite a damper on what had been, in my opinion, the best story to come out of baseball in a year in which Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's most hallowed home run record under a huge cloud of steroids and HGH.

For those of you who don't know the story, Rick Ankiel was the Minor League Player of the Year in 1999 for the Cardinal's organization. He had a more than solid rookie year in 2000, going 11-7 with close to 200 strikeouts and finishing 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting. But in September of that year, he lost the ability to find the plate. I'm talking Nuke LaLoosh at the beginning of Bull Durham. It continued into the post-season, where he walked 11 batters in 4 innings sprinkled in with a shitload of wild pitches. His career as a pitcher was flaming out.

After trying to comeback in 2004 as a pitcher, and failing, he decided to hang up his pitching glove and trade it in for one used by an outfielder. His transition was completed this past August when he was called up as the Cardinal's newest outfielder. And it has been quite a month. Last night he hit 2 home runs and drove in 7 RBI to cap a ridiculous 30 days in the bigs. 9 HR and 29 RBI in just 23 games. That's Ruthian by any one's standards. Babe Ruth, by the way, was also a pretty good pitcher before becoming a pretty good hitter. Just so ya know.

This is tragic stuff folks. I want to root for stories like Ankiel's. It's just such great stuff. People had even started calling him "The Natural" after Robert Redford's famous film character who went from pitcher to home-run king after a tragic incident. Oh, the irony!

Baseball has to find a way to test for this stuff and get it the hell out of our house! I have been scouring the box scores every day since Ankiel first arrived back in the bigs just to see what magic he performed the night before. Now I'll await a statement from him or his dick-wad of an agent, Scott Boras, to find out if he makes some lame excuse or an outright denial. Either way, a small part of my baseball soul died today. Sniff.

Next: Tomorrow I will try to rid myself of the HGH demons by talking about the MVP candidates from NY this year. Maybe it will help. Maybe.


Seals said...

He suffered from injuries during that time and it wasn't a banned substance, so it's not really that big of a deal. It's not like he's an admitted illegal steroids user like Jason Giambi.

Verdant Earl said...

Yeah, I know. HGH helps you recover faster from injuries and he did have Tommy John surgery in '03 (I think).

But the doctor he received the prescription from is a known enabler to the HGH/steroid mess that we have in the ML now.

I just think the current storyline would be much richer if there wasn't this HGH cloud over it.

And I don't condone Giambi's past either, even though he is really the only one to man up and admit his mistakes.

badgerdaddy said...

Are you sure that's why they're calling him The Natural? After all, in the very, very famous book, the character has the greatest baseball skills ever, all over the park, and trades them in for dirty money at the end. Maybe the nickname indicates a character flaw rather than his skill!

And I'm sure the character didn't change disciplines - he was just really good at everything, even as an old 'un.

Average film, brilliant, brilliant book. Can't believe Redford was arrogant enough to fuck with that ending, too.

Verdant Earl said...

Wow...I gotta disagree with you on The Natural. I thought the movie, while changed significantly from the novel, was absolutely fantastic.

They are two separate beasts. Malamud's novel is part Arthurian legend part Greek tragedy rolled into a baseball fable. Levinson's film was changed to be pure baseball fable. A story about loss, temptation and redemption.

I think both work well within their own contexts, but I (loving baseball the way I do) liked the film far more than I liked the novel.

Plus, I really hated the "Say it ain't so, Roy" line at the end of the novel. Ugh!

Unknown said...

I have to post my own opinions here on Ankiel. First, regardless of how tarnished it may seem, this is NOT Ben Johnson, and this is NOT Floyd Landis, and this is surely NOT any East German female athlete from the 70's or 80's. This is a guy who was injured and in immense turmoil, who took a then-legal substance to help heal himself. Yet unlike the others who've cheated on the field it hasn't been shown that Ankiel did anything wrong. We all know that jaywalking is illegal, and we all do it. But the cops can't enforce it since its basically a harmless crime and too widespread to police. So if someone took an illegal drug and didn't get caught, its still breaking the rules (i.e. the law). But as far as I read he didn't even do that. Unline many of us, Ankiel was on the world stage, and he collapsed huge. Ask the families of Eric Show or Donnie Moore how the famous ballplayer in their family handled even the slightest moment of defeat prior to their suicide. Ankiel could have easily faded away, but he didn't.

His first step back was to go back into the minors, back to Johnson City, a rookie league affiliate. Ankiel simply dominated as a pitcher and a hitter. To understand the level of competition that he was facing, note that while this was 6 years ago only two of his teammates from Johnson City have seem a Major League field. Regardless of how well he did (160k's in 88 innings and only 18 walks, not to mention a nifty .638 slugging percentage as a hitter), he stayed there and began to slowly rise through the minors. He once again reached the Cardinals in 2004, and while he pitched well enough, it was apparant he was not going to be able to put the demons behind him. Thus, he began his climb through the minors as a hitter, going back to Single A ball. 3 years later, Ankiel has not only made it, he's clearly dominated big league pitching, and made an amazing impact on the game and his team. He has a ridiculous gun as a RF, which will always remind us of what once was, and what could have been.

I don't think Ankiel is the Natural, as he had to work his butt off to achieve what he has, twice. The baseball world is full of countless stories of players who didn't have the capacity to overcome obstacles that we as 'simple folk' will never have the talent to face. For every Ankiel, Jim Eisenreich, or Curtis Pride, there's a Joe Charboneau, a Bob Hamelin, or even a Daryl Strawberry, not to mention the millions of players that didn't have the ability to at least make it to the show.

Ankiel is a hero, regardless of the hoopla that now surrounds him. He's a hero because not only did he refuse to give up, he actually went from succeeding at one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports (a starting pitcher) to having success at a completely different and equally difficult job in which to achieve, a slugger.

As ungraceful as his quick fall was, we should be thankful that we are able to witness the grace to which he carries himself and the grace to which he takes to the field.

Verdant Earl said...

Zantall - nice touch. I knew I could count on you for your opinion. You kids are starting to turn me around on this.

I see where you are all at, but at the same time, even in 2004 when it was "legal", HGH was and is associated with performance enhancement in the same breath with steroids. Just because it was legal at the time, doesn't make it all the way right. It doesn't make it all the way wrong, either. Grey is everyone's favorite color.

I think those of us paying attention to the steroid scandal knew, at some point, that HGH would soon become a banned substance in the MLB. I just think the atheletes should have known as well.

Jay said...

wow that sucks how baseball players use steriods and crap...

im mean, why cant everyone just keep it natural and fair!!

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