I knew I had heard this during the broadcast on MLB.tv this weekend, but didn’t have the exact quote. Thanks to DG over at STLToday.com for posting it and reminding me:
“It’s stunning,” [Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster Steve] Blass said about Ankiel, the pitcher-turned-slugger. “No one can appreciate what he has done, how he’s come and what he has accomplished like I can. … I can tell you chapter and verse about what happens to you emotionally when you go through what he did and what I did. To hold it together and come out on the other side like he has is tremendous, just tremendous.”
Blass said this after Ankiel hit his 20th home run of the season in the winning effort Friday night against the Pirates.
For those unfamiliar with Steve Blass’ name and exploits, he was a successful starting pitcher with the Pirates, one instrumental in their 1971 World Series win. He finished second to Roberto Clemente in World Series MVP voting for that season. He followed that up with a Cy Young runner-up performance, winning 19 games in 1972.
In 1973, he walked 84 batters in 88 innings pitched. His line for the season included a 9.85 ERA. He only pitched 5 innings at the Major League level in 1974, walking 7 batters and an ERA of 9.00. He retired prior to the start of the 1975 season, after having a disastrous spring training.
I tell you all of that to tell you this. What happened to Rick Ankiel as a pitcher, that ultimately led us to this point, with him starting in centerfield for the Cards, is widely known as “Steve Blass Disease.” What I mean to say is, Blass knows something about the subject.
Rick clearly has immense athletic ability to do what he’s done, but he also had something else Blass didn’t – time. Blass was “stricken” with his inability to throw strikes at age 31. Even with all he’s been through and the time put in, Ankiel will turn 29 on Saturday. The last pitch he threw with the Cardinals was in 2004 at age 25. By the start of 2005, he was belting dingers at Quad Cities.
I know Ankiel’s career path is not suffering from a lack of attention. He probably wishes sometimes people would just let him be an outfielder and move on. However, I think it’s important to note when something like this, from someone who has been through it – a class-act like Mr Blass – is said.
Despite all that’s been made and said of Rick’s progression to today, I think it’s hard to overestimate what he’s done and been through (despite my scathing post two days ago). Kudos Rick, and kudos to you too Steve Blass.