Rick Ankiel: Bambino or Bonds?

In the Busch Stadium press box yesterday, the Cardinals' game-day notes contained an interesting factoid. Since Babe Ruth transitioned from the pitcher's mound to the outfield in 1918, just two other players in major league history -- Clint Hartung and Rick Ankiel -- have homered first as a pitcher and later as a position player. Before his career fizzled, Hartung hit three home runs as an outfielder with the 1952 New York Giants. Ankiel, on the other hand, has produced more Ruthian numbers.


Yesterday the Cardinals outfielder launched his eighth and ninth homers of the season in a game that also saw him hit a two-run double. Since his return to the majors 23 games ago, Ankiel is batting a whopping .358 and boasts a slugging percentage of .765. Projected over an entire season, Ankiel is on pace to hit 63 dingers. Yesterday in the right-field bleachers at Busch Stadium -- where both his homers landed -- fans raised their heads and bowed to the boy they've anointed "The Natural."

But could it be that Ankiel isn't so natural after all? This morning Cardinal Nation was greeted to news that Ankiel allegedly received a twelve-month supply of human growth hormone (HGH) in 2004 from a Florida pharmacy under investigation for operating an illegal prescription-drug operation. According to the New York Daily News, "Ankiel received eight shipments of HGH from Signature Pharmacy in Orlando from January to December 2004, including the brand-name injectable drugs Saizen and Genotropin."

The News reports that Signature Pharmacy is at the forefront of Albany District Attorney David Soares' two-year investigation into illegal Internet prescription-drug sales, which has brought 22 indictments and 9 convictions. Reacting to the allegation, Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty told the News: "This is the first I've heard of this. If it's true, obviously it would be very tragic, along with everything else we've had happen to us this year."

A spokesman for Major League Baseball told the News that the governing body will "look into" the charges surrounding Ankiel. HGH was not officially banned from baseball until after the 2004 season; no current drug test accurately detects the hormone.

In the meantime, Cardinals fans can only hope the allegations don't cause a mental breakdown like the one we witnessed in 2000 when Ankiel (the pitcher) unraveled in the playoffs. As the Cardinals enter a crucial series against the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight, the team desperately needs Ankiel to keep swatting like Ruth or -- dare we say -- Barry Bonds, whose prodigious stats remain clouded by allegations of his own abuse of steroids and human growth hormone.

-Chad Garrison

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