St. Louis Cardinals: Familiar faces among new nominees for Hall of Fame
The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released today, and it featured several new faces quite familiar to St. Louis Cardinals fans, including favorites Rick Ankiel and Lance Berkman.
On top of Rick Ankiel and Lance Berkman, former St. Louis Cardinals Placido Polanco is one of the new additions to the ballot. He spent his first five seasons in St. Louis, and was a solid contact hitter for the team to the tune of a .296 average.
The other two, however, have a much deeper relationship with the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite Berkman only playing with the team for not even two seasons, his duels with the Cardinals and the magical 2011 run that turned him from annoyance to hero make him a unique figure in Cardinals lore.
Rick Ankiel’s career is not being nominated so much on it’s merit and more because of it’s unique nature. Serving as both a pitcher and batter is a unique skill in the MLB, and Ankiel’s career may be the one of the most interesting sagas ever.
Does that make them worthy of a spot in Cooperstown? Possibly, but to even be given consideration for enshrinement is enough to appreciate their contributions to the Cardinals.
Lance Berkman actually spent most of his career as a thorn in the side of the St. Louis Cardinals as a member of the formerly NL Central-based Astros. He played almost 1600 games with the Astros, all as an NL team, and he put up some impressive numbers, as many fans surely remember.
In 12 years in Houston, Berkman slashed a .296/.410/.549 and hit 366 home runs and drove in 1090 runs. He was a five time All-Star, finished two seasons with over 40 homers, and eclipsed 100 RBI’s in six of those seasons.
His numbers against the Cardinals are even better. In 547 plate appearances against the Redbirds, Berkman slashed .310/.410/.588 against the Cardinals, and was one of the most fearsome hitters the Cardinals had to face in the early to mid 2000’s along with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrick Lee, among others.
In fact, from 2002-2009, no player hit more home runs against the St. Louis Cardinals than Berkman’s 30. While these numbers are impressive, what really puts Berkman’s career in contention for enshrinement in Cooperstown is his impressive playoff resume, capped off by a magical run with the Cardinals in 2011.
In that run, Berkman posted a 1.4 win probability added (WPA), which is currently tied for the sixth best mark of any single postseason. That includes a remarkable 1 WPA in the World Series, a testament to a .423 average and a series saving hit in game 6 that will forever be one of the most iconic moments in St. Louis Cardinals history.
His career with the Cardinals, although brief, was something that fans can remember fondly. His slash line of .295/.408/.533 is strikingly similar to what it was in Houston, and it could have been even better if Father Time hadn’t struck a nasty blow to Berkman’s body.
His sole full regular season in St. Louis was a great one; he hit .301/.412/.547 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI’s, and when you put that together with one of the best postseasons ever, Lance Berkman will be remembered fondly in the city of St. Louis, and all of baseball.
He certainly has the numbers to back his nomination up. He has the 27th highest career OPS ever with a .943 mark, is 39th in intentional walks drawn with 160, 140th in RBI’s with 1,234, and 82nd in home runs with 366 for his career. He won’t be a first ballot, but I would be surprised if Lance Berkman didn’t eventually make it to Cooperstown.
Rick Ankiel is actually attempting a major league comeback, but that attempt is currently on hold following elbow surgery. Even if the 39 year old Ankiel never sees a professional baseball field again, Ankiel’s career was one of the most unique in the history of sports.
Ankiel is most well known for coming down with the yips as a pitcher in the 2000 postseason with the Cardinals, to the tune of a 15.75 ERA in 3 postseason games (2 starts). In just 4 total innings, Ankiel walked 11 batters. Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it. Ankiel became the first player in major league history to throw five wild pitches in one inning, and ended up with 9 wild pitches in those 4 innings.
Before this, Ankiel had been a promising young pitcher, coming in as the number #1 prospect in the MLB in 2000, according to Baseball America. He sported an 11-8 record and a 3.46 ERA in 1999 and 2000 over his first 208 innings as a pitcher, and former St. Louis Cardinals manager and Hall of Famer Tony La Russa was confident enough in Ankiel to make him the surprise game 1 starter in 2000.
His walk rate was quite high at 4.5 BB/9, but there was no reason to believe his first postseason would go so badly, or be as detrimental to his psyche as it was.
But this collapse didn’t deter his career. Instead, it reinvented it.
After struggling to control his pitches in the aftermath of his yips fiasco, the organization demoted him all the way down to the Rookie League team in Johnson City. While he was never able to recapture his pitching control, he found himself as a serviceable hitter. Serving as a part-time DH, Ankiel slashed .286/.364/.638 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI’s in just 118 plate appearances.
The sample size was a bit small, so it wasn’t quite enough for Ankiel to give up on his pitching career. Unfortunately, injuries suddenly became another road block, as an elbow strain stripped Ankiel of his 2002 season, and Tommy John surgery took him out for most of 2003, though a 6.29 ERA, 10 wild pitches, and an absurd 8.1 BB/9 in just 54.1 innings were not a good sign for him even if he were healthy.
Ankiel made a brief return to the major league level in 2004, though he played just 5 games with the St. Louis Cardinals that year. His walk rate dropped tremendously, walking just one batter in 10 innings, but he could never quite recapture what made him successful.
Finally, on March 9, 2005, at the age of 25 and after a winter in Puerto Rico where he felt a “twinge” in his elbow followed by an erratic spring training, Rick Ankiel made the switch to the outfield.
Ankiel’s 2006 season also ended abruptly before it could really get started, but St. Louis Cardinals scouts were impressed with what they saw both as a hitter and a fielder. He got another chance at the Cardinals 2007 spring training, and was so impressive that he started the season all the way up in Triple A.
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He slashed .267/.314/.568 and added a solid 32 home runs and 89 RBI’s in 102 games for Memphis before making his return to the St. Louis Cardinals on August 9. He managed to maintain an average of over .300 for his first 29 games, and finished 2007 with a .285/.328/.535 slash line, 11 home runs, and 39 RBI’s in just 190 plate appearances.
Ankiel ended up playing 11 seasons in the majors, finishing with 651 games played. He finished with a .240/.302/.442 career slash line, 76 home runs, and 251 RBI’s. On the pitching side, he finished with a 3.90 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 242 innings.
On their own, these numbers are a perplexing candidate to enter Cooperstown. It is the trials, the infamy, and the retribution that have gotten him this far, but is it enough to be a Hall of Famer? Unfortunately, the numbers and the injuries would make Ankiel a massive statistical outlier. Despite the uniqueness of his career, he wasn’t quite good enough nor his career historically impactful enough for me to see Rick Ankiel making it to the Hall of Fame.
Ankiel, Berkman, and Polanco were all solid players, each with their unique impact on St. Louis Cardinals history. But it takes the stuff of legends to make it to Cooperstown, and not everyone has it. While each of their nominations is a monumental accomplishment to take pride in, I can only see Lance Berkman having a chance to make the Hall of Fame.