Rick Ankiel: Anxiety in Professional Sports

Fellow podcasters Matt & Phil from the Semi Intellectual Musings Podcast recently contacted us via twitter to ask for our opinion on a story about former major league baseball player Rick Ankiel and his battle with anxiety.  There way to much to say in 140 characters so I decided to type our some thoughts here instead.

In the late 90’s and early 2000s I was heavy into fantasy sports, back then before marriage, family, career, I knew every player on every MLB team and every franchise’s top prospects.  No prospect stood out or was more highly touted than Rick Ankiel. He was a “can’t miss” prospect, an arm that comes around once in a generation. He showed great promise in the 1999 and 2000 seasons but like many hard throwers he was plagued with some “control problems”. As the article alludes to, it was in the 2000 playoffs vs. the Braves where it all unraveled for Ankiel. He literally could not throw a strike, throwing one wild pitch after another.  We had seen this kind of mental block before with Mackey Sasser a catcher who couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher and also with Chuck Knoblauch a second baseman who couldn’t throw the ball to first base and eventually became an outfielder.  But this thing with Ankiel was different, he was a pitcher, his only job is to throw the ball sixty feet six inches from the mound to the plate.

Ankiel was out of baseball within  couple of seasons. This was nothing new really,  baseball history is filled with flamethrowers who couldn’t harness their full potential. The amazing thing is that he re-emerged as a power hitting outfielder in 2007-2008 and was actually pretty good (he hit 25 homeruns in 2008).

Flash forward to 2017 and Roberto Osuna of the Jays who recently openly stated he was dealing with anxiety. The fact that he is openly talking about it is a testament to just how far we have come in the past 15 years. Historically a professional athlete would be seen as weak if he admitted to anxiety, athletes are taught even as kids not to show any signs of weakness.
It’s campaigns like Bell’s Let’s Talk and spokesperson Clara Hughes that have changed the way we look at depression and anxiety.  Rick Ankiel couldn’t talk about it back then. Today Osuna can.

Written by Skip

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