Bobby Cox was saying the other day that Rick Ankiel has the best outfield arm he has ever seen, and no doubt he has. He has made some of the sharpest throws from centerfield, the kind that would have made Mickey Mantle proud. And, why not? As a pitcher with the Cardinals, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting with his record of 11-7. Tony LaRussa then started him against the Braves in the Division Playoffs—against Greg Maddux. For two innings he nailed down the Braves, and Maddux pitched more like Ankiel. Then it happened. Ankiel suddenly went wild. He couldn’t hit the side of a barn, and his wildness ran on into the following spring. And on, and on, but happily he had something to fall back on—he could hit. But soon he lost his touch with the bat and the Cards let him go to Kansas City.
It isn’t easy to realize what a gamble Frank Wren was taking when he made the trade with the Royals. Of course, it’s early, but Ankiel has impressed more than just Cox alone. He’s a good teamer. He plays the outfield like a guy who has been there all his life—-though I might add he did say, at one time, that he might take one more fling at pitching. But why? Remember, Bobby didn’t say “one of the best arms he’d ever seen in centerfield,” he said THE best. Add that two-strike, three-run triple that deflated the Cubs Friday, it’s hard to imagine that this nice young man would ever think of wearing a toe-plate again. It ain’t over yet, but you got to know Frank Wren is on his horse.
On the other hand, if Freddie Freeman is, indeed, the Braves “first baseman of the future,” why wouldn’t you decide to get started on his future? Why give up three pitching prospects to get Derrek Lee, a veteran hitting .251— remember those three names, for one might turn out to be another Wainwright—one of those good-natured clubhouse guys, and send Troy Glaus to Gwinnett to take a refresher course in third-basing? (Heaven knows how that’s going to work out. Think he might return as the next Chipper Jones?)
But the point is, why not get on with Freddie Freeman and his future at first base? Remember, they were even dallying with his first-basing future during spring training. You gotta say, ones does feel rather comfortable with an old warhorse like Lee on the bag.
It still keeps popping up in my mind—the possibility that Bobby Cox may so enjoy the way the ’10 season is working out that he’ll take a bye on that retirement stuff. Why not? Everywhere he goes, every headline he reads, every time another player lands on the Braves roster, it’s another serenade for Bobby. “Always wanted to play for Bobby Cox,” they say. ‘Everybody’s happy playing for Bobby, so why shouldn’t I?’ I wouldn’t say it’s a cut and dried thing. Even Bobby looks happier than ever rocking along in first place and wallowing in all the encomium. Like a guy discovering there’s another side to life he’d never known before. Not just the winning, but the serenading—and nobody has put him in a rocking chair yet.