I love learning from the statistics of comparable players from the same era.  The numbers can yield perspective on a player’s longevity and productivity.  The numbers can also inspire fans as we learn from the unique experiences of players who persevere.  This article is the first in my recurring series on pairs of players whose careers produced similar numbers.

Great players can see their careers shortened in many ways.  When a popular player retires it always feels too soon to his team’s fans.  Some great players hang it up after batting averages and other stats drop off due to nagging injuries. 

Rick Ankiel at the plate in 2007 (source = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Ankiel)

The talent and determination of players to remain in the major leagues is immense. Some have lengthened their careers through playing new positions.  This can happen due to ineffectiveness such as the Cardinals’ Rick Ankiel changing from pitcher to outfielder.  It can be due to injury, as when Joe Mauer moved from behind the plate to first base.

Some rebound after one or two bad seasons. Others’ playing days have a sudden end.  Let’s look at two whose careers were much shorter than we might have anticipated. 

For those who are still a little uneasy about going back into a crowded stadium, this free checklist will help remind you of what to take along!

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Rick Ankiel played in 651 MLB games over 11 years (1999-2013).  After breaking in as a pitcher (1999-2001, and 2004), Rick’s struggles to throw strikes led to a very unique accomplishment.  After no longer being wanted as a pitcher, he made it back to the major leagues as an outfielder (2007-2013) after starting all over in the lower minor leagues. 

Until the appearance of Shohei Ohtani, Ankiel was the only player apart from Babe Ruth to have won at least 10 games as a pitcher and hit at least 70 home runs.   Ankiel is also the only player other than Babe Ruth to both start a postseason game as a pitcher and hit a playoff home run as a position player. 

Since retiring as a player, Ankiel has published a memoir about his playing career, worked as a broadcaster, and mentored players as a life skills coordinator. 

Bo Jackson played in 694 MLB games over eight years (1986-1991, 1993-1994); He also played in the NFL during the 1987-1990 seasons.   He played in more than 100 MLB games in each of the four seasons from 1987 to 1990 with a high point of 135 games in 1989.  That year he not only made the MLB All-Star team but was the first ever to be named to both baseball All-Star team the NFL Pro Bowl.  He was the first of seven athletes since 1987 to play in both MLB and NFL games (6 days older than I am).  His NFL career ended after a hip injury and surgery that also caused him to miss the 1992 baseball season. 

There are a couple ways in which Bo showed great integrity.  Upon graduation from college, he took less money to play baseball after learning that the NFL team officials who drafted him had been untruthful in efforts to derail his baseball career.  Upon his retiring from baseball he spoke of valuing time with family over the opportunity to amass more money by playing longer. 

One lesson to take from the careers of Rick Ankiel and Bo Jackson is that we can never count on our accomplishments extending as long as we want.  The risk of an unfortunate turn of events shows the wisdom of cultivating other talents.   The habit of developing our gifts can allow our greatest disappointments to become a springboard for even greater joys.

These players’ experiences teach us a couple other things.  First, even pursuing less lucrative opportunities (in Jackson’s case baseball over football, in Ankiel’s case outfield over pitching) can still lead to excellent results.  Secondly, notice that God often makes a way back to that which we initially must give up.  So we witnessed Bo Jackson returning to the football field after making it as a baseball player and Rick Ankiel climbing back up the ladder to play again with the Cardinals.

For those who are still a little uneasy about going back into a crowded stadium, this free checklist will help remind you of what to take along!

Get this free checklist ^