A former Major League Baseball player offers an affecting account of his unique professional career and dramatic personal life.
Most baseball memoirs hold little appeal for readers who are not already devoted fans. With assistance from sports journalist Brown (co-author, with Jim Abbott: Imperfect: An Improbable Life, 2012), Ankiel offers more, providing candid accounts of his abusive father, battered mother, and criminal brother; the dilemma he faced at age 18 regarding whether to attend college or immediately enter professional baseball, which involved becoming an instant millionaire; his amazing success as a pitcher in the minor leagues after attaining wealth overnight; his dizzying rise and equally dizzying fall with the St. Louis Cardinals; his seeming retirement from baseball, only to work his way back as an outfielder instead of a pitcher; and his final retirement at a young age to spend time with his wife and sons. Despite all those narratives, the memoir hangs together well, as the author uses the story of his sudden anxiety disorder to explore universal experiences of human vulnerability, regardless of a person’s level of accomplishment. All the way through his teen years, Ankiel could pitch a baseball with extraordinary speed and accuracy. Suddenly, though, in the middle of a Cardinals playoff game in 2000, his skill rapidly deteriorated. There was certainly anxiety, but also a seemingly inexplicable mind-body disconnect. One of the most intriguing figures in the book is sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, who died in 2011. Dorfman did everything he could to help Ankiel through his problems, and he also served as a father figure of sorts while Ankiel’s cruel biological father spent time in prison. Cameos by numerous MLB players, managers, and coaches from the six teams that Ankiel played for add interest for baseball fans.
A solid sports memoir that explores more than just sports.