Rick Ankiel was the feel-good story of the summer.
But after the New York Daily News reported Friday that Ankiel received a 12-month supply of human growth hormone in 2004 from a Florida pharmacy that was part of a national illegal prescription drug-distribution operation, a lot of people didn’t feel as good.
That’s their fault.
Fans and sportswriters glommed onto Ankiel’s story like it was a magic elixir during the Summer of Barry.
As a 20-year-old rookie pitcher in 2000, Ankiel won 11 games for the St. Louis Cardinals. But in the playoffs, he became the first pitcher to throw five wild pitches in one inning since 1890.
Ankiel never found the plate again and eventually had Tommy John surgery in 2004.
In 2005, he quit as a pitcher to become an outfielder.
That decision paid off this season. Ankiel had nine home runs and 29 RBI in 25 games for the Cardinals through Saturday night.
Fans and sportswriters lauded Ankiel as a story of perseverance and intestinal fortitude. He was what’s right with baseball, among other assorted cliches.
They figured all this out on their own, some without ever speaking to Ankiel or knowing a thing about him.
They wanted it to be true, and so it was.
Until the HGH story broke. Then Ankiel was a dirty cheat, and people were disappointed.
But fans or sportswriters can be disappointed only if they held Ankiel to a higher standard than everyone else.
Athletes are really good at being athletes, and that’s often where it ends.
The same thing happened with Pete Rose.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Rose received as many plaudits from fans and sportswriters as any sports figure ever.
He was admired more than Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and Barbaro combined.
Rose was worshiped.
Of course, he was a great player, a great competitor and he really, really hustled. But it’s hard to see why that qualified him for godlike status.
When it was revealed Rose had a penchant for gambling on baseball games, the same people who lionized him turned on him like vultures.
But for anyone who was never a fan of Rose, his personal failings were probably not a source of pain.
Ankiel, like Rose, is a human being.
Whenever a group of human beings get together to play baseball or build a corporation or run a government, missteps and imperfections will follow.