Friday, August 10, 2007


It's a great word.

Religious connotations aside - it has great meaning in sports - convert a save, two-point conversion, first-down conversion - there are any number of reasons why the term gets used. My favorite, however, has to do with players.

I bring this up because of Rick Ankiel - the one-time phenom pitcher for the Cardinals transformed from potential ace to Rick "The Wild Thing" Vaughn pre-glasses. In an effort to keep doing what he loved, Ankiel converted from pitcher to outfielder. Last night, in his big league premier at a position anywhere other than on the mound, Ankiel went deep. Not bad.

While there are always the unsuccessful experiments (Tebucky Jones at cornerback, for one), there have been a number of athletes who have seen the light, so to speak, and gone on to have greater success at a new position than the one at which they were originally drafted. Most notably Babe Ruth - a top notch left handed pitcher who went on to be one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. There's no way the man could ever match the myth of what he went on to become.

On a lesser note, there have been a number of others.

Tim Wakefield was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a corner infielder. When told by a scout that it was unlikely that he would get above AA ball with his tools, he began experimenting until he found his niche as a knuckleballer. That change has translated into 15 seasons (including this season) in the bigs during which time he has averaged around 11 wins per season.

Former Red Sox replacement outfielder Ron Mahay has had a nice career as a left-handed specialist. After five games in the outfield for the Sox, Mahay returned to the minors and remade himself as a relief pitcher. He has spent at least part of every season since 1997 in the bigs in stints with Oakland, Florida, Chicago (NL), Texas, and Atlanta while compiling an 18-10 record with a 3.96 ERA and 3 saves over the course of 331 games and 395 innings. Overall a solid career.

Antwaan Randle-El of course played quarterback in college, as did Matt Jones - but it's still too early to determine whether or not they will be totally successful conversions, or busts. Yes, Randle-El is certainly further along than Jones, but Randle-El has also regressed the last three seasons, catching fewer passes for fewer yards each year.

The Bears are experimenting with corner Devin Hester at wide-out.

On a game to game basis, the Patriots have been using offensive linemen as fullbacks, linebackers as tight-ends, and wide receivers as corners for several years under Bill Belichick - with the most impact coming from Troy Brown who tied the team for second in interceptions with three during limited time as the nickel corner while still playing special teams and offense. Then there is Mike "Touchdown" Vrabel. Any team that doesn't make sure he's covered on the goal line at this point...well they're just idiots.

I enjoy the stories of players like this. I'm no fan of A-Rod, but what unfolded in New York when they consummated the trade for him was fascinating (keeping in mind that switching from playing the field to designated hitter just isn't compelling). I for one, will keep on the lookout for more of these stories.

No comments: