Nolan Ryan

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Nolan Ryan

Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr. (born January 31, 1947) is a former pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for more than a quarter century and still holds many major league pitching records, some of which are so far beyond any previous marks that they are likely to stand for many years to come, if not forever. He was most noted for his blazing fastball and his longevity, routinely throwing 100+ MPH pitches even into his forties.


Playing Career

As a Met

Ryan was born in Refugio, Texas, but his family moved to the Houston suburb of Alvin when he was six weeks old; he has lived there to this day. He developed his dazzling fastball as a high school pitcher in Texas, which impressed the New York Mets enough to draft him in 1965 and promote him to the major leagues late in 1966.

However, Ryan struggled for a number of years and was even sent back to the minor leagues a few times because of his inability to find the strike zone. He didn't make the majors for good until the 1968 season, and even then was unable to crack an outstanding Mets pitching staff led by Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman.

Ryan did, however, give people a taste of what was to come in the 1969 World Series, when he entered Game 3 in relief of a struggling starter and shut down the powerful Baltimore Orioles for nearly three innings. Ryan's work enabled the Mets to hang on to win that game, and they went on to upset the Orioles in five games.

As an Angel

Ryan truly blossomed as a pitcher after being traded to the California Angels in 1972. Even though the Angels were a poor team and remained one for most of his time there, he began winning between 19 and 22 games a season regularly. In 1973, he set his first record when he struck out 383 batters in one season, eclipsing Sandy Koufax' old mark by one. This record was made even more impressive by the fact that he achieved it in the first year of the designated hitter in the American League; if AL pitchers had still been hitting, Ryan would almost certainly have had over 400 strikeouts that season.

He threw two no-hitters in 1973, added a third in 1974 and a fourth in 1975, tying another of Koufax' records. He led the league in strikeouts seven times in the 1970s and once struck out 19 in a single game, tying a record which wasn't broken until Roger Clemens struck out 20 in a 1986 game.

As an Astro

Ryan signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Houston Astros in 1979, in which he became the first player to make $1 million a year. He got his second taste of postseason play in 1980, but the Astros were stopped one game short of the World Series.

On September 26, 1981, Ryan threw his fifth no-hitter to finally break Koufax' mark. That season, he won the National League ERA title with a miserly 1.69 mark.

After that, Ryan then settled into having a long string of good, but not great seasons, highlighted by his breaking Walter Johnson's all-time strikeout record on April 27, 1983, with his 3,509th whiff.

In 1987, Ryan had one of the most bizarre seasons in baseball history. He was by far the most dominant pitcher in the National League, leading the league in ERA (2.76) and strikeouts (270) at the age of 40. However, Ryan received horrendous offensive support all season, and finished with a record of 8-16. The poor record most likely cost him the Cy Young Award, an honor he contended for many times but never won.

As a Ranger

He left Houston in a contract dispute after the 1988 season and joined the Texas Rangers, back in the American League. Many observers, keeping in mind that the aging Ryan had been pitching home games in the air-conditioned Astrodome, thought he would struggle by having to pitch outdoors in the oppressive Texas heat. However, just the opposite happened. With a better team behind him, Ryan had a number of fine seasons for the Rangers.

In 1989, he won 16 games and led the league with 301 strikeouts. Against the Oakland Athletics on August 22, Ryan struck out Rickey Henderson in the fifth inning to become the first pitcher ever to record 5,000 career strikeouts.

Two years later, at 44, he finished fifth in the league in ERA (2.91) and third in strikeouts (203), to again earn Cy Young Award votes.

He threw his sixth no-hitter in 1990 and his seventh in 1991, and earned his 300th win in 1990.

Before the 1993 season, Ryan announced his retirement, effective at the end of that season. His arm finally gave out in August 1993, when he tore a tendon in his arm, ending his career several weeks prematurely.

However, on August 4, just before the end, Ryan confirmed his reputation as a strong, competitive Texan in one bizarre moment. He had just hit Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox with a 96 mph fastball. The normally unflappable Ventura angrily charged the pitching mound in order to fight Ryan, who was twenty years his senior. Ryan famously defended himself, perhaps better than any other known pitcher in a similar situation. The 46-year-old Ryan – a rancher in the offseason – promptly subdued the 26-year-old Ventura in a headlock with his left arm, pummelling Ventura's head with his right fist six times before catcher Ivan Rodriguez was able to pull Ventura away from Ryan. Videos of the confrontation were played on sports highlight reels that evening throughout the country, and Ryan was widely credited as coming out ahead in the fight. It took several years of solid play for Ventura's reputation as a "punk" to be fixed.


Given that he has broken many of Sandy Koufax's previously thought to be untouchable records, Ryan is frequently compared to him much in the way that Babe Ruth is to Hank Aaron or Ted Williams to Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. There are many similarities; both started in the majors at a very young age and struggled early in their careers, both were primarily "extreme fastball" pitchers noted for achieving previously unprecedented strikeout totals and multiple no-hitters, and both were very closed and private away from the game (though Koufax more so than Ryan). But there are many differences too; Koufax pitched left-handed and Ryan right-handed; despite his early troubles, Koufax played his entire career with one team whereas Ryan played for several, and most importantly, Ryan had one of the longest careers of any player whereas Koufax's was cut short by arthritis and arm trouble. Nonetheless, both stand out as the premier "power pitchers" of their time, if not all-time.

Ryan ranks first all-time in strikeouts (5714), fewest hits allowed per nine innings (6.56), fifth in innings pitched (5386), second in games started (773), seventh in shutouts (61) and tied for 13th in wins (324). He also ranks high on the list for three "negative" records; because he was wild as a young pitcher, he piled up the walks and ranks first all-time in walks allowed with 2795, in wild pitches with 277, and he also ranks third all-time in losses, with 292.

Nolan Ryan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, in his first year of eligibility. He was inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in 2003.

His current business interests include ownership of two minor league teams – the Corpus Christi Hooks, which currently play in the Class AA Texas League, and the Round Rock Express, a Class AAA team in the Pacific Coast League.

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