The Great Nolan Ryan

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Nolan Ryan is Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in no-hitters with seven, three more than any other pitcher.

Ryan is tied with Bob Feller for the most one-hitters, with 12.  He also pitched 18 two-hitters.  One of the hardest throwers in history, Ryan played 27 big-league seasons.  The tough Texan retired in 1993 with 324 wins and a MLB-record 5,714 strikeouts – 839 more than Randy Johnson, who is second on the list.  Ryan also issued 2,795 bases on balls – the most in history.  He leads runner-up Steve Carlton by 962.

One of 29 players in history to have played in the big leagues in four different decades, Ryan struck out seven pairs of fathers and sons.  He played during the administrations of seven U.S. Presidents.  In the decade of the 1980s, Ryan surpassed Walter Johnson’s all-time strikeout mark, broke Sandy Koufax’s MLB record of four no-hitters and struck out the 5,000th batter of his career.  Before hanging up his spikes at 46, the Ryan Express topped the 300-win mark and hurled a record seventh no-hitter as a member of the Texas Rangers.

Nolan Ryan is one tough hombre.  In August 1993, nearing the end of his 27th and final big-league season, he got into an on-the-mound fight.  After plunking Robin Ventura, the White Sox third baseman charged the mound to fight Ryan, who was 20 years his senior.  Ryan secured Ventura in a headlock with his left arm, then delivered six roundhouse rights to the overmatched 26-year-old’s face before the two were separated.  Ryan later said it was the same maneuver he used to brand steers on his Texas ranch.

In his first inning of major league work, Nolan Ryan struck out Eddie Matthews looking.  After retiring Hank Aaron on a groundout, he surrendered his first big league homer, to Braves catcher – and future Yankee manager – Joe Torre.

Possessing an unparalleled work ethic and no-nonsense approach, the eight-time All-Star soaked his fingers in pickle brine to toughen his skin and avoid blisters.  The tireless Texan pitched nearly 5,400 career innings, twirling 61 shutouts while twice leading the league in ERA.  Along with Pedro Martinez, Johnson and Koufax, Ryan is one of four HOF hurlers with more strikeouts than innings pitched.

The baseball landscape is littered with once-promising flame-throwers who fizzled out.  Arm problems brought about by poor mechanics is most often the culprit.  Unlike Mark Prior, Kerry Wood or Steve Avery, Nolan Ryan threw harder and pitched longer than any player in history.  Incredibly durable, Ryan led the league in strikeouts 11 times, including 1990, when he was 43.  He took the ball whenever it was his turn in the rotation and rarely went on the DL.  Ryan tossed 222 complete games in 773 starts.  He threw 20 or more complete games in five seasons and posted double-digit totals in four others.

Although he never pitched a perfect game or won a Cy Young Award, Nolan Ryan is the only pitcher to strike out the side on nine pitches – dubbed an immaculate inning – in both the National [4/19/68] and American Leagues [7/9/72].  In a career that spanned four decades, he played for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers.  With the Angels, Ryan threw four no-hitters and broke Sandy Koufax’s single-season strikeout record.

The Ryan Express led the league in strikeouts 11 times.  He also led the circuit in walks eight times.  In the seven seasons from 1972 to 1978, Ryan topped the American League in both categories.

A gas-throwing right-hander whose fastball consistently topped 100 mph, Ryan was as intimidating as any pitcher in baseball history.  Two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy called him “the only pitcher you start thinking about two days before you face him.”  Featuring a devasting 12-6 curveball, Ryan was the most unhittable hurler ever to toe the rubber.  “He was the only guy that could put fear in me,” said Reggie Jackson, who faced Ryan in eight American League seasons. “Not because he could get me out, but because he could kill me.  You just hoped to mix in a walk so you could have a good night and go 0-for-3.”

Born in Refugio, Texas, January 31, 1947, Lynn Nolan Ryan is the youngest of six children born to a homemaker mother and father who was a plant supervisor for Stanton Oil.  Blessed with a bionic arm, Ryan could throw a softball 100 yards as a middle schooler and tossed his first no-hitter as a Little Leaguer.  He played football in high school until a head-on collision with future Baltimore Colts running back Norm Bulaich changed his mind.  After graduating Alvin High in June 1965, he signed with the Mets.  Sixteen months later, he was standing on a major league mound in Shea Stadium facing the Atlanta Braves.

A standout at Alvin High School, the same school that produced current Boston Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, Ryan once struck every batter he faced – all 21 – in a seven-inning game. Mets scout Red Murff, who first saw Ryan pitch at 16, said the boy had the best arm he’d ever seen.  Some opponents refused to bat against Ryan, whose hard pitches would sometimes break bones in his catchers’ hands.

Ryan, who shares a birthday with baseball Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Jackie Robinson, became baseball’s first million-dollar man when he returned home to Texas and signed a four-year deal with the Houston Astros in 1980.

Nolan Ryan was selected with the 226th pick in the 12th round of the 1965 amateur draft by the New York Mets during their fourth season as a franchise.  He recorded 307 strikeouts in 202 minor league innings in 1966, prompting a late-season call up to the Mets.  When he made his big-league debut against the Atlanta Braves on September 11, he was the second-youngest player in the league.  Five seasons later, he was traded to the California Angels.  On December 10, 1971, the New York Times wrote, “The Mets finally gave up on Nolan Ryan’s wandering fastball today.”  In return for Ryan and three prospects, the Mets received shortstop Jim Fregosi, who batted .233 in his first season in New York and was dealt to Texas the following year.  It remains the worst trade in the Mets’ 58-year history.

The great Nolan retired after the 1993 season and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1999.  He served as president and CEO of the Texas Rangers from 2008 to 2013.  In 2014, Ryan joined the Houston Astros as an executive advisor, where he joined his son Reid, who is president of business operations.  Together, Nolan and Reid Ryan helped the Astros to a 2017 World Series title.

On this date in 1973, Nolan Ryan pitched the second no-hitter of his MLB career, beating the Detroit Tigers, 6-0, before more than 41,000 at Tiger Stadium.  Ryan faced 31 batters, striking out 17 while walking four, all of which were left stranded.  The 26-year-old Texan evened his record at 11-11 in a season in which he would notch 20 wins for the first time in his career.  Ryan fanned a career-best 383 batters in 1973 and led the American League in strikeouts seven times in eight years between 1972 and ’79.