Spot starter

Nolan Ryan

Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr. (born January 31, 1947 in Refugio, Texas) is a retired American right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball and current president of the Texas Rangers. Ryan played in a major league record 27 seasons for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers, from to . He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Ryan, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, threw pitches that were regularly recorded above , even past the age of 40. The media tagged him, or more specifically his pitching, as "The Ryan Express" (a reference to the 1965 film Von Ryan's Express).

While his lifetime winning percentage was a relatively pedestrian .526, Ryan was an eight-time MLB All-Star, and his 5,714 career strikeouts rank first in baseball history. He leads the runner-up, Randy Johnson, by 925 strikeouts as of October 3, 2008. Similarly, Ryan's 2,795 bases on balls lead second-place Steve Carlton by 962—walking over 50% more hitters than any other pitcher in Major League history.

Ryan is the all-time leader in no-hitters with seven, three more than any other pitcher. He is tied with Bob Feller for the most one-hitters, with 12. Ryan also pitched 18 two-hitters.

On February 6, 2008, Ryan was introduced as the president of the Texas Rangers.

Early life

Ryan was born in Refugio, Texas, the youngest of six children, but his family moved to the town of Alvin when he was 6 weeks old. As a young boy, he enjoyed throwing objects at any target. His father thought that baseball was a better usage for his arm, therefore he encouraged Nolan to play the game.

Ryan joined Little League Baseball when he was nine, and pitched the first no-hitter of his life a few years later. Ryan also played various positions besides pitcher.

Playing career

New York Mets

In 1965, after graduating from high school, Ryan signed a professional baseball contract with the New York Mets, and was assigned to a minor league team in the Appalachian League called the Marion Mets in Marion, Virginia. When Ryan was called up to the New York club the following year, he was the second-youngest player in the league. He would end his career as the oldest player in Major League Baseball. His first strikeout victim was Pat Jarvis, and he gave up his first major league home run to Joe Torre, future manager of the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ryan spent 1967 back in the minor leagues because of his inability to find the strike zone. Ryan did not stick in the majors for good until the season. Despite his fastball, he was unable to crack the Mets outstanding pitching rotation, led by Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. Ryan was used more as a reliever and spot starter by the 1969 Mets. To deal with frequent blisters on his throwing hand he often soaked his fingers in pickle brine, although the technique's effectiveness was questioned both by Ryan's teammates and coaches.

Ryan pitched well in the 1969 postseason for the Mets. Against the Braves in the NLCS, Ryan completed a Mets sweep by throwing seven innings of relief in Game 3, getting his first playoff win (it would take him 12 years to get another). Then in the 1969 World Series, Ryan saved Game 3, pitching 2⅓ shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles. The Game 3 victory gave the Mets a 2-1 lead in the Series, which they went on to win in five games. It would be Ryan's only World Series appearance in his career.

On April 18, 1970, Ryan tied a Mets record by striking out 15 batters in one game. Four days later, Ryan's teammate, Tom Seaver, topped it with 19 against the San Diego Padres. Ryan has credited his time with Seaver and the Mets with turning him from just a flamethrower to a pitcher. However, by 1971 Ryan had become increasingly frustrated and was considering retiring from baseball. His record for the season was 10-14. He let it be known to Mets management that he wasn't happy in New York and requested a trade.

California Angels

On December 10, 1971, Ryan was traded to the California Angels along with pitcher Don Rose, catcher Francisco Estrada and outfielder Leroy Stanton for shortstop Jim Fregosi (who would later manage Ryan in Anaheim). Fregosi had been an All-Star in six of seven seasons between 1964 and 1970, but he was past his prime, played fewer than 150 games for the Mets, and never had a good season again. The deal remains controversial, and has been cited as one of the worst in Mets history.

That being said, it is often argued that had he not been sent to another organization, Nolan Ryan would have continued to struggle with his control. In addition, given Ryan's unhappiness and desire to be traded, the move was not viewed as unreasonable at the time. But the transaction quickly turned sour for New York, though ironically, the Mets won a pennant the following season and would win the World Championship in 1986, defeating Ryan's Astros to make the Fall Classic (in which Ryan would never again play).

In his first season with the Angels, Ryan, given a chance to pitch regularly as a starter for the first time in his career, had a league-leading 329 strikeouts--nearly a third more than the AL runnerup, and to that point, the fourth-highest total of the 20th century. Within five seasons, the season would only be Ryan's fourth-highest strikeout total. He also posted a 2.28 earned run average that year, to date the second lowest in franchise history behind only Dean Chance's 1.65 in 1964. Though Ryan's actual winning percentage hovered only slightly over .500, his strikeouts and no-hitters brought him media attention, while Fregosi failed to produce as a Met, and made no significant contribution to the Mets' 1973 pennant-winning campaign--he was sold to the Texas Rangers mid-season.

Although the Angels were a sub-.500 team and remained one for much of his time there, Ryan managed to post some winning records, notably 19-16 in , 21-16 in and 22-16 in (the 22 wins tied what remains the Angels franchise record, set by Clyde Wright in ). Ryan also led the league in losses in 1976 with a 17-18 record (one short of the franchise record for losses). In the early 1970s, many teams used a four-man rotation and expected the starter to complete the game; thus almost every game Ryan started ended in a decision.

On July 9, 1972, Ryan struck out three batters on nine pitches in the second inning of a 3-0 win over the Boston Red Sox; he became the seventh American League pitcher to accomplish the nine-strike/three-strikeout half-inning, and the first (and currently only) pitcher in Major League history to accomplish the feat in both leagues. (On April 19, 1968, he had struck out three batters on nine pitches in the second inning of a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals; becoming the eighth National League pitcher and the 14th pitcher in Major League history to accomplish the feat.)

In 1973, Ryan set his first major record when he struck out 383 batters in one season, beating Sandy Koufax's old mark by one. To this feat, Koufax remarked, "Yeah, and he also surpassed my total for bases on balls in a single season by 91. I suspect half of those guys he struck out swung rather than get hit."

He threw two no-hitters in 1973 (in one of them, he struck out 17 batters - most in a recorded no-hitter), added a third in 1974 and a fourth in 1975, tying another of Koufax's records. In 1974 he twice struck out 19 batters, tying Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton for the single-game record for a nine-inning game, a record later broken when Roger Clemens struck out 20 in 1986.

The Angels finally made the playoffs in Ryan's eighth and final year there. He started Game 1 of the LCS and threw seven innings against the Orioles' Jim Palmer, but neither man was involved in the decision as Baltimore won in the 10th inning. Ryan was scheduled to pitch Game 5, but the Angels were eliminated in four. The season complete, Ryan became a free agent.

Nolan Ryan led the American League in strikeouts seven times during his eight seasons with the California Angels. However, he also led the league in walks in six of those years, and finished second the other two seasons: 1975 and 1979. Aside from Bob Feller in 1938, Ryan is the only man since 1900 to walk 200 batters in a season, which he did twice: in 1974 and 1977.

Though Ryan's strikeouts and no-hitters got him considerable media attention, Ryan did not win over Angels General Manager Buzzie Bavasi, who dismissed him as a flashy .500 pitcher (Ryan was 26-27 in the two years both were with the Angels). When Bavasi let Ryan leave after a 16-14 record in the 1979 season, Bavasi remarked he only needed to replace Ryan with two 8-7 pitchers, adding, "I think my plumber could do that."

Houston Astros

Ryan signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Houston Astros after the 1979 season. The normally light-hitting Ryan got his Houston years started with a bang in a nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 12, 1980, when he hit a 3-run home run off Don Sutton. It was the first homer of Ryan's career (he only hit one other) and produced half of the 6 RBI he would get that year. On July 4 of that season, at Riverfront Stadium, Ryan recorded his 3,000th career strikeout, the victim being César Gerónimo of the Cincinnati Reds. (Gerónimo had also been Bob Gibson's 3,000th strikeout victim, in 1974.) Ryan got his third taste of postseason play in 1980, but the Astros were stopped one game short of the World Series.

In the 1980 NLCS versus the Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan pitched well in Game 2, leaving the game tied 2-2 in the seventh (having contributed to both Astros runs with a run scored following a walk, and a sacrifice bunt leading to a run) but again got a no decision in a game that went extra innings. In the fifth and final game of the series, Ryan and the Astros held a 5-2 lead entering the 8th inning. But Ryan allowed three consecutive singles before walking in the third run. The Houston bullpen allowed the Phillies to take a 7-5 lead, and only a game-tying Astro rally permitted Ryan to escape the loss.

On September 26, 1981, Ryan threw his fifth no-hitter, breaking Koufax's mark while becoming the third pitcher to throw a no-hitter in each league. That season, his 1.69 ERA won the National League ERA title.

Facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 NLDS, Ryan threw a complete game 2-hitter in the opener, outlasting the Dodgers' rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela. It was Ryan's second and last career postseason win. In the fifth and final game of the series, Ryan left trailing 3-0 and took the loss.

By the end of the 1982 season, both Ryan and Steve Carlton were approaching Walter Johnson's all-time strikeout record, sometimes passing one another's career totals in successive starts. On April 27, 1983, Ryan won the race with his 3,509th whiff, against Brad Mills of the Montreal Expos (Steve Carlton would reach the same mark two weeks after Ryan).

In 1986, Ryan's Astros faced the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. Ryan had a shaky start in Game 2, taking the loss. He returned in Game 5, throwing 9 innings of 2-hit, 1-run, 12-strikeout ball. However, one of those hits was a Darryl Strawberry home run which tied the game at 1-1, as Dwight Gooden matched Ryan pitch for pitch. Ryan got a no-decision as his Astros lost in 12 innings.

In 1987, Ryan led the major leagues in both ERA (2.76) and strikeouts (270) at the age of 40--but finished 8-16. Despite his .333 winning percentage, Ryan tied for 5th place in the 1987 Cy Young voting.

Texas Rangers

Ryan left Houston in a contract dispute following the 1988 season and joined the Texas Rangers. In 1989, he went 16-10 and led the league with 301 strikeouts. Against the Oakland Athletics on August 22, Ryan struck out Rickey Henderson to become the first and only pitcher to record 5,000 career strikeouts. (Following the game, Henderson was quoted as saying, "If he ain't struck you out, then you ain't nobody.") Two years later, at 44, Ryan finished fifth in the league in ERA (2.91) and third in strikeouts (203).

In 1990, Ryan threw his sixth no-hitter (on June 11 against the Athletics), and earned his 300th win (on July 31 against the Milwaukee Brewers). On May 1, 1991, Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's career stolen base record by stealing his 939th career base. However, Henderson's achievement was somewhat overshadowed because Ryan, at age 44, set a record that same night by throwing the seventh no-hitter of his career, striking out Roberto Alomar of the Toronto Blue Jays for the final out. Coincidentally, Ryan's second baseman in his first two no-hitters had been Alomar's father, Sandy Sr.

Before the 1993 season, Ryan announced his retirement, effective at the end of that season. On August 4, just before the end, Ryan had yet another high profile moment – this time an on-the-mound fight. After Ryan hit Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox, Ventura charged the mound in order to fight Ryan, who was 20 years his senior. Ryan secured the 26-year-old Ventura in a headlock with his left arm, while pummelling Ventura's head with his right fist six times before catcher Iván Rodríguez was able to pull Ventura away from Ryan. Ryan stated afterwards it was the same maneuver he used on steers he had to brand on his Texas ranch. Videos of the incident were played that evening throughout the country. While Ventura and White Sox manager Gene Lamont were ejected, Ryan–who had barely moved from his spot on the mound in the fracas–was allowed to remain in the game and pitched hitless ball the rest of the way. Ryan had determined to be more aggressive after coming out on the wrong side of an altercation with Dave Winfield's beating in 1980.

Nolan Ryan's very durable arm finally gave out in Seattle on September 22, 1993, when he tore a ligament, ending his career two starts earlier than planned. Briefly attempting to pitch past the injury, Ryan threw one further pitch after tearing his ligament; with his injured arm, his final pitch was measured at 98 miles per hour. Ryan's last start was his worst; he allowed a single, four walks, and a grand slam in the top of the first without recording an out. (Ryan left trailing 5-0, and the fourth walk was completed by a reliever after Ryan's injury, but credited to Ryan.)

Ryan finished his career with an all-time major league record of having played in 27 seasons(The Sporting News Baseball Record Book, 2007, p.113). He was the final active player from the 1960s to retire from Major League Baseball, outlasting Carlton Fisk (the final active position player) by three months.

Later activity

Ryan's current business interests include ownership of two minor league teams: the Corpus Christi Hooks, which play in the Class AA Texas League, and the Round Rock Express, a Class AAA team in the Pacific Coast League. Both teams are affiliates of the Houston Astros, for whom Ryan also served as a special assistant to the general manager until he became the president of the Texas Rangers in 2008.

Ryan threw out the ceremonial "first pitch" before Game 3 of the 2005 World Series between the Astros and the White Sox, the first World Series game ever played in Texas. That game went 14 innings, equaling the longest in innings in World Series history (at 5:41, it was the longest in time). ESPN wryly suggested the Astros might have needed to pull the 58-year-old Ryan out of retirement if the game had gone much longer.

Ryan has co-written six books: autobiographies Miracle Man (with Jerry Jenkins, 1992), Throwing Heat (with Harvey Frommer, 1988) and The Road to Cooperstown (with Mickey Herskowitz and T.R. Sullivan, 1999); Kings of the Hill (with Mickey Herskowitz, 1992), about contemporary pitchers; and instructional books Pitching and Hitting (with Joe Torre and Joel Cohen, 1977), and Nolan Ryan's Pitcher's Bible (with Tom House, 1991).

In addition to his baseball activities, Ryan was majority owner and chairman of Express Bank of Texas but sold his interest in 2005. He also owns a restaurant in Three Rivers, Texas. He served on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission from 1995 to 2001. He appeared as a TV spokesman for Advil for several years, promoting the pain medication he recommended for his own arm. He also has appeared in various television commercials shown in the Texas market.

During election years in the late 90s, Ryan's name would frequently come up in the news as a potential candidate for some statewide office (usually for the Republican Party). However, he has never run in any race, and these rumors have quieted. He appeared in print ads for the National Rifle Association's "I'm the NRA" campaign. While not running for office himself, in 1996 Ryan campaigned on behalf of Ron Paul in the Texas's 14th congressional district election.

In spite of his focus on physical fitness, Ryan suffered a heart attack on April 25, 2000, and had to receive a double coronary bypass.

He has also filmed a television advertisement for a joint pain reliever; the commercial also included the soccer player Mia Hamm.

On February 6, 2008, Ryan was named team president of the Texas Rangers.

Legacy

Nolan Ryan is often compared to the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax: they are linked by the fact that Ryan broke two of Koufax's records, for most no-hitters and the single-season strikeout mark. There are further similarities: both Ryan and Koufax started in the majors at a very young age and struggled early in their careers, and both were very reserved and private. Both had tenacious contract disputes with their owners. Ryan readily admitted the money was a large part of the reason he played as long as he did.

But there are key 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 four. Koufax played on four championship Dodgers teams, whereas Ryan found himself on mostly mediocre teams. Ryan had an unremarkable win-loss percentage; Koufax had a stellar one, especially in his final four years. Ryan had a won-loss record only slightly better than the teams for which he played; Koufax had a significantly better percentage than his Dodger teams. Ryan, however, had one of the longest careers of any player, whereas Koufax's sterling career was cut short in its prime by arthritis and arm trouble. Nonetheless, both stand out as the best-known "power pitchers" of their times.

Comparisons to Bob Feller are probably more to the point: like Ryan, Feller was a burly, durable power pitcher, who was likely to strike out or walk any given batter, and pitched large numbers of low-hit games. Feller, however, was able to correct his wildness over time (the two are the only post-1900 pitchers to walk over 200 batters in a season) whereas Ryan had limited late success in that area. Feller, however, had a considerably better won/loss percentage than the Indian teams for whom he pitched. Feller has stated that Ryan's former Mets teammate, Tom Seaver, was a much better pitcher than Ryan, whom he says was just a thrower who had a hard time getting the ball over the plate.

Ryan played in more seasons (27) than any other player in major league history. Ryan ranks first all-time in strikeouts (5,714), fewest hits allowed per nine innings (6.56), and no-hitters (7). He is also fifth in innings pitched (5,386), second in games started (773), seventh in shutouts (61) and is tied for 13th in wins (324). Opposing hitters hit only .204 against Ryan during his career, though they had a .309 on base percentage against him. Ryan had 15 or more strikeouts in a game 27 times, second only to Randy Johnson, who has 29.

Ryan also ranks high on the list for four "negative" records; he ranks first all-time in walks allowed (2,795), first in wild pitches (277), third in losses (292-- most in the "modern" era), and ninth in hit batters (158). Ryan is also one of two pitchers in MLB history to give up ten grand slam home runs, including one to Dann Howitt, the next-to-last batter Ryan faced in his career.

Bill James focuses on this dichotomy between Ryan's positive and negative statistics. While ranking him as the 24th best pitcher of all time, he notes, "Ryan has been retired almost ten years * [[New York Mets]] ({{by|1966}}, {{by|1968}}-{{by|1971}}) * [[Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim|California Angels]] ({{by|1972}}-{{by|1979}}) * [[Houston Astros]] ({{by|1980}}-{{by|1988}}) * [[Texas Rangers (baseball)|Texas Rangers]] ({{by|1989}}-{{by|1993}}) |highlights=, in another ten perhaps we will begin to get a little bit of perspective on him. Ryan's log of spectacular accomplishments is as thick as Bill Clinton's little black book; his list of flaws and failures is lengthy but dry, and will never make for good reading.

Other writers have delved more into the specifics of James' general concerns. ESPN writer Rob Neyer stated in a 2003 column that while Ryan was among the 20 best pitchers since World War II, he "often had trouble throwing strikes, [in 2001] he wasn't any good at fielding his position. In another column, Neyer, while stating that Ryan belonged in the Hall of Fame, pointed to Ryan's record-breaking walks total and noted that his .309 on base percentage against "wasn't even close to being in the top 100.

Ryan is the only major league player to have his number retired by three different teams (excluding Jackie Robinson, whose number 42 was retired by Major League Baseball for all teams). The California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) retired the number 30 on June 16, 1992; the Texas Rangers retired his number 34 on Sept. 15, 1996; and the Houston Astros retired number 34 on Sept. 29, 1996. His number was the first retired by the Rangers.

Ryan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, in his first year of eligibility with 98.2% of the vote, six votes short of a unanimous election.. He chose to wear a Rangers cap for his HOF plaque to reflect his Texas heritage, as well as the fact that his 300th win, 5000th strikeout, and last two no-hitters came as a Ranger. That year, he ranked 41st on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. He was inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in 2003, and named the Rangers', and Astros' Hometown Hero in 2006--the only player to be so named by two franchises.

In 1995, the Texas State Legislature declared State Highway 288, which passes near Alvin, as the Nolan Ryan Expressway.

The Alvin Independent School District has announced that a future school will be named Nolan Ryan Junior High School. It is scheduled to open in 2008-2009. It is currently in the process of being developed on FM 2234, just a few hundred yards away from the Nolan Ryan Expressway.

Personal life

Ryan was married to his high school sweetheart, the former Ruth Holdorff, on June 26, 1967. Two of their three children, Reid and Reese, who were both pitchers for the TCU Horned Frogs (Reid also pitched briefly in the minor leagues) , have more recently become involved in baseball at the executive level, as part owners (along with Nolan) of the Round Rock Express entry in the Pacific Coast League, the top farm club of the Houston Astros. Nolan Ryan currently resides in Georgetown, Texas.

See also

References

General reference

  • James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (2001). New York: Free Press.
  • Pietrusza, David, Matthew Silverman & Michael Gershman, ed. (2000). Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia. Total/Sports Illustrated.

External links

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