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Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan Tiger Stadium 1990 CROP.jpg
Ryan in 1990
Pitcher
Born: (1947-01-31) January 31, 1947 (age 74)
Refugio, Texas, US
Batted: Right Threw: Right
debut
September 11, 1966, for the New York Mets
Last appearance
September 22, 1993, for the Texas Rangers
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 324–292
Earned run average 3.19
Strikeouts 5,714
Teams
Career highlights and awards

MLB records

  • 5,714 career strikeouts
  • 7 career no-hitters
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction 1999
Vote 98.79% (first ballot)

Lynn Nolan Ryan (born January 31, 1947) is a former Major League Baseball pitcher. He played in the major leagues from 1966 to 1993. He played for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. As a pitcher, Ryan struck out 5,714 batters. This is the most all-time. Ryan is the only pitcher in the MLB to strike out 5,000 batters. Ryan has also walked more batters and thrown more no-hitters than anyone else. He is now the president and one of the owners of the Texas Rangers. Ryan is from Refugio, Texas.

Nolan 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.

Early life

Nolan Ryan Statue -- Alvin, Texas
Nolan Ryan Statue -- Alvin, Texas

Nolan Ryan was born on January 31, 1947, in Refugio, Texas, a small town located just south of Victoria in the southern part of the state. Ryan was the youngest of six children born to Martha Lee (née Hancock; 1913–1990) and Lynn Nolan Ryan Sr. (1907–1970). The senior Ryan operated a newspaper delivery service for the Houston Post that required him to rise in the early morning hours to prepare 1,500 newspapers for delivery over a 55-mile route. The children were expected to help with the daily tasks. Ryan's family lived in nearby Woodsboro, Texas in Refugio County, until they moved to Alvin, Texas in Brazoria County, when Nolan was six weeks old. As a young boy, Nolan enjoyed throwing objects at any target. His father thought baseball a better usage for his arm; therefore, he encouraged Nolan to play the game.

Ryan joined Alvin Little League Baseball when he was nine, made the all-star team when he was 11 and 12, and pitched the first no-hitter of his life a few years later. Ryan also played various positions besides pitcher.

In junior high school, Ryan could throw a softball over 100 yards. After ninth grade, Ryan quit playing football after a tackle and fumble caused by future NFL running back Norm Bulaich made him decide to focus on baseball.

Amateur career

Ryan played baseball for Coach Jim Watson at Alvin High School for all of his high school career. Ryan held the school's single game strikeout record for 44 years, striking out 21 hitters in a 7-inning game. The record was eventually tied by Alvin High School pitchers Aaron Stewart and Josh Land in the same week in 2009.

In 1963, at an Alvin High School game at Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas, Red Murff, a scout for the New York Mets, first noticed sophomore pitcher Ryan. Coach Watson recounted to Murff that some opponents refused to bat against Ryan and how his hard pitches would sometimes break bones in his catchers' hands. In his subsequent report to the Mets, Murff stated that Ryan had "the best arm I've seen in my life." The Mets later drafted Ryan.

As a senior in 1965, Ryan had a 19–3 record and led the Alvin Yellow Jackets to the Texas high school state finals. Ryan pitched in 27 games, with 20 starts. He had 12 complete games, with 211 strikeouts and 61 walks.

Professional Playing Career

As a Met

Ryan 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

Nolan Ryan 1972
Ryan in 1972

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 that fall, 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.

Legacy

Nolan ryan signature
Nolan Ryan's signature

Given that he has broken many of the 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 their 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" to date.

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, he ranks first all time 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.

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