Doubleday Double Talk Remembers: Nolan Ryan

Doubleday Double Talk Remembers is designed to connect fans with the game of baseball’s past one player and story at a time. A Doubleday Double Talk Remembers will be published every Friday and will go over the life and legacy of the players from our past, from Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron to Steve Dalkowski to Eddie Gaedel, every player has a story and Daryll Dorman and Giuseppe Vitulli are here to provide you with just that. Sometimes we forget about how important baseball’s past is, so Doubleday Double Talk Remembers is simply the writers at Doubleday Double Talk’s way to pay homage to the past of the beautiful game of baseball.

There is a lot of talk in baseball today about how starting pitchers aren’t tough anymore. They don’t finish. They don’t have that killer instinct. All of those descriptors would never, ever be used for Nolan Ryan.

He spanned 27 seasons, has more strikeouts than anyone in Major League history and is also remembered for not taking any crap from Robin Ventura.

Despite all of his success and a fastball that is likely the best in Major League history, he does have his detractors. As much as leading in strikeouts is great – he also is the MLB leader in walks at 2,795. You could chalk that up to simple longevity, but he lead the league 8 times in that category.

In 1974, at age 27, with the California Angels, he led the league with 332 2/3 innings pitched in 41 starts with 26 complete games, went 22-16 with 202 walks and 367 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA! Yet he finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting behind 2nd place Fergie Jenkins of the Rangers and Oakland’s Catfish Hunter. Hunter went 25-12 with a 2.49 ERA, but with only 46 walks and still striking out 143.

Nolan Ryan was first scouted by Red Murff in Houston and described as a 17-year-old chicken chested pitcher who was clocked by Murff’s “internal gun” at 95 MPH. He described it as the best fastball he had seen in his entire life. After a bad showing at a scouting showcase, he was drafted by the Mets in the 10th round, the 295th pick in the draft.

Murff was embarrassed he couldn’t get more for his prized find – just $30,000 plus a $7,500 bonus – but he told Ryan prophetically “Now Nolan, if you are as good as you think you are, and you have a lot of confidence in your ability, you are going to make so much money in the game of baseball that when you and I talk about it, we’re both gonna be embarrassed.”

Ryan is, of course, the MLB all-time strikeout leader at 5,714. Next, closest is Randy Johnson at 4,825, almost a thousand less! Nolan Ryan threw an incredible 7 no-hitters, including one at 44 years old for the Texas Rangers in 1991. Twenty-three times he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning, so very easily could that record have been improved upon. He would pitch until tearing his ulnar collateral ligament at 46 – otherwise who knows how long he could have continued.

I recall an interview with Ryan once talking about the pain he had when pitching – and he just knew he would hurt and to get through it. His toughness was on full display about a month before he would throw his final major league pitch in his final season. Robin Ventura of the White Sox was hit by the pitch and “took exception” as White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrellson put it. It did not end well for Mr. Ventura.

I love a clip like this that brings together Nolan Ryan, Ivan Rodriguez, and Bo Jackson. Baseball is the greatest.

Ryan would pitch 4 seasons with the Mets, 8 with the Angels, 9 with Houston, and finish up his career with 5 as a Texas Rangers.

Surprisingly, he never finished higher than 2nd place in the Cy Young voting(once) and was only in the top 5 for Cy Young 6 times his whole career. He certainly suffered from playing with bad teams, only making the playoffs 6 times in those 27 seasons and only winning 20 games twice when stats like that really mattered to voters.

He is certainly the greatest strikeout pitcher of all time – and one of the best of all time overall. It is likely I believe that with the advent of sabermetrics he might have won a couple of more Cy Youngs as it was better understood just how dominant a pitcher he was with his teammates not being an issue.

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