Nolan Ryan

Position: Pitcher
Teams: New York Mets, 1966-1971; California Angels, 1972-1979; Houston Astros, 1980-1988; Texas Rangers, 1989-1993

Forty Years of
Heavy Heat
Even the greatest fireballs burn out after a decade or so. But not Ryan. He threw gas for nearly 40 years.

“When I was eight years old, I knew I could throw a ball past hitters,” he said. In the final season of his incredible 27-year career, at the age of 46, he still popped the glove at well over 90 mph.

“Ryan Express” roared the loudest in the early 1970s. In 1974, a state-of-the-art timing device clocked his fastball at 100.9 mph, earning him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

When he was ­really smoking, Ryan undoubtedly exceeded 100.9. In 1973, the year of his record 383 whiffs, he no-hit both Kansas City and Detroit, fanning 17 batters in the latter contest.

Tiger first baseman Norm Cash felt so overmatched in the game that he went to bat with a table leg. Of course, he wasn’t allowed to use it--not that it would have mattered anyway.

Pitchers' careers rise or fall on the "wins" stat, but any smart hurler will tell you that there's a lot of luck involved in landing a "W." A victory is truly a team statistic; the pitcher plays a large part, but so do the other guys.

Nolan Ryan was frequently criticized as a pitcher who didn't win. His lifetime winning percentage is about 60 percentage points lower than the 100th best of all time. His relative paucity of wins is probably why Ryan never won a Cy Young Award. But you can't deny he was often surrounded by less-than-stellar talent.

The true measures of pitcher domination are strikeouts -- the out that can cause no damage -- and no-hitters. And Nolan Ryan dominates both of those categories.

Ryan (born 1947) retired after fanning 5,714 batters in his career. In 1983, he broke Walter Johnson's lifetime whiff record (which had stood for 56 years) and then pitched 10 more seasons. His achievement is equivalent to someone breaking Hank Aaron's lifetime homer record of 755 and going on to finish with 1,230.

In 1972, Ryan became the first righthander to strike out 300 batters in a season since Bob Feller. He punched out 383 batters, setting a major-league record that would endure the century. In 1974, he cracked 300 for the third time.

Overall, the "Ryan Express" whiffed 300 or more in a season six times. No one else has done that. Ryan also holds the AL record for most seasons with 200 or more strikeouts (10). He managed that even though he spent 14 of his seasons in the other league. Ryan was also ERA champ twice, and 12 times no pitcher in his league allowed batters a lower batting average for the season.

When it comes to no-hitters, Ryan's seven are also the most by anyone ever, and also by a goodly distance. Second place on the list belongs to Sandy Koufax with four. No one else has three.

Only 11 pitchers have ever tallied more than Ryan's 324 victories, even though, as mentioned, he performed many years for subpar teams. In 1987, for example, he led the National League in ERA (2.76) and strikeouts (270) yet finished just 8-16 for a weak-hitting Houston club.

When Ryan left California after a 16-14 record in 1979 to join the Astros as a free agent, the Angel general manager was asked how he planned to replace Nolan. "With two 8-7 pitchers," he snorted.

Nolan Ryan
In 1974, a state-of-the-art timing device clocked Nolan Ryan's fastball at
100.9 mph, earning him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Apparently, the GM hadn't noticed that among Ryan's 16 wins were five shutouts, which led the league. Or that in his seven seasons in California, Ryan ranked first in fewest hits allowed per game four times and second three times. Or that he'd been in the top five in ERA twice. Or that he won 19 games or more four times. In retrospect, Ryan's career can be seen as striking proof of how little the "wins" stat really means when it comes to a pitcher's ability.

Ryan's teams weren't always bad. He was an important member of division-winning staffs for California in 1979 and for Houston in '80 and '86. However, his only World Series appearance came with his first team, the Mets, in 1969.

Ryan began his career strictly as a fireballer, often eclipsing 100 mph. "I had no idea where the ball was going," he said of his early years. However, he steadily expanded his pitching repertoire. Even more importantly, he became a tireless worker, putting in long hours on the exercise machines to maximize his strength and stamina.

Ryan's epic 27-year career ended in 1994. No one in major-league baseball history threw more pitches than he did. Three different clubs have retired his number. In 1999, he was selected to Major League Baseball's All-Century Team and elected to the Hall of Fame.

Here are Nolan Ryan's major league totals:


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