American baseball player
Baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan is the all-time strikeout king, with a career total of 5,714 strikeouts, and seven no-hitters. His career lasted 27 years, the longest
of any major league baseball player. With a career average of 9.55 strikeouts per nine innings, he was one of only three pitchers to average a strikeout per inning. He set a major league record by striking out 10 batters in a game 215 times, and an American League record in 1974 by striking out 19 batters in a 9-inning game. In 1992, a year before his retirement, Ryan became the oldest pitcher in the major leagues to strike out more than 10 batters in a single game. His six seasons of 300+ strikeouts and 15 seasons with 200+ strikeouts are still major league records.
Two Life-Long Loves Begin
Lynn Nolan Ryan Jr. was born in 1947 in Refugio, Texas. He grew up in Alvin, Texas, where his family moved when he was less than two months old. In 1954, when Ryan was seven years old, he father bought him in his first baseball glove at the local hardware store. "That was one of my favorite memories," Ryan said many years later to Jody Goldstein in the Houston Chronicle. "Getting to go with my dad down to Alvin Hardware and being the last of six kids and getting to pick out, for the first time, anything new for myself and not being a hand-me-down. That was a new experience."
For Ryan, it was to be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with baseball. He joined his local Little League team soon after. To play in the youth league, Ryan told Goldstein, "That was the highest thing you could look forward to as a kid growing up in a small, rural town like that. To go to tryouts and stuff. That was a big event in your life." Ryan was just 15 years old when he first dated the girl who was to become his wife, Ruth Holdorff. She was 13 years old. "I still remember him asking," Ruth recalled years later to Goldstein. "He game up to me and said, 'Do you think your mom would let you go to a movie?"
In high school, Ryan and Ruth were voted by their classmates the Most Handsome and Most Beautiful, respectively. "We love to tease them about that," their son Reese told Goldstein. "We always tell them there must not have been much to choose from." Both Ryan and Ruth excelled in athletics in high school. Ryan played basketball as well as baseball, and Ruth became a state tennis champion.
But although he stood out in athletics in high school, he did not do so well academically. He found out as an adult that he had dyslexia, a learning disability that causes one to misread words. But in high school, "one teacher thought he was stupid and wanted to fail him," Ruth later told Goldstein. "He was a C student, with a couple of D's and F's mixed in. The hardest thing for him was spelling. He also had a slight lisp, and as a result, he was shy in the classroom."
As his high school career progressed, Ryan spent more and more time playing baseball, starting to perfect the pitches for which he was to become famous. "I swear," his high school coach Jim Watson told Goldstein years later, "that ball jumped six to eight inches when it reached the plate." Ryan also developed a reputation for throwing wild balls, often hitting batters—a reputation that was to follow him into the major leagues. Some of his high school opponents even became afraid of batting against Ryan. Said Watson, "Those kids were so scared, they'd swing at anything just to get out of there."
"The Best Arm I Have Ever Seen"
While in his junior year in high school, Ryan attracted the notice of a scout for the New York Mets, Ruff Murff. Murff said in his report on Ryan, "This skinny high school junior has the best arm I have ever seen in my life." Watson thought Murff was exaggerating until he went to see a baseball game at the Astrodome and saw that the major league pitchers there were pitching slower balls than Ryan.
Ryan graduated from Alvin High School in 1965 after helping the school team get to the state finals, and immediately signed as a player with the New York Mets. His first assignment was with the Mets' minor league team in Marion, Virginia, for which he started playing in 1966. In 1967 Ryan married Ruth. (They eventually had two sons, Reid, the eldest, Reese, and a daughter named Wendy. By 2002, Ryan and Ruth had three grandchildren, Jackson, Caroline, and Victoria.) Ryan worked his way up to the major leagues, becoming a pitcher for the Mets' major league team after three years, in 1968.
|1947||Born in Refugio, Texas|
|1947||Moves with his family to Alvin, Texas, forever after his home town|
|1954||Receives his first baseball glove|
|1965||Graduates from high school, signs with the New York Mets organization|
|1966||Plays for Mets' minor league team in Marion, Virginia|
|1967||Marries Ruth Holdorff|
|1968||Becomes a pitcher with the Mets' major league team|
|1969||Plays with the Mets in the 1969 World Series—the only World Series of his career|
|1971||Is traded to the California Angels|
|1973||Pitches his first two no-hitters|
|1979||Leaves the Angels for the Houston Astros|
|1988||Leaves the Astros for the Texas Rangers|
|1989||Strikes out his 5,000th player|
|1993||Retires from playing baseball|
|1997||Buys minor league baseball team with son Reid and other investors|
|1999||Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1999||Elected to the All-Century Team|
Related Biography: Baseball Player Reid Ryan
Nolan Ryan's eldest son, Reid Ryan, also became a pro baseball pitcher. He played in the minor leagues for three seasons before hanging up his gloves and becoming a television broadcaster for the Texas Rangers. He missed being more actively involved in the game, though, so he brokered a business deal to purchase a minor league team in Mississippi, convincing his father to join him in the venture. Nolan and Reid brought the team to Texas in 1997, changing its name to the Round Rock Express.
Reid Ryan was born in 1976 in Southern California, where he father was pitching for the California Angels. The Ryans moved back to his parents' native Texas by the time Reid was in high school, and Reid attended his parents' high school, Alvin High. There he played on the same school team on which his father got his start, as well as on the school basketball team. After graduating from high school, he went to the University of Texas on a baseball scholarship, pitching on the school team for one year.
After his freshman year at the University of Texas, Reid transferred to Texas Christian University, where by his senior year, he was the number one starter for the school baseball team, helping the team get to the NCAA regional games for the first time in several years. Coming out of school, Reid went pro, playing for the Hudson-Valley Renegades, a member of the New York-Penn League based New York State's Hudson River Valley.
After three years in the minor leagues, Reid decided to call it quits, acknowledging that he probably lacked the power to do well in the major leagues. "I could always throw strikes," he later told the Houston Chronicle 's Alan Truex. "I just couldn't throw a Nolan Ryan fastball." And, "I'd have to be in the minors eight to 10 years before I'd get a cup of coffee in the big leagues."
Ryan did not enjoy living in New York. As he later told the Houston Chronicle 's Neil Hohlfeld "I hated that place. I'd get cabin fever, sitting around the house. Then you'd drive to the ballpark and, no matter what time you went, there would be traffic and people getting in fights, honking, flipping people off, yelling." In addition to the shock of moving from the open spaces of his native Texas to the densest city in the country, Ryan had the stress of proving himself for a team that had a surplus of pitchers and could therefore afford to let him go if he did not perform well enough.
On top of everything else, Ryan had military duties to fulfill, requiring absences during the baseball season. "Looking back," he told Hohlfeld, "it turned out to be one of those situations where things just didn't match up. The combination of how many good, young pitchers there were and my military obligations, that made for some problems." Nevertheless, Ryan made it along with the Mets to the World Series in 1969, defeating the Orioles 4-1 to take the title. Then, the death of his father at the age of 63 in 1970 sent Ryan to a new low. He very nearly quit baseball.
The Strikeout King
In 1971, Ryan was traded to the California Angels. It turned out to be a godsend. As he told Hohlfeld, "I went to a team that was in the building stages and I got to pitch every fourth day. My military obligation was over that year, and I went from pitching 130 innings with the Mets to 300-plus innings each year with the Angels. At that point in my career, really, that's all I was looking for." Ryan stayed with the Angels for eight years, playing from the 1972 season until 1979. These years formed the foundation of his career. It was during that time that he learned to hone his pitching skills to a razor sharpness, in 1972 leading his league in strikeouts (329). As in his early years, he developed a reputation for aggression on the mound. Of the batters who faced Ryan at this time was Tom Grieve, then a player for the Texas Rangers. He later said of Ryan to Hohlfeld, "He was the only pitcher I faced … that fear entered into the
at-bat. He was throwing so hard, and he was wild, and you knew he was mean. He'd knock you down, and you never knew whether it was on purpose or not."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1969||Wins World Series with the New York Mets|
|1973||Pitches two no-hitters|
|1973||Awarded American League's Joe Cronin Award for significant achievement|
|1974||Pitches third no-hitter|
|1975||Pitches fourth no-hitter|
|1981||Pitches fifth no-hitter|
|1983||Becomes record holder for most strikeouts|
|1987||Elected to Texas Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1989||Strikes out his 5,000th player|
|1989||Awarded American League's Joe Cronin Award for significant achievement|
|1990||Pitches sixth no-hitter|
|1990||Awarded Sporting News Annual Man of the Year Award|
|1990||Named Male Athlete of the Year Award by United Press International|
|1990||Awarded U.S. Sports Academy/USA Pro Sportsman of the Year Award|
|1991||Pitches seventh no-hitter|
|1991||Elected to Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum Hall of Excellence|
|1999||Elected to the All-Century Team|
|1999||Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame|
In 1973, Ryan pitched the first two of what was to be a total of seven no-hitters during his career. By 1974, Ryan's fastball was being clocked at 100.9 miles per hour. Also in 1974, he pitched his third no-hitter. He pitched his fourth no-hitter in 1975. In 1979, Ryan moved his family back to Texas, where he signed a 4-year, $4.4 million contract with the Astros. This made him the best-paid athlete in history. Ryan pitched his fifth no-hit game with the Astros in 1981, earning him the distinction of being the no-hit champion. Then 34 years old, Ryan wasn't sure that he would have the stamina to pull off this feat. "It was the one thing I wanted," he told the Houston Chronicle 's Bill Sullivan. "I'd had a shot at if for a long time, but because of my age, I thought I wouldn't get it." Get it he did, and he repeated this remarkable performance two more times, in 1990, playing a no-hit game with the Texas Rangers, with which he signed in 1988, and a final time less than a year later, in 1991, to complete a record series of seven no-hitters.
Ryan finished his playing career with the Texas Rangers. In his first season with the Rangers, Ryan won 16 games and struck out 301 batters It was also with the Rangers that he pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters. Other milestones he passed with the Rangers were his 300th win and his 5,000 strikeout. "The years I spent with the Rangers were the ones that put me over the top," he told the Houston Chronicle 's Bill Sullivan. In particular, Ryan was proudest of his 5,000th strikeout (of the Oakland A's Rickey Henderson ). As he told Sullivan, "It represented that many innings pitched and being able to maintain that style of pitching my entire career." Ryan retired from playing baseball in 1993, at the remarkable age of 46. He was the oldest player ever to play for the Texas Rangers.
In all, Ryan's career as a major league baseball player spanned 27 years. He played for four teams—the Mets, with which he made his pro ball debut, the California Angels, the Houston Astros, and finally, the Texas Rangers. Four decades as pro saw Ryan set or break 51 major league pitching records. Among these were seven no-hitters, and 5,714 strikeouts during the course of his career. He also played longer than any other player. He won a total of 324 games.
Ryan has had his uniform number retired by three teams, also a major league record. His number was retired by the Angels, the Astros, and the Rangers. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, his first year of eligibility. The same year, he was elected to the All-Century Team.
|CAL: California Angels; HOU: Houston Astros; NYM: New York Mets; TEX: Texas Rangers.|
Ryan still lives in his hometown, Alvin, Texas, with his wife Ruth. After retiring from baseball, he entered into several business ventures, among them ownership and management of a bank based in Alvin, two restaurants, and a group of cattle ranches. In 1997, Ryan and his son Reid headed a group of investors that bought a minor league team affiliated with the Houston Astros, moving it from its Jackson, Mississippi base to Texas and renaming it the Round Rock Express.
"Baseball: A Chip Off the Glorious Ryan Arm." New York Times (July 11, 1994): C9.
Truex, Alan. "Express Deliverer; Reid Ryan Has Found Round Rock Ready for Minor-League." Houston Chronicle (April 13, 2000): C9.
"The Express Gets on Track." Round Rock Express Baseball. http://www.roundrockexpress.com/history (December 11, 2002).
"Express Staff: Lynn Nolan Ryan Jr." Round Rock Express Baseball. http://www.roundrockexpress.com/staff/item15528. (December 9, 2002).
"Good Deal: Despite Some Shaky Moments, California Strikes Gold." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/plainstory.hts/special/ryan/295392. (December 9, 2002).
"A Hero's Welcome: Arlington Fans Get Hospitality Repaid." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/plainstory.hts/special/ryan/294710. (December 9, 2002).
"Home Economics: Contract Dispute Forces Final Move." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/plainstory.hts/special/ryan/294946. (December 9, 2002).
"Magnificent Seven: Chances of Topping this Mark Far-Flung." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/plainstory.hts/special/ryan/294711 (December 9, 2002).
"Nolan Ryan." CNN/SI. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/all_time_stats/players/r/1985/ (December 9, 2002).
"Nolan Ryan Foundation." Nolan Ryan Foundation. http://www.nolanryanfoundation.org/ (December 9, 2002).
"Nolan Ryan: Journey of a Legend." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/special/ryan/photos/scoutcard.html (December 9, 2002).
"Nolan Ryan Statistics." Baseball-Reference.com. http://www.baseball-reference.com/r/ryannml (December 9, 2002).
"Slow Start: New York Doesn't Become Apple of Young Pitcher's Eye." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/plainstory.hts/special/ryan/294770 (December 9, 2002).
"Young Gun: Solid Roots in Hometown Become Foundation for Success." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/plainstory.hts/special/ryan/294698. (December 9, 2002).
Sketch by Michael Belfiore
Where Is He Now?
After retiring from the Texas Rangers in 1993, Nolan Ryan entered into several business ventures. He became the majority owner and the chairman of the board of a bank with branches in Alvin and Danbury, Texas, the Express Bank, and opened a restaurant near Three Rivers, Texas called Nolan Ryan's Waterfront Restaurant and Brass Inn. He also owns a string of cattle ranches in South Texas.
Ryan has also been able to keep a hand in the game he loves best. In 1997, Ryan and his son Reid, a former pitcher in the minor leagues, headed a group of investors that bought a Houston Astros affiliated minor league team based in Jackson, Mississippi called the Generals. They moved the team to Round Rock, Texas, and renamed it the Round Rock Express.
Ryan is also actively involved in several civic organizations. He is on the board of directors of the Nolan Ryan Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Alvin, Texas dedicated to honoring Ryan's baseball career. Ryan also serves of the boards of the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, the Texas Water Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Texas, and the Alvin Community College Baseball Fund. Ryan still lives in his hometown of Alvin, Texas, with his wife Ruth.
Nolan Ryan (born 1947) is considered one of the best pitchers of all time, known both for his fastball and as a role model for players and fans alike.
Ranked among the greatest pitchers of all time, Nolan Ryan struck out a record 5,714 batters and had 61 shutouts over a career that spanned from 1966 through 1993. Ryan's career saw 324 games won and 292 games lost. 1973 marked the beginning of what would later become a baseball legend when Ryan set a major league record of 383 strikeouts for a single season. However more important than his incredible blazing fast ball or his fantastic durability, Ryan brought back to baseball a concept that had been sorely missing—the idea of an American hero. Ryan was not only a player that others in the game could look up to as a professional role model, but he was also someone that mainstream America could look to as a role model as well. Ryan, unlike others who play the sport today, was never concerned with money. Although he was the first pitcher to earn a million dollar annual salary, Ryan played for the love of the game and it was this love that endeared him to the American populace.
Lynn Nolan Ryan was born January 31, 1947, in Refugio, Texas. Ryan grew up in Alvin, Texas, where his father worked for an oil company and delivered papers for the Houston Post. Ryan credits his father for instilling in him the value of the work ethic. As mentioned earlier, Ryan never played baseball for the money even though he was the first million dollar pitcher. Ryan played the game for what he felt it was, a sport that required hard work and intense dedication. It was this spirit that permeated Ryan's game and allowed him to endure criticism and the tough times without making excuses that other players routinely did. Ryan was disgusted when other players blamed management decisions, biased reporting, lack of other players' skills, or a variety of other excuses for their own shortcomings. Ryan became a willing role model through his 27-year career and is probably the last who played or will play the game with the old-style courage and skill reminiscent of early baseball.
Ryan moved away from Alvin, Texas, in 1965 to Greenville, South Carolina, to begin playing a game that even he did not realize would become his career. Ryan was selected by the New York Mets during the 1965 free-agent draft and played in the West Carolinas League beginning on September 11, 1966. During Ryan's stint with this league, his teammates began to respect his fast ball. Before his playing, his teammates thought his fast ball was just a high school fantasy. Although Ryan lacked true ball control, he nonetheless frightened batters and catchers alike with his scorching fast ball. At times, his pitches had been recorded at speeds well over 90 miles per hour. Even with lack of ball control, it was enough for the Mets that Ryan possessed such pitching skill and as a result they called him up to play in the major leagues at the end of the 1966 season. Ryan had already won 17 games by the start of his major league career. The Mets at that time were in sore need of great players, because until 1969, the Mets had finished last or next to last in every season since the team was founded in 1962. Unfortunately for the Mets, the 1967 season did not bring the great plays expected. Ryan was often homesick and therefore missed much of the 1967 season due to illness, an arm injury, and service with the Army Reserves.
Marriage and Career Upswing
Ryan married his high school sweetheart, Ruth, in 1968. She moved to New York City to be closer to Ryan and help ease his homesickness. Her actions helped to improve Ryan's game during the 1968 season. Along with the improved playing ability Ryan achieved during that season, the New York Mets also improved as a team. The Mets added two key people to their pitching staff, Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver, a strikeout leader in his own right from whom Ryan learned a great deal. This would later prove to be a valuable and much needed management contribution. With these two incidents, the Mets became positioned for their first-ever bid for the World Series in 1969. During the 1969 season, Ryan played as both a starting and relief pitcher, finishing the season with a six win and three loss record. This type of finish soon became the norm for Ryan as he concentrated more on striking out batters than on winning games. Regardless, it was primarily Ryan's pitching abilities that took the New York Mets to the league championships that year and later the World Series. Ryan saved the Mets' bid for the World Series title when in the third game of the series, Ryan made the crucial plays needed to earn the win. The Mets went on to upset the Baltimore Orioles after five games. The New York Mets had finally done the impossible; what no professional commentator thought they could do. With the help of Ryan, the New York Mets had won their first World Series title since arriving in the National League.
Even with a world championship title to his credit Ryan still felt uncomfortable and disillusioned in New York, and requested to be traded in 1971. Without much discussion, the Mets agreed to Ryan's request and traded him along with three other players to the California Angels. Because of this move, he was able to distance himself from the East and a climate and location he was never fond of. For Ryan and those three players, the New York Mets received Jim Fregosi, a third baseman. Looking back as players and managers often do, this trade is often considered the worst in the history of the Mets. Once in California, Ryan blasted his way into superstar status. He stayed with the Angels for eight seasons, from 1972 through 1979.
With the help Ryan received from both the Mets and the Angels, he began to pitch in a much more controlled and compact fashion allowing for an unbelievably fast delivery across the plate. Ryan had finally reigned in his pitch to a truly skilled perfection of speed and balance. As a result he also struck out more than three hundred batters for the first time. To be more specific, Ryan finished the 1972 season with 19 wins, 16 losses, and 329 strikeouts. With this feat accomplished, Ryan became only the second right-handed pitcher since 1946, when Bob Feller accomplished it, to strike out three hundred or more batters in a single season. With the close of the 1973 season, Ryan became the first-ever pitcher to have back-to-back over three hundred strikeout seasons. Striking out 383 hitters, Ryan set an all-time major league record. This achievement is now challenged only by Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox. Additionally in the 1973 season, Ryan became only the fifth pitcher in baseball history to pitch two no-hit games in one season. His first no-hitter came against the Kansas City Royals on May 15. On July 15 against the Detroit Tigers, Ryan pitched his second no-hit game of 1973. The 1974 and 1975 seasons were also quite good for Ryan stat-wise. In the 1974 season, Ryan pitched his third no-hit game and completed a third season of over three hundred strikeouts. The 1975 season saw Ryan complete his fourth no-hit game. Ryan now became only the second pitcher in major league history to achieve this feat. This accomplishment was first achieved by Sandy Koufax during the 1960s while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Critics and opponents of Ryan and his games believed his career was all but over when in 1975 he underwent elbow surgery. This surgery usually spells the end for a pitcher, therefore such criticism was expected. Not wanting to stay away from the game he loved, Ryan reappeared on the baseball season larger than life in 1976. Ryan closed the 1976 season with 17 wins, 18 losses, and 327 strikeouts. Impressing doubters even more, Ryan closed his 1977 season with 19 wins, 16 losses, and 341 strikeouts. Again Ryan completed back-to-back over three hundred strikeout seasons.
Move to Texas and Desperation
Although Ryan played some of his best games with the California Angels, he still longed for his native Texas. His break came when at the end of the 1979 season when he became a free agent. Ryan was immediately signed with the Houston Astros and became baseball's first pitcher to earn a million dollars a year. Although this amount is common by today's standards, when it was awarded to Ryan, such a sum was unheard of. After taking some time to readjust to a newer pitching style introduced by the National League, Ryan showed off his adjustment by pitching his fifth no-hit game in 1981. Effectively breaking Koufax's record, Ryan, it was widely thought, was well on his way to setting even more major league records. Unfortunately for Ryan, rather than setting records, he failed to even match his own prior performances. Essentially, from 1984 until the 1987 season, Ryan was continuously placed on the disabled or the injured reserve list. Ryan rarely pitched a game during this time and has always felt that it was the worst time of his professional career. He was especially concerned about his fellow teammates who had to make the difference even without Ryan to pitch his all-star games.
Game Picked Up
The 1987 season saw not only a rejuvenated Ryan, but new records as well. His legendary durability and willingness to play despite great personal discomfort, landed him his second ERA (Earned Run Average) title with a 2.76 average. Ryan's first ERA title was in 1981 in which he attained a 1.69 average. Additionally, Ryan became the first pitcher in baseball's history to attain 2,000 strikeouts in both the American League and the National League. After completing his contract with the Astros, Ryan again became a free agent at the end of the 1987 season. He again was quickly picked up, this time by the Texas Rangers in time for the 1988 season. Ryan had hoped that perhaps with the Rangers, despite his age, he might again have a chance at playing the World Series again. With only four and one-half games separating the Rangers from the division leader, Chicago, this possibility seemed probable. This desire had followed Ryan since his departure from the Mets. Although, Ryan would not see a championship playoff with the Rangers, he did attain his sixth no-hit game and led the American League in strikeouts by the close of the 1990 regular season. Additionally, while playing for the Rangers, Ryan attained his record setting seventh no-hit game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Called it Quits
On September 22, 1993, on Nolan Ryan Appreciation Day in Seattle, Washington, all that Ryan dreamed of and played for came to an abrupt halt. For the pitcher that was to strikeouts what Hank Aaron was to home runs, for the man who pitched more strikeouts and no-hitters than anyone who had played the game to that point—the final call was made for Ryan. Although he planned to retire at the end of the 1993 season, he expected to do so with the grace and dignity deserving of his accomplishments. Instead fate or should one prefer, Father Time, took that from Ryan. After feeling his right elbow pop with pain from a torn ligament in the middle of the Rangers game against the Seattle Mariners, Ryan knew his chances at the World Series were over. Ryan was sidelined for the rest of the game, giving him ample time to reflect on his 27-year career. Although Ryan had technically done little to help the Rangers in their bid for the American League West title, especially with his 115 days on the injured reserve list, he still felt somehow personally responsible. When it finally settled in on Ryan he was crushed. At 46, Ryan walked off the field that day giving to baseball and its fans something that will not be seen again. As an athlete, Ryan defined his own class and style. He attained the 5,000 strikeout mark at the age of 42, when most professional sports players had long since retired. A physical wonder, Ryan was still throwing out his legendary fast balls, clocked at 95 miles per hour at the age of 46. Fast ballers, so it was thought, were supposed to lose their edge, break down, and rely on deceptions to keep the ball "unhittable," but not Nolan Ryan. Age only appeared to perfect his ability.
Sports Illustrated, October 4, 1993, p. 46; September 19, 1994, p. 132.
"Monument to Greatness," in The Sporting News, October 11, 1993, p. 31.
USA Today, February 15, 1996.
Sullivan, George, Pitchers: Twenty-seven of Baseball's Greatest, Atheneum, 1994.
Reiser, Howard, Nolan Ryan: Strikeout King, Children's Press, 1993.
Briggs, Jennifer, Nolan Ryan: The Authorized Pictorial Biography, The Summit Group, 1991.
Libby, Bill, Nolan Ryan: Fireballer, Putnam, 1975. □
Born: January 31, 1947
American baseball player
Nolan Ryan is considered one of the best pitchers of all time, known both for his fastball and as a role model for players and fans alike.
Lynn Nolan Ryan Jr. was born January 31, 1947, in Refugio, Texas. He was the youngest of six children of Lynn Nolan Ryan Sr. and Martha Ryan. Ryan grew up in Alvin, Texas, where his father worked for an oil company and delivered papers for the Houston Post. Ryan credits his father for instilling in him the value of a strong work ethic. In second grade, Ryan began helping his father on his paper routes.
Much of Ryan's youth was consumed by sports. While he spent two years on his high school basketball team, it was baseball that was his passion. During his senior year, he dominated the pitching mound. He amassed a 20–4 record, batted .700 in the state tournament, and was named to the All-State team before graduating high school in 1965.
Ryan was selected by the New York Mets during the 1965 free-agent draft and played in the West Carolinas League beginning on September 11, 1966. During Ryan's time with this league, his teammates began to respect his fast ball. Although Ryan lacked true ball control, he nonetheless frightened batters and catchers alike with his scorching fastball, which one day would be known as "The Ryan Express."
As a result the New York Mets called Ryan up to play in the major leagues at the end of the 1966 season. The Mets at that time were in sore need of great players, because until 1969, the Mets had finished last or next to last in every season since the team was founded in 1962. Unfortunately for the Mets, the 1967 season did not bring the great play expected. Ryan was often homesick and therefore missed much of the 1967 season due to illness, an arm injury, and service with the U.S. Army Reserves.
Marriage and the Mets
Ryan married his high school sweetheart, Ruth, in 1968. She moved to New York City to be closer to Ryan and help ease his homesickness. Along with the improved playing ability Ryan achieved during that season, the New York Mets also improved as a team. The Mets added two key people to their pitching staff, Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver (1944–), a strikeout leader in his own right from whom Ryan learned a great deal.
During the 1969 season, Ryan played as both a starting and relief pitcher, finishing the season with a 6–3 record. This type of finish soon became the norm for Ryan as he concentrated more on striking out batters than on winning games. Regardless, it was primarily Ryan's pitching abilities that took the New York Mets to the league championships that year and later the World Series. Ryan saved the Mets' bid for the World Series title when in the third game of the series, he made the crucial plays needed to earn the win. The Mets went on to upset the Baltimore Orioles after five games.
Ryan, even with a world championship title to his credit, still felt uncomfortable in New York City, and requested to be traded in 1971. Without much discussion, the Mets agreed to Ryan's request and traded him along with three other players to the California Angels. Because of this move, he was able to distance himself from the East and a climate and location he was never fond of. Looking back, as players and managers often do, this trade is often considered the worst in the history of the Mets. Once in California, Ryan blasted his way into superstar status. He stayed with the Angels for eight seasons, from 1972 through 1979.
With the Angels Ryan struck out more than three hundred batters for the first time. Ryan finished the 1972 season with 19 wins, 16 losses, and 329 strikeouts. With the close of the 1973 season, Ryan became the first-ever pitcher to have back-to-back seasons of over 300 strikeouts. Striking out 383 hitters, Ryan set an all-time major league record. Additionally, in the 1973 season, Ryan became only the fifth pitcher in baseball history to pitch two no-hit games in one season.
The 1974 and 1975 seasons were also quite good for Ryan statistically. In the 1974 season, Ryan pitched his third no-hit game and completed a third season of over three hundred strikeouts. The 1975 season saw Ryan complete his fourth no-hit game. Ryan became the second pitcher in major league history to achieve this feat.
Move to Texas and desperation
Although Ryan played some of his best games with the California Angels, he still longed for his native Texas. His break came at the end of the 1979 season when he became a free agent. Ryan was immediately signed with the Houston Astros and became base-ball's first pitcher to earn one million dollars a year. Although this amount is common by today's standards, when it was awarded to Ryan, such a sum was unheard of at the time.
Ryan pitched for the Astros from 1980 through the 1988 season. In 1981, he threw his fifth no-hitter. He led the league with the lowest earned run average in 1981 and 1987. In 1980, 1981, and 1986, the Astros were in the National League playoffs, but lost all three times.
After Ryan completed his contract with the Astros, he again was a free agent at the end of the 1988 season. He was quickly picked up, this time by the Texas Rangers in time for the 1989 season. Although Ryan would not play in a playoff series with the Rangers, he did pitch his sixth and seventh no-hit games and led the American League in strikeouts in the 1989, 1990, and 1991 seasons.
Called it quits
On September 22, 1993, on Nolan Ryan Appreciation Day in Seattle, Washington, all that Ryan dreamed of and played for came to an abrupt halt. Although he planned to retire at the end of the 1993 season, he expected to do so with the grace and dignity deserving of his accomplishments. After feeling his right elbow pop with pain from a torn ligament in the middle of the Rangers game against the Seattle Mariners, Ryan knew his chances at the World Series were over. Ryan was side-lined for the rest of the game, giving him ample time to reflect on his twenty-seven-year career.
That day, at forty-six, Ryan walked off the field giving baseball and its fans something that is rarely seen. As an athlete, Ryan defined his own class and style. He attained the five-thousand-strikeout mark at the age of forty-two, when most professional sports players had long since retired. In 1999 Ryan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for playing a record twenty-seven seasons and pitching seven no-hitters.
In April of 2000 Ryan underwent emergency double-bypass surgery at the Heart Hospital of Austin, Texas. After experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains, his wife drove him to the Round Rock Medical Center, where doctors performed tests. He was then taken to the Heart Hospital of Austin, where an angiogram (an X ray of blood vessels) showed a substantial blockage of the left main coronary artery.
Nolan Ryan is currently a cattle rancher and a businessman. He and his wife are also active promoters of healthy and fit lifestyles for Americans.
For More Information
Anderson, Ken. Nolan Ryan: Texas Fastball to Cooperstown. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 2000.
Nicholson, Lois P. Nolan Ryan. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.
Rolfe, John. Nolan Ryan. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
Ryan, Nolan, T. R. Sullivan, and Mickey Herskowitz. Nolan Ryan: The Road to Cooperstown. Lenexa, KS: Addax, 1999.
Ryan, Nolan, and Harvey Frommer. Throwing Heat: The Autobiography of Nolan Ryan. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Sanna, Ellyn. Nolan Ryan. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2002.