6 minute read

Nolan Ryan - The Strikeout King

Famous Sports StarsBaseballNolan Ryan - Two Life-long Loves Begin, "the Best Arm I Have Ever Seen", Chronology, Related Biography: Baseball Player Reid Ryan

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

Nolan Ryan

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.

Career Statistics

Yr Team W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R BB SO
CAL: California Angels; HOU: Houston Astros; NYM: New York Mets; TEX: Texas Rangers.
1966 NYM 0 1 15.00 1 0 0 3.0 5 5 3 6
1968 NYM 6 9 3.09 18 3 0 134.0 93 50 75 133
1969 NYM 6 3 3.53 10 2 0 89.1 60 38 53 92
1970 NYM 7 11 3.42 19 5 2 131.2 86 59 97 125
1971 NYM 10 14 3.97 26 3 0 152.0 125 78 116 137
1972 CAL 19 16 2.28 39 20 9 284.0 166 80 157 329
1973 CAL 21 16 2.87 39 26 4 326.0 238 113 162 383
1974 CAL 22 16 2.89 41 26 3 332.2 221 127 202 367
1975 CAL 14 12 3.45 28 10 5 198.0 152 90 132 186
1976 CAL 17 18 3.36 39 21 7 284.1 193 117 183 327
1977 CAL 19 16 2.77 37 22 4 299.0 198 110 204 241
1978 CAL 10 13 3.72 31 14 3 234.2 183 106 148 260
1979 CAL 16 14 3.60 34 17 5 222.2 169 104 114 223
1980 HOU 11 10 3.35 25 4 2 233.2 205 100 98 200
1981 HOU 11 5 1.69 21 5 3 149.0 99 34 68 140
1982 HOU 16 12 3.16 35 10 3 250.1 196 100 109 245
1983 HOU 14 9 2.98 29 5 2 196.1 134 74 101 183
1984 HOU 12 11 3.04 30 5 2 183.2 143 78 69 197
1985 HOU 10 12 3.80 35 4 0 232.0 205 108 95 209
1986 HOU 12 8 3.34 30 1 0 178.0 119 72 82 194
1987 HOU 8 16 2.76 34 0 0 211.2 154 75 87 270
1988 HOU 12 11 3.52 33 4 1 220.0 186 98 87 228
1989 TEX 16 10 3.20 32 6 2 239.1 162 96 98 301
1990 TEX 13 9 3.44 30 5 2 204.0 137 86 74 232
1991 TEX 12 6 2.91 27 2 2 173.0 102 58 72 203
1992 TEX 5 9 3.72 27 2 0 157.1 138 75 69 157
1993 TEX 5 5 4.88 13 0 0 66.1 54 47 40 46
TOTAL 324 292 3.19 773 222 61 5386.0 3923 2178 2795 5714

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.

Additional topics