Harvey Frommer / Players
The Nolan Ryan Express Was Always on Time
By Harvey Frommer
For baseball fans it was a moving moment as baseball's immortals who were part of the All-Century team assembled on the field before Game 2 of the World Series. For me, seeing Nolan Ryan standing there was an especially moving moment.
As an author who was privileged to have the opportunity to get to know him and his family while writing "Throwing Heat," his autobiography, I became intimately aware of how he began and what he has accomplished. The life and times of Nolan Ryan is truly the story of the realization of the American dream.
He grew up in the small town of Alvin, Texas, and still makes his home there. As a teenager Nolan delivered the Houston Post.
In "Throwing Heat," he said, "Some people claimed that I developed my arm throwing the Houston Post. That was not the case. It was a short throw from a car, and I made the throw Back-handed with my left hand wile I steered my '52 Chevy with my right hand. But I did develop the knack of being able to roll and tie fifty newspapers in just about five minutes, and that probably helped me develop strong fingers and wrists."
The strong fingers and wrists were part of the reason for Ryan's great success. A tremendous work ethic was another. Nolan had 992,040 votes to rank first among all pitchers on the All-Century team. He was followed by Sandy Koufax (970,434), Cy Young (867,523), Roger Clemens (601,244), Bob Gibson (582,031). That's elite company.
One can only wonder what went through Nolan's mind out there on the field next to Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, and Sandy Koufax. Aaron was one of Ryan's idols in his growing up years, and Koufax was a pitcher he truly admired.
"One Sunday between my junior and senior years in high school we went to see the Houston Colt .45's play the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was pitching, and I was a big Koufax fan. It was the first time I had ever seen Sandy pitch. I was truly amazed at how fast he was and how good a curveball he had. I think he was the most overpowering pitcher I had ever seen."
The all time strikeout record belongs to Nolan now. But once upon a time, and for a long period, it belonged to Walter Johnson who finished in sixth-place in the voting for pitchers with 479,279 votes.
One day early in the 1969 season, Nolan was sitting in the Mets' dugout when Jim Bunning recorded his 2,500th strikeout. He asked Tom Seaver what the all-time record for strikeouts was and was told that it was 3,508 and held by Walter Johnson.
"That Johnson record will probably stand forever," Ryan told Seaver. Baseball fans know it didn't. Nolan broke it, and is the all-time strikeout leader with 5,714. That Ryan record will probably stand forever, as will a few other records Nolan picked up along the way.
He holds the record for most strikeouts in a major league season with 383, which he set while playing for the Angels in 1973. He struck out 100 in a season 24 times, another record. He also set the record for most consecutive seasons with 100 or more strikeouts, doing it 23 time in a row. He also holds the record for most career no-hitters with seven.
It is the records that are most associated with the man they called "The Ryan Express." For me it will always be his character. He's a great family man, a person who extends kindness to strangers, a guy who always remembers his friends.