Nolan Ryan’s Final Start

Nolan Ryan’s career ended in the Kingdome on September 22, 1993. Bob Sherwin of the Seattle Times reported that in the first inning of a game vs. the Seattle Mariners “a right-elbow ligament, 46 years, seven months and 24 days old, punished by more than 80,000 big-league pitches, had enough.

“Ryan, who was just 11 days short of finishing his record 27th and final big-league season, had his playing days ended abruptly in the first inning at the Kingdome.

“He suffered a torn ulnar lateral ligament while pitching to the Seattle Mariners’ Dave Magadan. Age caught up to Ryan before most big-league hitters had caught up to his fastball.

“The elbow was tight when he warmed up before the game and ached in the first, Ryan said.

‘There’s no way I’ll ever throw again,’ he said. ‘It’s just a hell of a way to end a career.’

“After throwing a 2-0 strike to Magadan, the Rangers’ right-hander said, ‘I knew I was done.’ He said he heard a pop and had a ‘burning sensation’ in the elbow after the pitch. He threw one more pitch, a final meager fastball, to confirm his diagnosis.”

Ryan left the game holding 53 major-league records, but also having given up a grand slam to Dann Howitt, the last batter Ryan faced, sort of: Ryan then went to a 3-1 count on Dave Magadan before leaving the mound. Magadan’s walk was charged to Ryan.

Sherwin added: “The night had a special atmosphere as most of the 40,184 fans anticipated Ryan’s final road start. He was given a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout before the game.

“Ryan was the last player out of the Ranger dugout in the bottom of the first, jogging to his position as the fans again stood and applauded during his warmup pitches.

“It was a late-arriving crowd. Ticket windows were reporting lines still five or six deep even when Ryan already was on the trainer’s table. The late-comers found Ranger reliever Steve Dreyer pitching.

“Flashbulbs popped with each Ryan pitch, especially when he faced Ken Griffey Jr. But it was clear this was not no-no-Nolan. His pitches were all around the plate, rarely over it. He threw 28 pitches, only 12 strikes.

“Ryan went 2-0 to Magadan, then threw his fateful pitch. He threw one more ball, walked down the mound and called for the trainer. It was just the third time in his career he exited a game without retiring a batter.”

Ryan said: “It’s been frustrating year. It’s been a combination of a number of different injuries that you couldn’t predict. [Ryan had arthroscopic surgery to remove torn cartilage from his right knee on April 15, and he missed 22 days. On May 7, he strained a left hip in a rundown play and missed 72 days. Then on August 23 he pulled a left rib-cage muscle fielding a ground ball and missed 20 days.]

“I was just trying to squeeze a few more innings out. It is sad from the standpoint I knew my career would end this year and . . I did not want to end it this way.

“I would have loved to finish with a strong performance in a pennant race and striking out the last hitter I ever faced. I haven’t done anything else in my adult life. I don’t know how I’ll adjust to that.”

And on the standing ovation the Kingdome fans gave him: “You get into a situation like that where you recognize it for what it is. They were saying how they appreciated my career, and coming out was the least I could do. There’s no way I’ll ever throw again. It’s just a hell of a way to end a career.”

Jay Buhner on Ryan’s stuff that night: “He had a good fastball. All the guys agreed he was throwing hard. He just couldn’t control it. He had to be hurt, but he’s too much of a competitor to come out.”

Dr. Larry Pedegana said that Ryan “told me on one final pitch he felt a pop. His arm spasmed and he couldn’t throw any more.”

Dann Howitt said of hitting his grand slam: “It has to be a thrill, but the way I’ve been struggling it would have been a thrill to get a homer off a rookie. You face him and you’re honored to strike out as much as get a hit. I may have had a couple of hits off him but from stories I’ve heard of Ryan’s aggressiveness, I’m glad they came when he was 46, not 26.

“He’s one of the incredible athletes we’ll ever see, maybe the best athlete of the second half of the century. I don’t think many people would be surprised if he said he’d come back next year.”

On the 24th, the Times’ Bob Finnigan added a postscript:

When Randy Johnson takes the mound Sunday against Oakland in the 1993 Kingdome finale, he might be a changed man.

The Seattle Mariner ace may ask the club for permission to wear No. 34 for one game, in honor of his friend and pitching mentor Nolan Ryan.

“I’d like to pay tribute to him,” said Johnson, who visited Ryan in the Texas trainer’s room after the Hall of Fame-bound pitcher suffered a career-ending tear of a ligament in his pitching elbow Wednesday night. “He’s done a lot for me and for the game. I think it would be a nice thing to do.”

Johnson had considered putting Ryan’s number on his hat. “But then I thought no one would see it,” the pitcher said. “And I’d like everyone to recognize what I’m trying to say.”

Needing two wins for a team-record 20, and 14 strikeouts to become the eighth American League pitcher to reach 300, Johnson hopes for a different outcome than the last time he switched numbers. In an effort to reverse his luck last July, the 6-foot-10 left-hander wore 15 instead of his usual 51 and lost 7-6 at Yankee Stadium after a flock of unearned runs.

Randy had said this after Ryan’s last game: “It felt strange to realize I’ll never get to see him pitch again. He taught me, taught all of us really, what it means to battle, to give the gallant effort.”

Before his final game, the Post-Intelligencer did a one-page tribute to him. It quoted Randy Johnson: “Nolan Ryan is the Babe Ruth of pitching. I don’t think anyone will break his records. The strikeout and no-hitter records are etched in stone. He’s not necessarily a spokesman for the game but a lot of people look up to him as a legend. And that he is.”

Ryan’s seven no-hitters were joined by 12 one-hitters, and his 773 starts were, and are, the second most in MLB history, behind only Cy Young. You can look here for some coverage of the most famous moment in his last season: getting in a fight of sorts with Robin Ventura about six weeks before his final start. And here for him and Rickey Henderson talking about Ryan’s 5000th strikeout. By the way, Ryan was 46 years, seven months and 24 days old for his last game, and Randy Johnson was 46 years and 24 days old, I believe, for his last game. If you’re interested, you can read my impressions of Randy’s last game in Seattle.

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