Exceptional Walk+Strikeout Per Inning (KWIP) Rates by Pitchers

Here are some charts of eight of the wildest and most dominant starting pitchers in MLB history, showing each year in which their rate of strikeouts and walks per inning (KWIP) rate was at least 1.35, and in most cases above 1.4. For every pitcher but Johnny Vander Meer, I’ve also provided their career average “KWIP” rate in the chart (Vander Meer’s was just 1.15).

Randy Johnson:

Nolan Ryan:

Herb Score and Sandy Koufax:

Johnny Vander Meer and J.R. Richard:

Tommy Byrne and Bob Turley:

What do we see here? Among other things, confirmation that Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan are the two most dominant wild starters of the last 50 years or so, and that Herb Score retained exceptional talent and miserable control after being hit in the eye by a batted ball in 1957. Also, a sign of why Johnny Vander Meer was able to pitch two no-hitters in a row.

KWIP is obviously similar to WHIP (walks and hits per inning), but attempts to isolate a pitcher’s power and control, much like the “three true outcomes” stat that isolates walks, strikeouts, and homers by a hitter. In a cursory search, I have not found anyone else who’s called this stat KWIP, although it’s a pretty simple and obvious ratio, so surely other people keep track of it and probably have named it KWIP.

Published in: Uncategorized on June 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nolan Ryan and His Four California Angel No-Hitters

A while ago, the Orange County Register summarized these four games as follows:

MAY 15, 1973 1 – Nolan Ryan chalks up his first no-hitter for the Angels, stopping the Royals in Kansas City, 3-0. In the first hitless game by an Angels right-hander, Ryan finishes with 12 strikeouts, one in every inning except the fifth. The only close call comes in the eighth inning when pinch-hitter Gail Hopkins’ looping liner into shallow left is caught by shortstop Rudy Meoli on a running over-the-shoulder catch. Ryan gets all the offensive support he needs from right fielder Bob Oliver,who has two RBI with a solo home run and a single.

Ryan (W 5-3) and Torborg; Dal Canton (L 2-2), Garber (6) and Taylor, Kirkpatrick.

JULY 15, 1973

2 – This is Ryan’s easiest no-hitter in terms of score as he turns in his second no-hitter of the season, a 6-0 victory in Detroit. Ryan has 17 strikeouts, 16 in the first seven innings. His arm stiffens in the top of the eighth when the Angels score five times. Ryan needs no spectacular defensive plays to preserve the no-hitter and become the fifth man in history to throw two no-hitters in a season.

Ryan (W 11-11) and Kusnyer; J.Perry (L 9-9), Scherman (8), Miller (8), Farmer (8) and Sims.

SEPT. 28, 1974

3 – Ryan makes the most of his final start of the season by chalking up his third no-hitter, beating Minnesota, 4-0, in Anaheim to raise his record to 22-16. His first seven pitches are strikes and He strikes out the side in the first and second innings. He finishes with 15 strikeouts, but also walks eight – seven in the first five innings. The Angels score two in the third and fourth to give Ryan a cushion. Center fielder Morris Nettles had three RBI.

Decker (L 16-14), Butler (3) and Borgmann; Ryan (W 22-16) and Egan.

JUNE 1, 1975

4 – Ryan moves into a tie with Sandy Koufax as he tosses his fourth no-hitter, edging the Orioles, 1-0, at Anaheim Stadium. Making his 12th start of the season, Ryan strikes out nine for his fourth no-hitter in 109 starts. The lone Angels’ run is scored when Dave Chalk singles home Mickey Rivers in the third.

Grimsley (L 1-7), Garland (4) and Hendricks; Ryan (W 9-3) and Rodriguez.

In 1999, the Houston Chronicle told the fairly interesting story of Ryan’s career in Southern California, which started in 1972:

When the trade came down, folks in Southern California figured it was the steal of the century.

Trouble was, most worried they were on the wrong end of the heist. Some kid named Nolan Ryan was coming to the Angels. Big arm, no clue where the ball was going, tepid results in parts of five seasons with the New York Mets.

And for this, the Angels had parted with Mr. Angel, the great Jim Fregosi.
Small wonder, then, that the transition from one coast to the other and from National to American Leagues had its rocky moments – all magnified by the arrival of son Reid and the specter of a strike that threatened to delay the start of the season, and a much-needed paycheck.

Years later, Ryan would describe his eight years in Anaheim as “the foundation of my career.” It began, however, with more moments in which he considered packing up and going home than ones spent pondering the text for his acceptance speech in Cooperstown.

For starters, the looming strike threatened to make Ryan a rancher. That first spring training camp, the Ryans lived in a borrowed trailer in Holtville. When the team moved on to Palm Springs, Nolan made a daily 180-mile round-trip commute in a borrowed Volkswagen Beetle.

Things were so tight that Ryan borrowed $1,500 to rent a house in Anaheim for the season to come. Had the strike lasted very long – ultimately, opening day was delayed and eight games lost – the family would have been packing up and heading back to Alvin.

Early on, some Angels fans probably wished he had done just that. Ryan had what he termed “a horrible spring,” and it continued with a 2-4 start in which he failed to last beyond the fifth inning five times, rendering hearts all the fonder about the departed Fregosi.

Pitching coach Tom Morgan, who in time would become a close friend, worked on streamlining Ryan’s delivery. In late May, they began to get results as Ryan won nine of 10 decisions, pitching five consecutive complete games in the process.
The run culminated with a one-hitter in which he struck out eight straight batters and fanned the side on the minimum nine pitches.

By the time the smoke cleared, few were lamenting Fregosi, who went on to become another in a long line of failed third-base candidates with the Mets. After going 29-38 in New York, Ryan finished that’72 season with a 19-16 record, leading the league in strikeouts (329) and walks (157) while completing 20 games and compiling a 2.28 earned-run average.

Tom Grieve, then an outfielder with the first-year Texas Rangers, says those numbers don’t begin to tell the story.

“Back then, they didn’t keep pitch counts,” Grieve said. “And he’s walking nine or 10 guys in some of those games. There were probably a lot of times when he was throwing 200 pitches a game when he was 22, 23 years old.

“You have a guy throwing 200 pitches now, you’ll be taken in front of a judge for child abuse. The agent will get into it. The league will investigate.”

In one particularly gritty performance, Ryan threw 235 pitches in a 13-inning outing against Boston and got a no-decision.

A quarter-century later, Grieve vividly recounts the “thrill” of stepping to the plate against a young Nolan Ryan.

“He was the only pitcher I faced – other than J.R. Richard in Oklahoma City, where you couldn’t see because of the lights – that fear entered into the at-bat,” he said.

“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.

“He had a curveball that he threw so hard, and it broke so much. It started up around your head, and if you couldn’t recognize it and it turned out to be a fastball, you were going to get hit.
“I backed off the plate a little bit. I backed up in the box a little bit. Instead of being nice and relaxed up there, every part of your body was alert.”

Those years would showcase Ryan at his most dominant. In August of’74, his fastball was clocked at 100.9 miles an hour, though Ryan believes he has thrown harder than that.

In 1975, Ryan started the season 10-3 with five shutouts, seven complete games and an ERA of 2.24. On June 1, he produced his fourth no-hitter.

Ryan’s elbow had been hurting for months. After one mid-April start, he awoke to discover that he could not fully extend his arm.

Dr. Frank Jobe, the noted orthopedist, prescribed ice and whirlpool treatments, but the pain persisted. In August, after losing nine of 13 decisions (eight straight at one point), Ryan finally told the club he could go on no longer.
Calcium deposits were removed. Once again, Ryan pondered the question of whether he would pitch again.

“If my arm wasn’t better the next spring,” he said, “I was going to retire.”

That wouldn’t be necessary, though Ryan was up-and-down in 1976. He pitched in 39 games and struck out 327 hitters but went 17-18 with a 3.36 ERA.

Some of the issues were mental. Some of the trouble was because of stiffness, and the elbow occasionally would catch. In trying to compensate, Ryan fell into bad habits as well.

He lost five straight in May but came back to win seven of his last eight decisions and finished with 21 complete games, seven of them shutouts. The following year, he went 19-16 with 341 strikeouts and a 2.77 ERA, with 22 complete games and four shutouts.

But the good times in Anaheim were coming to an end. In 1978, Buzzie Bavasi arrived as executive vice president. A month later, GM Harry Dalton left after Bavasi accused him of running a “country club.”

Ryan didn’t like Bavasi or his ways, and physical problems added to the pitcher’s misery.

A pulled hamstring put Ryan on the disabled list from June 14 to July 5. Later, a rib separation landed him on the DL from Aug. 20 to Sept. 6.

In the end, a 10-13 season and a 3.71 ERA had Bavasi eyeing the bottom line as Ryan eyed the door.

“I wouldn’t have come back as long as he was the general manger,” Ryan said.
His contract, however, ran one more season, and it would be an eventful one.
Reid, then 7, was struck by a car, eventually losing his spleen and a kidney. As his son endured a lengthy hospital stay, Nolan was helping the Angels win the American League West for the first time.

Despite the distractions, Ryan finished 16-14 with a 3.59 ERA and 17 complete games. His contract was up, and agent Dick Moss approached the Angels with an incentive-heavy proposal that could have made Ryan the game’s first $1 million player.

Bavasi scoffed at the offer. In one particularly colorful moment, he indicated he could replace Ryan with two 8-7 pitchers.

Thirteen years later, that comment echoed when, in June 1992, the Angels retired Ryan’s number while he was still pitching in the major leagues.

In September 1993, with Ryan about to make his last start vs. the Angels, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported:

“In hindsight, if we could do it again, we’d give him more money,” said Bavasi, who, 14 years ago, was the executive vice president who let the best pitcher in Angels history walk away.

“Nolan Ryan, well, to me, he’s not quite in the category of Koufax, but he’s there with Drysdale and Gibson. His record is incredible. There’s no doubt he was better before 40 than after, but it’s just unbelievable he can walk from the dugout to the mound at his age. His courage alone puts him in the Hall of Fame.”

But it wasn’t enough to keep him in an Angels uniform.

It never should have come to this. Bavasi, Autry, everyone says Ryan should have been an Angel forever.

What they still can’t fathom is how they let themselves fall into a money pit at the most pivotal time the organization had known.

Why, of all the times, did the Angels feel compelled to take a stand against the rising tide of baseball economics when it was Ryan’s turn at free agency?

How could they let him get away? No one in the club’s past or present has had the impact of Ryan.

He probably will be remembered as a Texas Ranger, but it was during his California days he hit his peak, a no-hitter waiting to happen every time out.

“Incentives,” Bavasi said.”I think we all agreed on the salary, but his agent, Dick Moss, gave me a three-page list of incentives that any player on my club could have met. It wouldn’t have been fair. They wanted everything from insurance to bonuses for starting five games, 10 games and so on.

“We thought our figure was honest and fair. We had some other up-and-coming players, and we just felt we couldn’t commit to what Moss wanted and look our other players in the eye.”

The free-agent showdown could have been avoided. Ryan only became a free agent after the Angels, incredibly, refused his preseason proposal of $1.2 million for three years.

He ultimately signed a three-year deal with the Houston Astros worth $3.5 million, making him the game’s first $1-million-per-year player.
Bavasi was dumbfounded by the numbers.

“It was twice what we offered,” he said.”I was taken by surprise when I heard it because no one had said anything to us. But I still believe if it hadn’t been for the incentives, he would have stayed an Angel.”

Economics, then as now, ruled the Angels. They played hard ball with a soft hand and lost.

Autry could have made a difference, but he left the business to Bavasi and has lived to rue the day.

“I should have gotten more personally involved,” Autry has said again and again.”If I had, I don’t think Nolan ever would have left.”

Autry tried to correct the mistake a decade later, offering Ryan $1.5 million to pitch the 1989 season in Anaheim.

“It still wasn’t enough,” Bavasi said.

There is no way to white-out the mistake. Bavasi knows that. He knows people still see him as the villain.

Bavasi has heard the talk. Are you kidding? Of course he has. He can’t escape it.
“All we need are two 8-7 pitchers,” he said when Ryan left. The words have thundered through the years.

It was as ludicrous a notion then as it appears now. Quantity to replace quality. It never happened.

Ryan was the Angels. The foundation that has made him an American celebrity, the foundation for this incredible, enduring love affair with the public, was laid during the California years.

Ryan won 138 games for the Angels, a club record that still stands. He pitched 291 games, compiling a 3.06 earned run average that needs no defense. He pitched a record 156 complete games, a record 2,182 innings, a record 40 shutouts, a record 2,416 strikeouts.

Seven times during his eight years as an Angel he led the American League in strikeouts.

He threw four no-hitters, seven one-hitters, 13 two-hitters, 19 three-hitters.
He built numbers so grand he still holds or shares 20 team records. And this for an organization that was a collective 619-669 during his tenure, only winning during his final two seasons.

“I was only with him two years,” Bavasi said.”And he had a losing record for those two years.”

And that was all the proof the Angels needed to convince themselves Ryan was near the end.

He was approaching 33 and had managed only a 26-27 record his previous two seasons. His strikeouts were down, and he had spent three weeks on the disabled list during the’78 season.

The Angels had no way of knowing he would still be pitching 14 years later, that he would strike out 301 at 42 and win 157 more games.

Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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Nolan Ryan, Dave Stieb, and the Near No-Hitters of 1989

In the wake of all the hoopla about 2010 being a Year of the Pitcher, mostly on the basis of a few no-hitters, two perfect games, and a return to a fairly normal level of offense, it’s worth noting that in 1989 many pitchers came within a few outs of no-hitters and perfect games. Of course, though, no one was labeling it as a Year of the Pitcher, and no one remembers ’89 as such, even though no A.L. hitter had more than 36 homers (Fred McGriff) and no N.L. hitter scored more than 104 runs (Will Clark, Ryne Sandberg, Howard Johnson). Maybe it’s just that now, the online/tv sports media always has to hype something, and that’s how it hyped the 2010 season. Anyway, this post will list the near no-hitters/near-perfect games of 1989, and focus on Nolan Ryan and Dave Stieb, the two biggest near-miss, near no-hitter pitchers of the late ’80s.

This, from the Seattle Times of August 11, 1989:

ARLINGTON, Texas – Nolan Ryan now has a near-miss for each of his five no-hitters. Ryan, for the fifth time in his career, lost a no-hit bid in the ninth inning when Dave Bergman singled with one out last night as Texas beat Detroit 4-1.

“The pitch Bergman hit was a good pitch. I felt he was sitting on a curveball,” Ryan said. “He just hit it in the gap where there wasn’t anybody.”

Three other times this season he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning but those also ended in disappointment.

Ryan (13-7) struck out 13 and walked six in his 286th career victory. He left the game after Bergman, a .260 hitter, lined a clean, opposite-field single to left and Matt Nokes followed with a double. At age 42, Ryan was bidding to become the oldest to pitch a no-hitter. Cy Young was 41 when he did it in 1908.

Ryan has 11 career one-hitters, including two this season. On April 23, he also lost a no-hitter with one out in the ninth when Toronto’s Nelson Liriano tripled.

Ryan passed the 200-strikeout mark for the 13th time in his 21-year career. He has 4,986 strikeouts as he closes in on becoming the first pitcher with 5,000.

Ryan reached double-digits in strikeouts for the 12th time this season and the 193rd of his career, extending another of his many records.

Ryan took advantage of a 78-degree evening, cool for a Texas summer night, to stay fresh.

The Rangers made only one tough play to keep Ryan’s no-hit bid alive. Center fielder Cecil Espy made a diving catch on Dave Bergman’s liner in the fourth inning.

“Early in the game, I didn’t have command of my pitches,” said Ryan, who threw 149 pitches. “The cool weather helped me take it into the ninth.”

Ryan’s near no-hitters in ’89:

Aug. 10 vs. Detroit Won 4-1 (2-hitter) Dave Bergman, single 9th

June 25 vs. Cleveland Won 4-2 (3-hitter) Brook Jacoby, double 8th

June 3 vs. Seattle Won 6-1 (1-hitter) Harold Reynolds, single 1st

April 23 vs. Toronto Won 8-1 (1-hitter) Nelson Liriano, triple 9th

April 12 vs. Milwaukee Won 4-1 (4-hitter) Terry Francona, single 8th

The Times also provided a “list of no-hit bids that reached the ninth inning this season, with date, pitcher’s name, team, and player who broke up the no-hitter”:

– April 23: Nolan Ryan, Texas; Nelson Liriano, Toronto, one-out triple.

– April 28: Kirk McCaskill, California; Nelson Liriano, Toronto, leadoff double.

– May 4: John Farrell, Cleveland; Kevin Seitzer, Kansas City, no-out single.

– May 10: Mark Langston, Seattle; Tom Lawless, Toronto, leadoff single.

– July 4: Tom Browning, Cincinnati; Dickie Thon, Philadelphia, leadoff double.

– Aug. 4: Dave Stieb, Toronto; Roberto Kelly, New York, two-out double.

– Aug. 10: Nolan Ryan, Texas; Dave Bergman, Detroit, one-out single.

Ryan added a second nearly perfect game to close out the season, as the San Jose Mercury News reported on October 1:

Nolan Ryan, pitching what could be the final game of his career, flirted with a no-hitter for the fifth time this season, pitching 7 1/3 perfect innings and reaching 300 strikeouts as the Texas Rangers beat the California Angels 2-0 in Anaheim.

Ryan, whose bid for his first perfect game ended with a solid single to right-center by former Angels teammate Brian Downing, struck out 13 batters and finished the season with 301. Ryan raised his all-time major league record for strikeouts to 5,076.

Ryan got No. 300 by striking out Dick Schofield leading off the ninth. It was the sixth time Ryan has struck out 300 or more in a season and the first time since 1977.

Dante Bichette followed Downing with a single, and Ryan settled for a three-hitter when Mark MacLemore singled with one out in the ninth.

Ryan, who has an option year remaining on his Rangers contract, has not said if he plans to return for a 24th season. He has scheduled a news conference for Monday in Arlington, Texas, to announce his plans. Ryan has said he is considering running for office in Texas.

The victory gave Ryan a 16-10 record and 289 victories for his major league career.

As for Dave Stieb, the New York Times told the story of his own near-perfect game on August 4 vs. the Yankees in Skydome:

A small crowd waited quietly at his locker, but Dave Stieb didn’t seem to notice. He sat down, untied his shoes, then lowered his head and asked for a few moments alone. He had done all this before.

A no-hitter eluded Stieb twice last season with two out in the ninth inning, and now it had happened again. The Toronto Blue Jays pitcher thought about it, then smiled, shrugged and spoke almost inaudibly.

”If I haven’t gotten a no-hitter after three times,” he said, ”I doubt if I ever will.”

He came close again tonight. With two down in the ninth, Roberto Kelly, the Yankees’ center fielder, lined a sharp double to left field, taking a perfect game and a no-hitter away from Stieb.

It was still a 2-1, two-hit victory for the Blue Jays and Stieb, but it was clearly anticlimactic. He retired 26 consecutive batters before Kelly came to the plate in the ninth, and he had struck out 11. Two pinch-hitters, Hal Morris and Ken Phelps, went down swinging on nine pitches to start the final inning.

”When that happened,” said Dallas Green, the Yankee manager, ”you think he’s going to get it.”

But Stieb fell behind on the count to Kelly, then threw a 2-and-0 slider down and away that was driven cleanly to left. A crowd of 48,789 at the Skydome rose and offered a standing ovation.

”It’s part of the game,” Stieb said, leaning against his locker. ”I was satisfied to go that far with it, but I didn’t do myself any favor getting behind. I just let go of those two curveballs too soon. But I wouldn’t change what I did. The important thing is that we won the game.”

Kelly, recalling the moment, said: ”At that point, I know he’s got a no-hitter and a perfect game. I just wanted to break it up. I wanted to get a base hit.”

This is how dominant Stieb was: he had three balls on just one batter, Bob Geren in the fifth, and threw first-pitch balls to only seven hitters through the first eight innings. Of the first 26 batters he faced, just 4 made outs to the outfield.

”The few fastballs I saw had movement,” said Jesse Barfield, a former Toronto teammate of Stieb, ”but he threw me mostly sliders, and he had a wicked one. When he’s like that, he’s almost unhittable.”

Almost. After Kelly’s double, Steve Sax followed with a single to right to drive in a run. Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays’ manager, walked to the mound, spoke briefly with his pitcher, then returned to the dugout.

And then it was over. Luis Polonia hit a bouncer to third that Kelly Gruber fielded and threw to second base for the forceout.

”I thought Dave had it,” Gaston said, referring to a perfect game. Someone asked if there was a feeling of disappointment in the clubhouse. Gaston nodded. ”We all feel it because he’s been close to many times,” he said.

Stieb has taken four no-hitters into the ninth inning. He has thrown four one-hitters and four two-hitters in his 10-year career, and he pitched a one-hitter against the Yankees on April 10 this season. The only hit he permitted was Jamie Quirk’s fifth-inning single.

The right-hander said tonight’s failure could not be measured against the two near-no-hitters last season. On Sept. 24, he lost one when Julio Franco hit a single. Six days later, Jim Traber singled for Baltimore with two out in the ninth.

”No comparison,” Stieb said. ”I wasn’t as nervous or as high this time. There was such elated feelings and then such dejection. This doesn’t even come close.”

But he was close to perfection. In the seventh, he retired Sax on a fly ball and Polonia and Don Mattingly on grounders to second. In the eighth, he struck out Mel Hall and Barfield, then got Geren on a ground ball to short. In the ninth, Morris and Phelps went down swinging.

Kelly, though, prevented this team from being the first Yankee team ever victimized by a perfect game. It would have also been the first to be no-hit since Hoyt Wilhelm of Baltimore did it in 1958.

”It’s a tough situation for a guy,” Mattingly said of Stieb. ”He was probably nervous. We need to get a hit, and he’s probably nervous about getting the out.”

Yes, Stieb said, he thought about the moment – about getting another chance to throw a no-hitter – as he walked to the mound in the ninth and the crowd cheered.

”How can you not?” he asked. ”Your first nature is to get the first guy out. If you don’t get him, you’re not going to get the no-hitter. Then you want to get the next hitter and the next hitter.”

But it did not happen. Stieb shrugged once more.

”The results were the same,” he finally said.

The victory last night by Dave Stieb marked the third time in less than a year he had gone eight and two-thirds innings without giving up a hit.

He also allowed only one hit in his second start this season, giving him three-one hitters over four starts:

Sept 24, 1988, at Cleveland – With two out in ninth, Julio Franco hits bad-hop single over second.

Sept. 30, 1988, at home vs. Baltimore – With two out in ninth, Jim Traber hits broken-bat single in Stieb’s final start of season.

April 10, 1989, at New York – Jamie Quirk singles to center in fifth.

And a postscript: in 1988, there had been eight pitchers who carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning without completing it, including Ron Robinson of the Reds giving up a single by Wallace Johnson of the Expos with two out in the ninth on May 2 to erase the chance of a perfect game. Along with Tom Browning’s perfect game that September vs. the Dodgers, it would have made Cincinnati the only mlb team to have two perfect games in one year.

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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George W. Bush, Part-Owner of the Texas Rangers, 1989 to 1998

The younger Rangers (and general baseball) fans might not know G.W. was a minority Rangers owner from 1989 to 1998, four years after he became Texas governor. But his time with the Rangers was, as far as I remember, his first significant public identity other than being his dad’s son, and this post will explore that identity. Way back in May 1989, with G.H.W. settling into the presidency, the Dallas Morning News profiled G.W. as being “MORE THAN MEETS THE NAME,” as the headline said:

The telephone call from Tokyo to Plano was familial and frank, from one George Bush to another.

“Dad, what’s up? George W. asked brusquely, a little annoyed at the interruption. “I’ve got to make a speech in five minutes.’

“How’s the deal coming?’ George H.W. asked.

“What deal?’

“The Rangers.”

“Dad,’ the eldest son said, “I’m fixin’ to give this speech. Everything’s fine. Call me when you get back from Japan.’

George W. made his speech. George H.W. made Emperor Hirohito’s funeral. And George W. eventually made the deal to buy the Texas Rangers, backed by his father’s name, Edward “Rusty’ Rose’s money and George W.’s bulletproof confidence that he could get the job done.

Bush’s brass, as indicated by the telephone conversation, is polished just enough to keep him from seeming abrasive. He is blunt. But he gets away with it because of his boyish good nature and his political knack for remembering names and making people feel important.

His repertoire also includes foresight, timing and luck, as indicated by two successive mergers he forged to save his interests in a foundering oil business. He will use those same instincts to decide this summer whether to run for governor of Texas next year. His decision on the governor’s race likely will be a prudent one, friends say. One friend credited Bush’s fortune to a “white cloud’ that follows him. The Rangers may think so, too.

The Bush-Rose group bought the team just before it broke to the best start in its history, which can only be good for business. The Rangers, 17-6 after Monday night’s loss against Cleveland, are coming off an Arlington Stadium series against Boston witnessed by a club-record 116,919 fans, including sellout crowds Saturday and Sunday. Through 11 home dates, the Rangers were averaging 30,067 fans, another club-record pace.

The symbiotic relationship between Bush and Rose, who hadn’t met before the partnership germinated in mid-February, has a bedrock purpose: make money. To that end, Bush’s ebullient public role would seem to be a good front for the reclusive Rose’s financial backing. Bush’s name gets his foot in the door; his mouth keeps it open.

But if all Rose and his partners wanted was a spokesman, they may have gotten more for their money.

“He’s not going to be the front man for anybody,’ said Charles Younger, a Midland orthopedic surgeon and friend. “One thing he is aware of is people using him for who he is. He’s got a good handle on that. And he has a low tolerance for it.

“I promise you he’ll be involved in this thing from top to bottom.”

Bush’s interest in baseball is genuine and layered. He grew up as a Houston Astros fan. Younger, who lived across the street from the Bushes in Midland, says George W. could recite such exotic information as the St. Louis Cardinals’ 1958 starting infield.

Somewhere in the attic of his Preston Hollow home, Bush has a collection of autographs and baseball cards. He’s just as interested in newer players. He reads box scores daily. The first thing he wanted April 17 on his first work day in the Rangers ‘ offices was copies of the 26 major league media guides, as well as the Baseball Register, which lists year-by-year statistics for every major league player, among other vital data.

Growing up, he said, “all I lived was baseball.” He was a catcher in a West Texas Little League and a junk pitcher for his Massachussetts prep school team, as well as a Yale University freshman. “I was not what you would call a reliable starter,” he said, when asked to characterize his contribution. . . .

One of his most poignant memories is of his father telling him the two could play catch without dad holding back on throws; George W. called it one of his proudest moments. He had a similar experience during the presidential campaign last year, when his father realized George W.’s value during 18 months of campaigning.

“He had a different view of me, as a person who could perform,” Bush said, a smile faintly evident in his expression. “He relied on me to do things.”. . .

He moved back to Texas in December, this time to Dallas. A conversation with Astros owner John McMullen convinced him he should pursue the Rangers.

Bush had an inside track to buy the Rangers because of his long acquaintance with majority owner Eddie Chiles, who has known the family since George W. was 6. But the original deal wasn’t good enough for baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who said Bush’s partnership with DeWitt didn’t involve enough Dallas-Fort Worth money.

Bush reorganized quickly. He contacted Fort Worth businessman Richard Rainwater, whose name also had surfaced in talks with the commissioner, and asked for a meeting. The two sides got together, a deal was struck, and after minority owner Edward Gaylord’s purchase bid was rejected, the Bush-Rose group moved in.

At the news conference announcing his group’s approval as the new owners, Bush was blunt when asked why he was named a managing general partner when his financial contribution to the $25 million cash portion of the deal reportedly was $500,000. “Because I put the deal together,” he said. “I thought of it, worked it, and I was the one Eddie wanted to sell to.”

Bush was just as forthright when asked why he wanted to buy the Rangers in the first place.

“I think it’s a business, and it was an opportunity for me to accumulate some money over a period of time,” he said last week. “I do expect a return on my investment, and at the same time, the thought of doing it in a sport I love was really attractive.”

The Rangers, however, had not been a particularly profitable team. They finished in the black the last three years but not by much. Bush said the new owners hope to increase that profit margin by selling more season tickets, expanding the radio-television market and even looking at cable.

Bush, however, declined specify his goals for marketing expansion, even appearing deliberately vague.

What he inherits is a Rangers’ TV network that includes flagship KTVT-Channel 11 and 14 affiliates in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Utah. The radio network, anchored by flagship WBAP-820, counts 20 affiliate stations in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. Also, Home Sports Entertainment, a regional pay cable network, telecasts 60 Rangers home games to subscribers.

The Rangers this season have sold a club-record 7,009 season tickets, but the most money to be made, Bush says, is either from a refurbishing of Arlington Stadium or construction of a new stadium. Luxury boxes. More comfort, more fans. Increased accessibility to the stadium, too. “My wife (Laura) took a long time to get here the other night,” he said. “She missed dinner.”

G.W. said: “I’m not here just to make money. It fits into my lifestyle. I don’t think I could be reclusive. Hey, my dad is the president of the United States. I love dealing with the public. I’m fascinated by the sport itself, too.

“This job has very high visibility, which cures the political problem I’d have [running for office]: ‘What has the boy done?’ Well, I’m the businessman who came to town and, at the very minimum, kept the Rangers from moving out.”

Bush and the Rangers did get that new stadium of course, and his meet-and-greet activity in ’89 helped. The Houston Chronicle tracked him down that summer and reported:

On home-game nights, George W. Bush tries to leave the office by 5:30 p.m., driving his 4-year-old black Pontiac to Arlington Stadium and wandering between the concession stands, ticket windows and the first base dugout. He welcomes fans, chats with vendors and talks baseball with the athletes whose contracts he now owns.

Last Monday, he left his jacket in the car – he was not wearing a tie – rolled up the sleeves of a sweaty blue dress shirt and plunged in. Waving, smiling, greeting, Bush shatters the aloof-robber-baron-industrialist-as-baseball-owner image.

Two hours before game time, only the hardcore fans had arrived to engage players in conversation and cadge autographs. But Bush attracted as much attention as power-hitter Ruben Sierra.

Men named Lenny and Bob, wearing gimmie caps and T-shirts, asked Bush to autograph their ticket stubs.

“This is Mr. Bush. He owns the team,” dads told their bashful sons and daughters.

“I named my daughter Reagan and if I have a son, I’ll name him George,” a woman said as Bush signed her program.

Two pre-teens approached as closely as their nerve allowed. Their parents watched from several feet away. The girls could not bring themselves to speak.

“I’d be happy to,” Bush said without being asked about the hoped-for autographs.

On the field, Bush headed for Sierra, whose statistics already have prompted his nickname as The Franchise. Bush took small talk as far as he could in acquired Spanish – a thoughtful touch intended to remove barriers between player and owner.

The contrast between Bush and previous Rangers owners – between Bush and virtually “all” owners – was apparent.

He’s a baseball romantic. He sees the sport in a historical context. He does not think America would be America without baseball.

He believes baseball is “important.” He loves it and admires it; seeks to promote and protect it. He wants to share his franchise with millions of people, every one of whom he is willing to thank personally for their interest.

He is dedicated to being what he calls a fans’ owner.

“Even if you’re a recluse and your father’s president of the United States, you’re going to be public whether you want to be or not,” he said. “Everybody knows who I am and if you can put out good positive things about baseball and the Texas Rangers and what we’re trying to do, hopefully that will make people want to come to the game.

“What really makes them want to come to the game is a good team.”

Bush’s eyes almost glaze in a distant vision – a dream that answers the question about the Rangers and Arlington Stadium.

“What’ll also make ‘em want to come to the game is a nice stadium …”

Arlington Stadium is nice. But it is not very big (43,508 capacity) and it is not new (built in 1964 for a minor league franchise and expanded three times since). It has a greater ratio of bleacher seats (19,981) to reserved seats (23,527) than any stadium in the American League.

Bleacher tickets cost from $2 to $5. A box seat costs $10. When a good match-up brings out a big crowd, box seats are at premium.

Although the Rangers never have won their division and although ticket prices have risen steadily through the years, attendance has crept upward to profitability while remaining well below capacity.

If the team is not playing to a full house, does it need a new house? The decision rests with Bush and his partners.

“Whether or not we play in the new stadium is a really interesting idea,” Bush said. “We’ll determine whether or not this stadium works the way it is and if it doesn’t, we’ll build a new one. Where we build is an exciting issue. We don’t know.”

Clues litter the conversation like hot dog wrappers in the grandstand.

“… think about a group of young guys who, if everything goes right, has the ability to build a monument to the sport …”

“… we can design a stadium that promotes the great parts of the game …”

“… you can design one with a roof that slides down …”

“… an exciting opportunity to be in a position to really build an architectural piece that’s going to be unique to this area and will be kind of a lasting statement …”

Not quite four years later, in February 1993, the Dallas Morning News checked in on Bush again, this time about potentially running against Governor Ann Richards in ’94:

Texas Democrats, citing Gov. Ann Richards’ high popularity ratings, said that they are far from worried about Mr. Bush’s political plans and that his lineage will mean little in the next governor’s race.

“Hope springs eternal the year before it hits the fan,” said Ed Martin, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “If he can’t run for office any better than he runs the Texas Rangers , he doesn’t have any advantages. He seems like a nice guy, a nice guy to watch a ballgame with. But I don’t know that he has any particular qualifications for the governor’s office.” . . .

Mr. Bush, no longer trailed by a Secret Service detail, said he wants to enjoy life as a former first son, and particularly his role as managing general partner of the Rangers.

“I’m one of the lucky people to be involved in baseball. I love it,” Mr. Bush said. “I also love politics. I’ve got some deep-seated concerns about our state.”

Mr. Bush said his baseball work would not interfere with any political plans, despite the next year’s scheduled opening of the new Rangers stadium. He also derided reports that management would consider selling the team after the stadium is opened.

As for the link between Nolan Ryan and George W. Bush, in late October 1994, with G.W. campaigning for governor, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported:

Baseball legend Nolan Ryan made a pitch in Corpus Christi Wednesday – this one for his ally and Republican gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush.

“Not only is he a friend, but I know the job he’ll do for South Texas,” Ryan told more than 2,000 students and faculty members at Ray High School. “It’s important we get (a governor) with family values, somebody who cares about the state and was raised in the state.”

Ryan, former pitcher for the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, California Angels and New York Mets, stopped in Corpus Christi with former first lady Barbara Bush, the candidate’s mother, and George W. Bush ‘s wife, Laura Bush. The campaigning threesome also made appearances Wednesday in McAllen and Brownsville.

George W. Bush is challenging Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 election. The Harte-Hanks Texas Poll, conducted earlier this month, showed the two candidates in a deadlock, with the Republican drawing 45 percent of Texans’ support and Richards garnering 44 percent.

Students and teachers jammed into Ray’s gymnasium Wednesday morning, filling the bleachers and blanketing the hardwood floor.

Applause broke out as the crowd recognized the white-haired Barbara Bush – with trademark pearls around her neck – entering the gym. But when Ryan appeared a few seconds later, high-pitched cheers rang out and the applause intensified – Ryan was the attraction of the day.

“He’s the No. 1 athlete, and he’s not conceited,” said Jennie Johnson, a 17-year-old senior. “This is very exciting.”

Students snapped pictures and sought autographs from Ryan, who donned a red Ray Texans baseball cap. Even Barbara Bush, who addressed the crowd after Ryan, realized she ranked behind the baseball great.

“I’d rather speak before Nolan Ryan,” Barbara Bush joked. “Somehow, I suspect you would rather hear Nolan Ryan talk about baseball than listen to a white-haired old lady.”

Published in: on November 10, 2010 at 5:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Nolan Ryan Fixing Randy Johnson’s Mechanics in 1992

Here, from the Mariners Magazine for April 1996, is Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan talking about how Ryan, and Tom House, helped fix Johnson’s mechanics in 1992. The article first appeared in Nolan Ryan’s Pro Baseball Yearbook 1996 and was reprinted by the magazine with a new introduction:

In early September of 1992, Ryan helped correct a flaw in Johnson’s delivery that catapulted Johnson to his current status as baseball’s new strikeout king. After his meeting with Ryan, Johnson went on to record 45 strikeouts in his next three games, the second-highest total in baseball history-next to Ryan’s 47 in 1974. 18 of them came in a no-decision against Texas [with Nolan Ryan pitching].

The two strikeout kings recently discussed the art of pitching. The following is a transcript of their conversation:

Nolan Ryan: Randy, I wanted to start out by having you talk about your 1995 season and also get your thoughts on the success you’ve been able to put together over the past three or four years.

Randy Johnson: First of all, I don’t think it’s any secret that I struggled early on in the Major Leagues and throughout parts of my minor league career. And I don’t think I had any breakthrough to where I am now until I met with you and (then-Texas Rangers pitching coach) Tom House. I think a great deal of my success started after that meeting. I had some success in the minor leagues and some early on in my Major League career, but not even close to the extent that I have now.

Lots of people have tried working with me and they were all helpful, but it was the one thing that the two of you taught me about landing on the ball of my foot as opposed to landing on the heel of my foot that has helped me the most. I was always throwing the ball hard, but I was never consistent with my mechanics early on.

The ability has always been there and I’ve always worked hard, but that seemed to be the one little element that wasn’t there – being consistent with my arm angle and mechanics.

Nolan: I think you hit on something. Once you became consistent with your delivery, I think you became more consistent with all your pitches.

Randy: In any sport, no matter what you’re doing, there are mechanics, and you have to be consistent with them in order to be successful. I’m 6-10, so you’re dealing with more arms and more legs. To keep them under control is a job in and of itself. And then to be able to get my whole body going toward home plate, instead of toward third base like I was doing, was also a lot of work. But, now that I realize the right way of throwing, I have been able to cut down my walks the last three years. And we all know that when you walk people and give up your normal share of base hits, you’re essentially giving up free runs.

And because I’ve been able to keep my number of walks down, I’ve been able to lower my ERA and stay in games longer. . . .

Nolan: Now, when you’re struggling out there with your delivery, do you feel you can make adjustments and stay in the game and be competitive where say, five years ago, you couldn’t?

Randy: Five years ago, if I had problems with my delivery, I was done. It was just a matter of when the manager was going to come and get me. But now, for the most part, I know when I’m doing something wrong because I’ve become so consistent in my mechanics. For instance, when I’m falling off toward third base, I know how to correct that now.

There are still going to be games where you’re mechanically sound and the other team is still hitting you. But more times than not, if I’m mechanically sound, things will work out well for me.

I really think the improvement in my mechanics and in my ability to make adjustments out there has helped me turn into a pitcher rather than a guy that just goes out and throws. Now, because I have confidence in all three of my pitches, I can throw a changeup or slider in a fastball situation. And that’s been real beneficial. Because when you get a hitter looking for one pitch, say a fastball, and you throw another pitch, then you have a good chance of freezing him. . . .

Randy: I have been very fortunate to run across some very giving players, the most generous being you, Nolan. It’s unheard of, unfortunately, to have other people on another team take the time to help another professional athlete. Sure, hitters will talk about their swings here and there. But you and Tom House didn’t have to help me. You two guys are good people and you’ve taught me more than proper mechanics. You’ve taught me to go up to a young player when he’s struggling and maybe try and help them. So you’ve really helped me, not only physically and mentally, but as a person to go and try and help other people. Not only do some of the younger players come to me for help, but the manager encourages me to help them. Now, I’m enjoying baseball more than I ever have because I’m in the position to help some of the younger players, like you helped me.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tom Cheney’s 21-Strikeout, 16-Inning Game in 1962

Along with being the most strikeouts any major league pitcher has ever had in a game, Cheney’s performance on September 12, 1962 for the Washington Senators was one of the last ultra-endurance efforts by a starter before managers started shrinking the number of pitches they’d let a starter throw. Back in 1986, after Roger Clemens’ first 20-strikeout game, Dave Johnson of the Providence Journal caught up with the story:

Maybe you’ve never heard of Tom Cheney. He was a nondescript pitcher who spent eight seasons in the majors, from 1957 to 1966, with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators. His lifetime record was 19-29 and he never had a winning season.

But on Sept. 12, 1962, in Baltimore, he did something that never had been done. He struck out 21 Orioles and led the Senators to a 2-1 victory. It took Cheney 16 innings to do it, and that’s seven more than Clemens pitched. But Cheney’s achievement still was remarkable.

When was the last time you saw a pitcher go 16 innings?

“With the relief pitchers they have today, you probably never will,” Tom Cheney said.

“You’re talking a long time ago – almost 25 years,” he said when the 21-strikeout game is mentioned. “To tell the truth, I haven’t thought too much about it for awhile.”

Cheney didn’t realize he was doing anything special until the 11th or 12th inning.

“I wasn’t thinking about strikeouts,” said Cheney, who had 13 through the first nine innings. “I was more intent on staying around and trying to win the game. I really didn’t know anything about the record until I got No. 18. That’s when the public address fellow announced I’d just tied Bob Feller’s all-time record.”

Washington manager Mickey Vernon and Sid Hudson, pitching coach, were upset with the public address announcer. They were afraid the announcement would make Cheney press to get No. 19.

For a moment, he did. The next batter was Dick Hall, the opposing hurler, and Cheney’s first two pitches sailed over his head. But Hall fanned on the next three straight pitches and Feller’s record was gone.

Only 4,098 attended that game and, thanks to Cheney, most stayed to the end. Bud Zipfel, a journeyman first baseman, won it for the Senators with a home run in the top of the 16th.

“It was a good thing Zipfel hit one,” said Cheney. “There was a curfew then that said no inning could start after 12:50 a.m. We’d already been told that the 16th would be the last inning.”

Cheney entered the bottom of the 16th with 20 strikeouts. Dick Williams became his 21st victim to end the game.

Cheney had never pitched more than 10 or 11 consecutive innings. He told manager Vernon in the 12th that he felt fine and wanted to stay in and win it or lose it. He allowed 10 hits but none from the ninth to the 15th. He threw 228 pitches and said he never felt tired.

“I was really hopped up the whole game. But then, about 15 minutes after the game, I just wilted. I guess I finally realized what I did.”

After Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game, Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Constitution caught up with Cheney, who said: “I don’t know why it happened. It was just one of those odd things that happen in life. It kinda surprised me. Although, I knew I had the guts to go out and battle. I never did like to come out of a ballgame.”

And after Randy Johnson’s 20-strikeout game in 2001, Guy Curtright, again of the Atlanta Constitution, talked with Cheney:

When the Cheneys returned from a visit to Emory University Hospital on May 9, Jackie knew something must have happened. The telephone caller ID included a lot of strange numbers.

Johnson had struck out 20. Cheney, the only player to strike out 21, was in the news again, just like 1962 — when he even made a Peanuts cartoon strip.

Cheney only had 13 strikeouts in nine innings, but got stronger as the game dragged on. He pitched eight hitless innings and struck out future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams to end the marathon after Bud Zipfel homered in the top of the 16th for the Senators.

“It was a breaking ball,” Williams recalled. “But I didn’t remember I was the last one until I heard it on TV. He had a sharp curve and a lot of motion.”

Legendary Baltimore third baseman Brooks Robinson had equal praise for Cheney’s fastball. “There were times I never saw the ball,” Robinson said.

For years, Cheney dreaded having to talk about his record night. It brought back too many memories of what might have been. Although never boastful, he now seems comfortable with it.

“The way I feel about it, records are made to be broken,” Cheney said. “But with the way they treat pitchers now, taking them out of games early, I think 21 strikeouts may stay around for a while longer.”

In contrast, Johnson left Arizona’s 11-inning victory over Cincinnati after striking out 20 and throwing 124 pitches in nine innings on May 8.

“They tell me he threw up his arms and said he’d had enough,” Cheney, 66, said. “He quit. You didn’t do that when I played.”

“They tried to take me out in the 12th inning, and I said, `No, you’re not.’ I was determined to finish,” he said. “Back then, you got paid on how many games you won. My main thing was to stay in there and try to win the game.”

However, teammate Don Lock said: “I always thought it was the beginning of the end of Tom’s career.”

About eight months after hearing how Johnson failed to reach his mark, Cheney died, at 67, of Alzheimer’s, at Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia. Back in 1998, he’d said: “I was very disturbed when I left baseball. I felt like somebody had jerked the sheets out from under me. It took a while for me to adjust. I resented it.

“I was 32 when I got out and felt like I had some more years in me. But the Ol’ Master thought I had gone on long enough. Baseball’s like living. No one is guaranteed any amount of time.”

Read a long Washington Post retrospective on his life and 21-k game here.

Also, perhaps the last pitcher to throw over 200 pitches in an MLB game was Nolan Ryan, in 1974, an Angels vs. Red Sox 15-inning go-round in Anaheim. Ryan went 13 innings, striking out 19 and walking 10, and faced 58 batters. His counterpart, Luis Tiant, went all 14 1/3rd innings for Boston, getting the loss on a double by Denny Doyle. Back in 2004, Chris Dufresne of the Chicago Tribune wrote of the game:

Thirty years ago Monday night, in a cavernous, nearly empty Anaheim Stadium, Denny Doyle doubled home Mickey Rivers in the bottom of the 15th inning to lift the California Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Barry Raziano pitched two innings of relief to earn his only major-league victory. Raziano, who runs a construction company in Louisiana, said recently he has no recollection of the game, which puts him in the overwhelming majority.

What happened was this: Boston starter Luis Tiant pitched 14 1/3 innings and took the loss. Nolan Ryan of the Angels lasted 13 innings, struck out 19, walked 10 and–hold on to your helmets–threw 235 pitches.

Ryan said two memories stood out: striking out Cecil Cooper six times and “not wanting to come out” after heaving his final pitch, which yielded a groundout to second by Carl Yastrzemski.

The Los Angeles Times’ account acknowledged “Tiant and Ryan dueled tenaciously,” yet no mention was made of Ryan’s pitch count. Ryan knows he threw 235 only because Tom Morgan, the Angels’ pitching coach, kept track on a hand-held clicker.

Ryan took his regularly scheduled start four days later and won, pitched again five days later and won again, started five days after that and tossed a one-hit shutout against Texas.

Ryan says he averaged between 160 and 180 pitches per outing in 1974.

A quote from Cecil Cooper: “I remember in that game he drilled the very first hitter, Doug Griffin, in the head. I was the next hitter and I got as far back in the box as I could.”

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 1:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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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.

Robin Ventura Charging Nolan Ryan

Here’s how the Chicago Tribune described the August 4, 1993 game that’s famous for Nolan Ryan “giving noogies” to Robin Ventura, as Ventura called them:

The Alamo was a fraternity party compared to what the White Sox and Texas Rangers did to each other Wednesday night.

The Sox and Rangers took time out from a perfectly mundane baseball game to square off in one of the nastiest, dirtiest brawls to hit the plains of Texas in quite a spell.

When it was all over, the Rangers delighted a crowd of 32,312 by coming from behind to knock out the Sox 5-2.

The win was almost a must for the third-place Rangers, who used it to climb back to 5 1/2 behind the division-leading Sox with one game yet to play in a suddenly ugly series.

Nolan Ryan started the free-for-all by drilling Robin Ventura on the right elbow with a fastball in the third inning.

Ventura was incensed. He took Ryan’s actions to be retaliation, plain and simple, for a series of incidents.

“If you know the game, it’s no secret what he was doing,” said Ventura, his elbow encased in an elastic brace. “If you don’t think he did it on purpose, you don’t know the game.”

Ventura’s reasoning is backed by some pretty solid circumstantial evidence.

First was the timing: Ventura was hit just one inning after Sox starter Alex Fernandez plunked Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez-the fourth Ranger to be hit by a pitch in three games this season.

In addition to that, Ventura was the logical target if Ryan wanted to retaliate against anyone. Ventura had singled in the first inning off Ryan to give the Sox a 1-0 lead.

Ryan has a long reputation for throwing at hitters. He drilled Sox infielder Craig Grebeck in the back in 1990 after Grebeck and shortstop Ozzie Guillen had hit rare homers off him back-to-back.

Last year, Ryan was ejected from a game for the first and only time in his career after he threw at Willie Wilson, who had tripled off him.

Ventura had been hit on the same elbow just two weeks ago by Milwaukee’s Cal Eldred.

As soon as he was hit this time, Ventura grimaced in pain. He took a couple of steps toward first base, then thought better of it. Instead, Ventura took a sharp left turn, threw his batting helmet to the ground and charged Ryan.

Ryan locked Ventura in the kind of armlock usually reserved for branding steers and started flailing away with punches. Five roundhouse shots in a row landed on top of Ventura’s head.

“He gave me a couple of noogies on my head and that’s about all,” said Ventura.

Ryan was still swinging when a mass of humanity from both benches descended upon him.

“I’ve had a couple of confrontations in my career, but nothing of that nature,” said Ryan, who gave away 20 years to Ventura in the Battle of Arlington.

“All I know is I was on the bottom of the pile and it felt like their whole team was on top of me. In that situation, you’re totally at the mercy of your teammates.”

Texas coach Mickey Hatcher left the field with blood streaming down his face. He had a butterfly bandage on the wound in the clubhouse and said it was minor.

Usually mild-mannered Sox manager Gene Lamont was in the middle of things from start to finish and came out worse for the effort. Lamont had a trick knee go out on him when someone clipped him from the side.

To add insult to injury, Lamont was ejected from the game. So was Ventura.

But Ryan was allowed to stay and he pitched magnificently the rest of the night. He faced 13 batters and got 14 outs because he quickly got revenge for the fight by picking off Craig Grebeck, who had gone to first base to run for Ventura when things calmed down.

“I think he should have been thrown out of the game,” Lamont said of Ryan. “He hit Robin and he was the one throwing the punches. He should have been ejected, too.”

Lamont defended Ventura’s decision to charge the mound.

“Robin thought he was throwing at him and he did exactly what he should do,” said Lamont. “It’s strange that that was the only pitch that got away from him all night.”

And it was. Ryan (3-3) worked seven innings and gave up just two runs on three hits. It was his longest outing of the year and easily his feistiest.

Alex Fernandez (12-6) had his worst outing in more than a month.

“(The fight) didn’t bother me at all,” said Fernandez. “I thought I had Palmeiro struck out on the pitch before the home run. I only made one bad pitch and that was the double to Franco.”

That pitch was a lot more costly than the one bad one that Ryan made to Ventura.

Since this moment seems to be the main way people who aren’t White Sox or Mets fans and didn’t watch his record-breaking hitting streak at Oklahoma State in 1987 remember Robin Ventura, and is also one of the most famous moments in Rangers history outside of 2010, I thought I’d look up some things that provide context on it.

After Ventura charged him, Ryan had hit 158 batters, been ejected for it only once and been charged by a hitter three times-including Willie McCovey, and Dave Winfield as a San Diego Padre in 1980-Dave landed at least one punch. There is, I assume, no video of that fight, but the AP reported the game this way:

Cesar Cedeno drove in four runs as the Houston Astros defeated San Diego, 9-5, tonight in a game that saw Dave Winfield, the Padre star, ejected in a bench-clearing brawl.

Winfield watched two Nolan Ryan fastballs sail high and inside in the fourth inning before charging the mound and igniting a brawl that delayed the game 11 minutes.

Ryan had hit Ozzie Smith with a pitch in the third inning, and when Ryan’s second inside pitch sent Winfield sprawling in the fourth, he charged the mound.

The home-plate umpire, Jerry Dale, tried to restrain Winfield, but he landed a couple of blows to Ryan’s head as both benches emptied. Cedeno hit two nearly identical doubles down the third-base line in a game in which the Astros scored five runs in the fourth and four in the seventh.

The next time Ryan faced Winfield it was the 1985 All-Star Game, and he flattened Winfield with a high fastball.

Nolan said: “Dave threw a punch and then we wrestled to the ground. I decided then I wasn’t going to take it the next time it happened. I made up my mind after that that if anybody came out there, I wasn’t going to be passive about it. They are coming out trying to hurt you. You have to defend yourself. You can call it self-preservation.”

It’s no surprise that the White Sox weren’t happy after the game. Ellis Burks: “I hit two home runs off him in a game and the next time I faced him in Boston he started me off with a curveball for a strike. The next pitch was up and in and hit me in the head.” USA Today said when Burks came up against Ryan the next time, Ryan came in on him again, and Ellis tried to charge the mound, but catcher Geno Petralli stopped him.

Jack McDowell: “The whole world stops when that guy pitches, like he’s God or something. He’s been throwing at batters forever, and people are gutless to do anything about it. I was glad Robin went out. Someone had to do it. He’s pulled that stuff wherever he goes.

“Too bad he doesn’t show up for his team until the next time it’s his turn to pitch. He’ll be home on the ranch. You watch, his team will fall just short again while he shows up on the DL.”

Ryan, who tried to get at Black Jack in the post-noogie fracas, said: “He was mouthing off and I got tired of it. I don’t like to hear from someone who has three or four other people protecting him.”

Finally, Bo Jackson was with the White Sox in 1993, and the Chicago Tribune had an interesting note on his role in the brawl:

Bo Jackson didn’t have much of an impact in the game, striking out in his only at-bat as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning.

But he sure made a difference in the brawl between the White Sox and Rangers Wednesday night.

Just knowing Jackson was around had Texas players, coaches and even their team owner looking over their shoulders.

“I had ahold of somebody and I poked my head up and saw Bo running toward the pile,” said Ranger outfielder Donald Harris. “I quick poked my head back down and tried to stay out of the way.”

George W. Bush, general partner of the Rangers, was in a box seat near the Texas dugout when the brawl broke out and said he considered for a second running onto the field.

“I thought about it, but then I saw Bo coming out and decided to stay where I was,” said Bush.

Published in: on August 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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Nolan Ryan’s 5000th Strikeout

Quotes from Nolan Ryan and Rickey Henderson about Ryan striking out Henderson for his 5000th strikeout on a 3-2 count on August 22, 1989:

Ryan: “The off day yesterday gave me a lot more time for things to build up. I was nervous at the start, but then I settled down.

I didn’t want to walk Rickey Henderson, so I went with the fastball. If somebody asked me before the game what pitch I would throw, it would have been a fastball.”

Henderson: “I asked the catcher (Chad Kreuter), ‘If I did strike out, could I take the ball out to him?’ He wouldn’t let me.”

And: “I don’t think nobody could have hit that pitch. He got me on the best pitch he threw.”

Ryan: “It was nice that my teammates came out there to congratulate me. In that situation, nobody knows how to act.”

Henderson again: “After the game he told me, ‘It had to be somebody, but I’m sorry it had to be you.’ It really is an honor. Roger Clemens throws hard, but Nolan has more success with what he does. Nobody in baseball can do what he’s doing.”

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 4:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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