But when Ryan suffered an injury-shortened season in 1979, Angels general manager Buzzie Bavasi was hesitant to re-sign the 32-year old pitcher.
“All I need to replace Ryan is hire two 8-7 pitchers,” Bavasi said, referring to Ryan’s 16-14 record that season. The Angels allowed Ryan to declare himself a free agent.
As a boy, Ryan grew up in Alvin, Texas, 26 miles from the Astrodome. In November 1979, the Astros signed the hometown hero to the game’s biggest contract, eclipsing the four-year, $3.2 million contract that Pete Rose signed with the Philadelphia Phillies one year before.
“We have established ourselves as a first-rate club,” said Astros owner Tal Smith. “And we feel the addition of Ryan puts the Astros a step closer to that day when we will win the pennant.”
Neither Smith nor Bavasi could have predicted that Ryan was merely at the halfway point of his storied career. Though he did not lead Houston to the National League pennant, coming up short in the 1980 and 1986 NLCS, Ryan captured four more strikeout titles with the Astros and Texas Rangers and earned three more All-Star selections. He also threw three more no-hitters, including his seventh and final no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays in 1991 at age 44.
Ryan continued pitching until the fall of 1993, when he retired at the incredible age of 46. He finished with a record 5,714 strikeouts – 839 more than second-place Randy Johnson.
In 1999, Ryan received the second-highest total percentage of Baseball Writers’ Association of America votes (98.79 percent) in history and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I had the pleasure of batting against some of the greatest pitchers in the game, but I consider Nolan Ryan one of the tops,” said Hall of Famer and home run king Hank Aaron. “He was a winner on and off the field."
Matt Kelly was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum