Two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy called Nolan Ryan “the only pitcher you start thinking about two days before you face him.”
Ryan’s career lasted a record-tying 27 seasons, and his fabled fastball never seemed to wane. When he retired, he had amassed 324 wins to go with all-time records for no-hitters (seven) and strikeouts (5,714).
Ryan’s career began with the Mets organization in the mid-1960s, and he helped New York win the 1969 World Series. But It was not until his trade to the California Angels following the 1971 season that Ryan began rewriting the record books.
In his first season with the Angels, Ryan won 19 games and struck out 329 batters. The next season, he set a new modern era single-season mark with 383 strikeouts while tossing the first two no-hitters of his career.
From 1972-77, Ryan averaged 19 wins and 322 strikeouts per year despite am injury-shortened 1975 season that saw him pitch only 198 innings. In 1979, Ryan won 16 games while helping the Angels win the American League West title for the first time in franchise history. He signed a record-setting free agent deal with the Astros following that year, returning to his hometown of Houston as the first million-dollar-a-year player in big league history.
Reggie Jackson, one of the most dominant sluggers of that generation, explained what it was like to face Ryan and his 100 mph fastball: “I love to bat against Nolan Ryan and I hate to bat against Nolan Ryan. It’s like ice cream. You may love it (facing a fastball), but you don’t want it shoveled down your throat by the gallon.”
The 1980s were a decade of milestones for Nolan Ryan as he passed Walter Johnson’s all-time strikeout mark, broke Sandy Koufax's major league record of four no-hitters with his fifth in 1981 and helped the Astros reach the postseason for the first three times in franchise history.
Ryan signed with the Rangers as a free agent following the 1988 season and became a national sensation by maintaining his power fastball into his 40s. He struck out 301 batters in 1989, the sixth time in his career he had reached the 300 mark. Up till that point in baseball history, all other modern era (post 1900) pitchers had totaled 16 such seasons.
If a pitcher began his career with a 300 strikeouts in his rookie season and matched that for each of the next 18 seasons, he would still be 14 strikeouts short of Ryan's all-time record.
Ryan authored his sixth no-hitter in 1990 and followed with his seventh a year later at the age of 44. He retired following the 1993 season with eight All-Star Game selections, 773 starts (second all-time to Cy Young) and the lowest hits-per-nine-innings-pitched ratio (6.56) of any pitcher in history.
Ryan was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.