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THE NEXT NOLAN RYAN?
May 18, 2001

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

Almost twenty-eight years to the day that Nolan Ryan tossed his first no-hitter (May 15,1973), the Marlins' A.J. Burnett blanked the San Diego Padres (May 12, 2001).

It got me to thinking. Is twenty-four-year-old A.J Burnett the next Nolan Ryan? No more so than Hideo Nomo is - or Jim Abbott, or Kenny Rogers, or Mike Warren for that matter.

 
 


The fact is, there probably never will be another Nolan Ryan, much in the same way that there never will be another Joe DiMaggio.

Baseball is, and always has been, a game of numbers. Regarding my own fixation with numbers, I should probably be holed up in a cubicle somewhere with an adding machine and ledger paper.

Here's a staggering number: Nolan Ryan has seventy-five percent more no-hitters than the great Sandy Koufax. When Koufax became the first pitcher with four, it was probably considered an untouchable record. After all, Cy Young, Bob Feller (three a piece) and Pud Galvin (with two) were over the mound (hill?) or warming up in a cornfield somewhere.

I'm not sure why I included Pud Galvin, there are seventeen pitchers with two no-hitters, I just think that he's got a really cool name. I'm making a mental note to include Pud in more articles in the future.

Seventy-five percent! To put it in perspective, Hank Aaron would have had to hit 1,249 home runs to surpass Babe Ruth's record by seventy-five percent. Pete Rose has sixty-five more hits than Ty Cobb. Rose was 3,078 hits shy of eclipsing Cobb's record by seventy-five percent.

* * * * *

Nolan Ryan had another anniversary this month. On May 1, 1991 he became the first (,last and only) pitcher to throw seven no-hitters.

It was a cool spring night. The Toronto Blue Jays were in town. And Arlington Stadium had ten thousand empty seats!

Ten thousand Texas Ranger fans passed on the opportunity to witness something special. Something spectacular. Nine innings, no runs, no hits, two walks and sixteen strikeouts.

Managing partner George W. Bush passed on the game - he was at a party at the White House. George W. has four years, now, to throw parties at the White House, but he'll never get another opportunity to watch Nolan Ryan pitch.

Texas fans should have been hanging from the rafters every time Ryan took the mound. No pitcher was more capable of taking "just another game" and creating a masterpiece.

I spent three days in Dallas in the early nineties, but I made darn sure I got my butt to Arlington Stadium on the night that Nolan Ryan was scheduled to pitch. (It turned out he recorded his 5,500th strikeout that night).

* * * * *

In addition to his seven no-hitters, Ryan had a record twelve one-hitters, amassed 324 wins and struck out 5,714 batters. When he retired after twenty-seven years of service, his Hall of Fame resume was complete.

In 1999, he was voted into the HOF on the first ballot. Only Tom Seaver received a higher percentage of votes than Nolan Ryan. Only six members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to place a vote for Ryan.

Which brings me to my next thought. What brand of bourbon were those six guys drinking when they filled out their ballots?

Were they all from Florida? Did they have trouble figuring out how to fill out the ballot? Maybe the ballot makers used the dreaded butterfly design - we all know how confusing it can be.

Maybe these six geniuses selected another player, Bob Uecker per chance, when they THOUGHT they were voting for Ryan.

Perhaps they did vote for Ryan, but the ballot was only dimpled or the chad left hanging, and therefore, weren't credited with voting for Ryan.

It seems history had repeated itself!! Nine Rhodes scholars deemed Hank Aaron, the all-time Home Run King, unworthy. Eleven brain surgeons left Babe Ruth off their ballot. Twenty-three rocket scientists elected to not elect Willie Mays.

Then there's poor Pud Galvin who was overlooked altogether by the BBWAA. He was inducted in 1965, having been selected by the Veterans Committee.

* * * * *

A.J. Burnett should be proud of what he accomplished last Saturday night. He has joined an elite club.

Is A.J. Burnett the next Nolan Ryan? There is no next Nolan Ryan.

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