The Golden Age of Baseball Cards™

...its influence on society and the game


Baseball Card Hall of Fame

Nolan Ryan 1969 #533

by William Szczepanek

1969 Topps #533 Nolan RyanIt seems strange to be writing about Nolan Ryan, a pitcher of major prominence whose career ended in 1993, since this site is dedicated to players from the Golden Age of Baseball Cards (1952-1974), but "The Ryan Express" fits very well into this venue since his Major League career began in 1966.

This Topps 1969 #533 card of Ryan is not his rookie card, but is his first card where he appears solo and is also the year he played with the World Series Champion New York Mets, where he appeared primarily as a reliever and spot starter. Ryan pitched in the postseason for the 1969 Mets throwing seven innings of relief in Game 3 against the Braves. In the 1969 World Series, Ryan recorded a save when he pitched 2 shutout innings in Game 3, against the Orioles.  It was Ryan's only World Series appearance.
His career started to blossom immediately upon leaving the Mets and going to the Angels where, in 1972, he placed 8th in the Cy Young Award voting going 19-16 with a league leading 329 strikeouts and set a record low of allowing only 5.261 hits per 9 innings pitched.

Lynn Nolan Ryan pitched for 27 seasons from age 19 to age 46, a Major League record. He pitched for the Mets, Angels, Astros and Rangers.  Twelve times he gave up the fewest hits per nine innings in a season and he holds the career record for this item also, 6.555. Eleven times he led the lead in strikeouts and holds the career record for this item also with 5,714. Amazingly, as of this date,  he is 4th all time in strikeouts per nine innings pitched trailing Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Pedro Martinez.

Nolan Ryan Sports IllustratedRyan is the all time leader in no-hitters with 7 and has 12 one-hitters, though he has never won the Cy Young Award and never pitched a perfect game. He is the only pitcher to have fanned three batters in an inning on 9 pitches in both leagues. Over his 27 year career batters would average only .204. He holds the record for most strikeouts in a season with 383, one more than Sandy Koufax.

Ryan had very few injuries that would keep him out of the lineup. Naturally, having pitched longer than a lot of players, Ryan also holds some all time negative records. Eight times Ryan led the league in walks and has the all time career record for number of walks with 2,795.  Steve Carlton is a distant second with 1,833. Ryan is second in career wild pitches with 277 trailing Tony Mullane by a large margin with 343. (Mullane played in the late 1800s and based on his stats he pitched till he dropped.  In 1884 he had a won/lost record of  36 and 26 and led the league in wild pitches with 63.) Therefore, the modern day record goes to Ryan.

 In his first year of eligibility Ryan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 with 98.79% of the vote,  the second highest percentage in history. Tom Seaver has the highest vote percentage at 98.84%.

The what ifs have us wonder what his records would be like if he hadn't missed the entire 1967 season due to an injured elbow and time in the Army Reserves. On the other hand since he really didn't excel with the Mets, we can wonder whether we would even remember him at all if he hadn't been traded to the Angels.

You can check out Nolan Ryan's statistics at Baseball Reference.

Back to the Main Hall of Fame Page