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Nolan in the News

Angels still lament Ryan's second career

By Peter Schmuck -

In the winter of baseball's economic discontent, the resounding election of pitcher Nolan Ryan to Baseball's Hall of Fame creates the perfect opportunity for a dose of perspective.

Kevin Brown recently signed a seven-year contract worth $105 million. Nolan Ryan was allowed to walk by the California Angels after the 1979 season because his agent wanted to make him the first million-dollar player.

Angels general manager E.J. "Buzzie" Bavasi looked at Ryan's .512 winning percentage and made an offhand comment he never has been allowed to forget.

Bavasi told reporters he could get "two 8-7 pitchers" to replace Ryan, but the real reason the Angels were reluctant to make him the highest-paid player in the game was his advancing years. He was going to be 33 years old on Opening Day.

Of course, everyone knows the rest of the story. Ryan went to the Houston Astros and then to the Texas Rangers and reeled off another 157 victories after he left the Angels. Many Southern California baseball fans feel that if he had stayed, the club would have reached the World Series at least twice in the 1980s, instead of blowing big leads in the 1982 and 1986 American League Championship Series. The Angels still are waiting to make their first appearance in the Fall Classic.

Bavasi freely admits that allowing Ryan to get away was one of the biggest mistakes of his career, but it wasn't such an illogical decision. The conventional wisdom of the time was that he could not keep throwing the ball 100 miles an hour forever.

That turned out to be true, but the slight drop in his velocity during the latter years of his career helped improve his control and made him an even better pitcher.

His winning percentage after he turned 33 years old was .538 and he would throw almost as many no-hitters after his 33rd birthday (3) as he did before it (4).

More impressive, he would pitch another 14 years after the Angels let him get away, running up a career strikeout total that should go unchallenged forever and placing his name among the all-time leaders in almost every relevant statistical category.

What does all this have to do with Kevin Brown?

Not much, but he is -- like Ryan was -- one of the most durable pitchers of his generation. He has a much higher winning percentage (.584) than Ryan did at about the same point in his career and has proven himself to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.

The money is outrageous, of course, but the decision to give him a contract that extends into his 40s may not seem so ridiculous if the Dodgers have a couple more world championship trophies by then.

If the Angels proved anything with their decision to trade in Ryan for a couple of cheaper models, they proved that you usually get what you pay for, one way or the other.

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