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Nolan in the News

Nolan Ryan: 'I'm Just A Man'

Associated Press, July 15, 1999

ALVIN, Texas (AP) A larger-than-life-sized poster of Nolan Ryan greets visitors at the museum entrance. A few feet away, he describes himself in large red type on the wall.

"I know who I am. I'm a country kid from Texas with the ability to throw a ball and the dedication to keep myself in shape. I'm just a man."

It's easily the most understated comment about the soon-to-be Hall of Fame pitcher at the Nolan Ryan Museum.

No one else would dare call him "just a man."

Ryan will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., next Sunday. He was elected on his first try, making it with the second-highest percentage ever.

Throughout Texas, Ryan already has been enshrined.

A section of highway leading into in his hometown of Alvin - about 35 miles south of Houston - is called the Nolan Ryan Expressway. The Texas House of Representatives made him an official Texas hero in April 1989.

The Nolan Ryan Historical Foundation built the 12,000-square-foot Nolan Ryan Center for Continuing Education at Alvin Junior College. About one-third of the building, which opened in April, is dedicated to the city's most famous resident.

One of Ryan's prized possessions, his first glove, is among the displayed memorabilia.

"I remember going to Alvin Hardware with my dad and being the last of six kids, to pick out, for the first time, anything new for myself and it not being a hand-me-down," Ryan said. "I go by that display and see that glove and that's one of the things I think about. That was a real high spot in my life."

Many of Ryan's favorite memories are from his childhood, including when he earned a spot on his first team.

"To make that team, go out and try out, that was a big event in your life," Ryan said. "I look back at that and those days were some of my fondest memories in baseball, being on Little League teams and just playing the game for the enjoyment of playing and feeling no pressure whatsoever."

Guests can tour Ryan's museum while hearing the sounds of baseball. Press a button and a different part of Ryan's unmatched career will appear on one of six video screens.

The first video recounts Ryan's early years with the Alvin Yellowjackets and when he was discovered by scout Red Murff.

Other videos recount his career stops with the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers.

Familiar quotes about Ryan dot the exhibit walls.

  • Dave Duncan: "A good night against Nolan Ryan is going 0-for-4 and you don't get hit in the head."
  • Rickey Henderson, Ryan's 5,000th strikeout victim: "If you haven't been struck out by Nolan Ryan, you're nobody."
  • Hall of Famer Don Sutton, after watching Ryan's fifth no-hitter: "I'm going to pitch tomorrow with an inferiority complex."

Ryan retired in 1993 with 5,714 strikeouts, seven no-hitters and 324 victories. The strikeouts and no-hitters are major league records - two of the 53 times his name is in baseball's record book.

He has kept busy the last six years, expanding his cattle and banking businesses, holding a state office and investing in a minor league team.

The team, fittingly called the Express, will play in Round Rock, near Austin. It will be a Class 2A affiliate of the Astros and Ryan's oldest son, Reid, will be the general manager.

"The first two years I was out of the game I had a real problem with the adjustment of not being a player, that change in my life," Ryan said. "Now, I've really kind of overcome that.

"I'd much rather be introduced as a Hall of Famer than a future Hall of Famer. I never was real comfortable with people introducing you that way. It's kind of nice to have that behind me."

Sometimes, though, the competitive fires still flare up.

"I would have loved the opportunity to face Ted Williams, who is considered the greatest hitter to ever play the game," Ryan said. "I think that would have been a challenge to try to figure how to get him out and what would be the proper approach to get him out."

A brush-back pitch wouldn't be out of the question, a Ryan tactic noted by slugger Mark McGwire.

"He was just an intimidator," McGwire said. "He'd knock you down in a heartbeat. The thing that made him so nasty was his breaking ball. Nobody ever talks about his breaking ball.

"His breaking ball broke from Arlington to Houston and he threw pretty close to 100 mph. It's pretty hard to beat."

The 52-year-old Ryan hasn't forgotten those who helped him along the way.

When a Southwest Airlines plane dubbed The Nolan Ryan Express takes off for Cooperstown, the passenger list will include Ryan's high school coach Jim Watson and Murff, who signed Ryan to his first pro contract.

"It was the highlight of my life in sports," Watson said. "When we were going through it, we just knew that we had a good high school pitcher. We had no idea it would go this far.

"My only claim to fame with Nolan is that I kept him in shape, didn't hurt his arm and made sure he was ready to go."

Ryan's family - wife Ruth, sons Reid and Reese and daughter Wendy - also will be making the trip.

Reid said being the son of a famous player made for "a great childhood."

"Probably the fondest memories were summers spent with him on the road," said Reid, who pitched in college and had a brief minor league career. "A lot of kids went camping with their dads. My brother and I just so happened to spend ours in big league parks.

"We did things like take batting practice at Fenway or Candlestick. My mom never told him to do that. It just shows the kind of person he really is, especially as we got older and he had to fight with managers to involve us kids.

"He went through a lot of stuff to make sure we had a normal relationship."

Murff, who has stayed close to Ryan through the years, is one of only a few people who think some of his records will be broken.

"Wouldn't it be fun to be a fly on the wall at some future time when a kid comes along and starts breaking Nolan's records?" Murff said. "I'd like to think that I'll be up there smiling and saying `Go for it, kid."'

[Career Statistics] [The New York Mets Years] [The California Angels Years] [The Houston Astros Years] [The Texas Rangers Years] [7 Career No-Hitters] [5,714 Career Strikeouts] [Records] [Achievements] [Cooperstown Class Of 1999] [Nolan Ryan Baseball Cards] [Quotes] [The Nolan Ryan Story] [Miscellaneous Features] [Books, Videos, & Collectibles]

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