Through an incredible 27 years and unfathomable 5714 strikeouts, Nolan Ryan has always seemed to defy explanation. How could he be throwing 95+ mile per hour fastballs into his forties? How could he throw another no-hitter, his seventh, at age 44? And what suddenly made it all click, taking him from a 19-year old flamethrower to a seasoned pitcher?
But there is a lot more to Ryan than his Hall of Fame career. Success in business has come through the same dedication, hard work and family grounding that helped him on the mound, through the thick and thin that almost made him leave the game while struggling with the Mets in the early 1970s.
Nolan Ryan: The Making of a Pitcher (Triumph Books, 366 pps., $26.95) by longtime Ryan friend Rob Goldman is the first new book on Ryan in almost two decades and the first to dig so deeply into his off-field life. Mets fans have long rued the day following the 1971 season that he and three others were traded to California for Jim Fregosi. Would he have had that same success had he stayed in New York? Goldman reveals many of Ryan's thoughts during this trying time, particularly his strained relationship with Mets coaches, including manager Gil Hodges.
The start-over with the Angels proved to be the prescription Ryan needed. An early proponent of weight training, Ryan had to sneak off to various hidden gyms, as old-school thoughts against the practice still prevailed in the game.
Goldman delves into Ryan's mindset in keeping healthy and ultimately how he handled various injuries, particularly as he aged.
There are also some fun anecdotes and a window into how the game was played when he broke in. Norm Cash, the Tigers' first baseman, typical of the time, brushed off a Ryan pitch that hit his arm by saying it was "...nothing a little ice and bourbon won't heal." Contrast that with the bad blood 20 years later that led to an incident Ryan would rather not discuss: Robin Ventura charging the mound after a Ryan heater got a little too close for comfort.
Though one of the most exciting players ever to step on the mound, Ryan's life lacks a true dramatic hurdle or tragedy to overcome. Some might even say that, much like Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly and others whose biographies have lacked that extra zip that controversy brings, Ryan's story isn't tremendously compelling. But Goldman's work goes past the accomplishments and inside the life of a universally respected man who has never sacrificed his principles. There is plenty to learn from that.