Take a look at it. That picture right there is one of the most famous baseball photographs of all-time. It even has its own title, “Blood”. If you don’t know who that is, you are probably not a baseball fan. His name is Nolan Ryan, the all-time strikeout king and the man I did my 5th grade biography report on. Some people also believe he inspired the character of Rick Vaughn from the all-time baseball classic, ‘Major League’.
Nolan Ryan pitched in his first major league game at the age of 19 and his last one at the age of 46. That’s 27 seasons of Major League baseball, a record, too. He struck out 5,714 batters, a record as well. His amazing total of 7 no-hitters? No one even comes close to that. But what makes ‘The Ryan Express’ even more mythical is two events that happened very late in his career. The first came in 1990 against the Kansas City Royals while facing one of the strongest men in baseball at the time, Bo Jackson. Keep in mind that this was during the time that Bo was a superstar, bigger than Jose Canseco, Cal Ripken, anyone. He was the future of baseball, so much so that a card company asked the tough guy Nolan to pose for a card while holding a Bo Jackson card!
When Bo faced Ryan, he hit a grounder up the middle that went straight for Nolan’s grill and caused the disaster that you see in the photo up top. Everyone from trainers to the manager and even other players came to tend to the 43 year-old Ryan but like a warrior that he is, Nolan refused to leave the game and insisted on pitching. The rest is as they say, baseball history. Only one company, as far as I know chose to feature that photograph on a card and its name was Pacific. In 1991 they released a box set of Nolan Ryan cards and included the one below. It is an “oddball” card that you can probably pick up for under $3 but back in the early 90’s, for most kids—it was the card to own!
The second incident that helped Ryan’s mythical status grow was in Ryan’s final season at the age of 46. While pitching to Robin Ventura, a 25 year-old, Ryan plunked him and without as much as a warning, Robin came charging at the old timer, Nolan Ryan. What happened next has become the most famous baseball fight in the history of the game. Nolan, took a man 20+ years his minor and put him into a headlock and began swinging away like there was no tomorrow. In the end, Ivan Rodriguez stepped in to save Ventura’s life. It was an amazing sight that you MUST see before you die. Oh, what do you know? Here’s the video!
Today, Nolan Ryan is still going strong despite a few health scares. Last month he was named the new President of the Texas Rangers organization. I only hope that he hires Robin Ventura as his personal assistant. What better man is there to pick up Nolan’s dry cleaning and lunch Monday through Friday?