September 26 ~  Gifts Nolan Ryan's Fastball

"My ability to throw a baseball was a gift. It was a God-given gift. And I am truly appreciative of that gift. It took me a while to figure that out... and when I finally did, I dedicated myself to be the best pitcher I possibly could be, for as long as I possibly could be." ~ Nolan Ryan, Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Speech, 1999

On this day in 1981, gifted Houston Astro pitcher Nolan Ryan (1947-) threw his fifth no-hitter against the LA Dodgers, 5-0. He would pitch two more no-hitters (after age 40) before retiring from the game in 1993.

With a fastball that blazed past batters, he dominating the game with velocity and heart. He holds (or shares) an unbelievable 48 Major League Baseball records, playing for the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers. In addition to seven no-hitters, his benchmarks in 27 years include 5,714 strikeouts in 5,387 innings pitched, a 3.19 Earned Run Average, and 12 one-hitters.

"If you haven't been struck out by Nolan Ryan, you're nobody," said Rickey Henderson, Ryan's 5000th strikeout victim in August 1989. Ryan calls that strikeout his "most treasured record" because it showed his longevity in baseball. "It represented that many innings pitched and being able to maintain that style of pitching my entire career," Ryan explained.

Born in Texas, the last of six children, Ryan was seven when his father took him to buy his first baseball glove, a special gift that got him through the fast and wild pitches of Little League. Drafted by the Mets in 1965, Ryan's overpowering career ensured election into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility.

A special kind of sports treasure, Pete Rose once called him "the greatest arm that ever lived." Toronto Blue Jays' Kelly Gruber added, "He's more than a marvel. He's the model for what we all should be."

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