The legend wasn’t born on May 15, 1973 in Kansas City, but the Express lane was definitely open.
It was on this day 45 years ago that the greatest baseball player from the state of the Texas threw his first of seven no-hitters.
Nolan Ryan sat down 12 Kansas City Royals on strikes and completed his first no-hitter in a 3-0 win.
“I felt the pressure building on a no-hitter,” Nolan Ryan later told reporters. “I didn’t really feel it tonight until the ninth inning and then I was nervous.”
Ryan started his career with the New York Mets and at 22-years-old pitched in the World Series for the victorious 1969 Amazing Mets. In 1971, the Mets traded Ryan to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi. Once out of the shadow of New York and superstar pitcher Tom Seaver, Ryan’s career took off and the no-hitter of 1973, at age 26, was just another step for the baseball great.
Even after Royals manager Jack McKeon, who 30 years later would win the 2003 World Series as manager of a club that didn’t even exist in 1973 (the Florida Marlins), complained that Ryan was stepping off the rubber when throwing, nothing slowed him down.
“That man can bring it,” Kansas City All-Star John Mayberry told reporters. “(He) throws the ball harder than anyone I ever saw.”
Lou Pinella, who went on to be one of the great managers of the 1990s and 2000s, leading the 1990 Cincinnati Reds to a World Series title, was 0-for-3 with the strike out told reporters: “(Ryan) has the best stuff in the league. He throws so hard and his curve is just about impossible to hit.”
Ryan, an All-Star in 1972, wasn’t a secret to the league by this point in his career. He had won 19 games in 1972 and finished eighth in the American League Cy Young race. But 1973 was his best season up to that point of his career. After throwing this no-hitter, he finished the season with 21 wins-- his first 20-win season of his 27-year career. He led baseball with 382 strikeouts (he also led baseball by allowing 162 walks) and had 7.8 WAR (wins above replacement), which is basically a stat that explains a player’s worth to a team’s overall record.
The win on this day 45 years ago was his fifth of the season and he improved his record to 5-3. He threw an unheard of in today’s game 132 pitches, 80 for strikes. What could be the most amazing thing about the performance is that the Royals, which finished 81-81 in 1973 were the highest-scoring team in the American League.
“I’m not record-conscious and I don’t have any special career goals,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “I must take the wins and losses as they come.”
Of course that quote stands out now, as Ryan holds the record for most career no-hitters. He threw another no-hitter exactly two months later against the Detroit Tigers on July 15, 1973 and threw two more over the next two seasons. In 1991, at the age of 44-- nearly 18 years after his first no-hitter -- Ryan no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in a similar 3-0 win at Arlington Stadium as a member of the Texas Rangers.
He retired in 1993 with a record 5,714 strikeouts and a 324-292 overall win-loss record.
Today Ryan is still very active in the baseball world. He is co-owner of the Round Rock Express and is an executive adviser to the World Champion Houston Astros, where his son Reid Ryan has been team president since 2013.
Ryan is also a meat salesman and rancher. His Nolan Ryan Beef headquartered in Round Rock.