Readers believe Ryan was MLB’s most dominant pitcher
Was Nolan Ryan the most dominant pitcher in the last 50 years?
Well, you readers believed he was. In a recent Times News poll, Ryan received 50% of the fans’ vote, and Steve Carlton and Sandy Koufax tied for second at 14% among the eight pitchers on the ballot.
In this week’s version of my Behind the Plate column, I will look at the pitchers in the poll - as well as some others - and also discuss how teams are doing down the stretch.
Ryan Express ... When he was traded from the Mets to the Angels - ironically for then current shortstop and future Phillies manager Jim Fregosi in 1971 - Ryan began to find his niche as the game’s premier strikeout artist.
At the time, he was a budding 24-year-old right-hander in the Mets’ system and paired with fellow young right-hander Gary Gentry as two future building blocks (Fregosi also did manage Ryan with the Angels).
He spent eight years with mediocre at-best Angels’ team, where he accumulated 2,416 of his 5,714 career strikeouts. But Ryan gained his reputation with the Angels, and became one of the game’s most feared pitchers.
Ryan decided to bolt California and signed with Houston as a free agent in 1980, helping the Astros to the NLCS against the Phillies. He was effective in Game Two in Philly, allowing two runs in 6.1 innings in a game Houston won 7-4. But the Phillies roughed him up in Game Five to the tune of six runs in seven innings in a contest the Phillies won in 10 innings, 8-7, and were off to the World Series.
He then left for the Rangers, where he spent his final six seasons. Overall, Ryan had a 324-292 mark and has all-time marks in strikeouts, walks (2,416) and hits per nine innings (6.6). He was a seven-time All-Star, yet he never won a Cy Young Award.
Ryan had a record seven no-hitters and 18 two-hitters. In all, he holds 51 MLB records.
In terms of dominance, the voters have a point.
Sandy and Steve ... I was too young to remember Sandy Koufax, but I have tried to watch as much footage about him as possible.
In the 1960s, the left-hander arguably was the best at his craft with the likes of Bob Gibson and a rising Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer.
With the Dodgers, Koufax took over the game in the early 60s. From 1962 to his last year in 1966, Koufax compiled an overall record of 111-34. In 1963, he was 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA with 306 strikeouts in 311 innings and 11 shutouts (take a look at that line again to let it sink in). From 1962 to 1966, Koufax led the league in ERA, and he also had 382 strikeouts in 1965.
For his career, Koufax was 165-87 with a 2.76 ERA and 2,396 strikeouts. He captured three Cy Young Awards.
If an arm injury didn’t cut his career short, who knows what he could have done.
A few years later, Carlton picked up the torch to become the game’s dominant lefty in the 70s. We all know the well documented season of 1972 when he won 27 of the team’s 54 games.
Unlike Koufax, Carlton did have the longevity (stayed a bit too long) and recorded a 329-244 mark with 4,136 strikeouts and only 1,833 walks in 24 seasons. He also won four Cy Young Awards.
Just imagine if these two were both dominant at the same time, and what a pitching match-up it could have been.
Roger, Bob, and Tom ... Rounding out the top half of the poll were Roger Clemons (7%), Bob Gibson (6%), and Tom Seaver (4%). Greg Maddux also gained 4% and Palmer 1%.
During his time, Clemens surely was a dominant hurler, as he amassed a 354-184 record with 4,612 strikeouts and seven Cy Youngs. One may have forgotten that he played for 24 seasons. However, his performance always will have the asterisk next to it because of his steroid usage.
I was a little surprised that Gibson and Seaver weren’t in double digits, especially from the older crowd.
Gibson was one of the game’s most feared hurlers with his propensity to pitch inside. He had an overall 251-174 record in 17 seasons, but he will be most remembered for his 1968 season when he was 22-9 with an unfathomable 1.12 ERA and a league-high 268 strikeouts. Gibson also had 28 complete games in 1969, a time when it wasn’t a rarity. He had 255 complete games in his career and won two Cy Young Awards.
Seaver also was among the game’s best with his 311-205 mark and 3,640 strikeouts over 20 seasons. His most memorable year had to be in 1969 when he led the Mets to their first World Championship with a 25-7, 2.21, 208 strikeouts, and 18 complete games line.
Maddux was at the top of his game for a period, and he helped the Braves to a title. He compiled a 35-7 combined record during the 1994 and 1995 seasons and had ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63. Surprisingly, Maddux pitched for 23 seasons with an overall 355-227 record. He ended his career with the Dodgers in 2008 before he had a brief stay with the Padres.
Both Seaver and Maddux each won three Cy Youngs.
Palmer had his heyday in the early 70s as part of the Orioles’ star-studded starting staff. He had a 268-152 career slate with nearly 4,000 innings. He had eight 20-win seasons over a span of nine years. He played all of his 19 seasons with the Orioles and won three Cy Young Awards. Palmer continued his stardom with his Jockey underwear commercials.
Some other pitchers who established their presence over the last 50 years can be Juan Marichal, Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson to name a few.
Here’s to Cy ... In referencing to the Cy Young Award, Young holds the all-time win mark with 511 victories in case you forgot. Young posted a 511-315 career mark in 22 seasons split between Cleveland and Boston in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He started 815 games and completed 749 (that’s another mind-blowing stat).
Readers Write ... Weekly reader Richard Ochs passed along some thoughts about the Aug. 28 column about records that may not be broken.
He cited Cy Young’s 511 wins and other records. He also mentioned Jack Chesbro’s record 51 wins and 455 innings in 1905, and the Mets’ Anthony Young, who lost 27 consecutive games as a starter and reliever from 1992 through 1993. Great points.
“It’s safe to assume that those all-time records will never be broken,” wrote Ochs. “The question still remains: How did they ever do it?”
Spoons and Swoons ... There’s still roughly a month left to play for the Mets and the Yankees, but their seasons are over.
The Mets spent $353.5 million and little left to show for it. My New York sources tell me that there is a good chance manager Buck Showalter will get bumped to the front office, and GM Billy Eppler also will be moved upstairs or moved out.
There are some changes expected in the Bronx, where the names of Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter have been bantered around to serve in some capacity. Manager Aaron Boone and GM Brian Cashman may both be finding new places to work. Cashman’s overall record should be scrutinized, as he hasn’t found enough steady starters.
As for the Phillies, they were atop the Wild Card race after Monday’s game.
As for the rest, I like the Rays, Twins, and Astros (could be down-to-the-wire with surging Mariners and Rangers) in the AL. The Braves and Dodgers are a formality, and the Brewers look like winners, but the Cubs or Reds may make a last-minute stab.
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