Even at 46, Ryan Express may be rushing retirement

February 12, 1993|By Randy Galloway | Randy Galloway,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- No, Dallas, he doesn't want a downtown parade.

But a peaceful retirement season also is not among Nolan Ryan's final career wishes.

As Ryan issued his "one more year" announcement yesterday at Arlington Stadium, he also was talking about going out in a World Series blaze.

Man, would that be something special. But, then again, Ryan does pitch for the Texas Rangers. Frankly, I think he's got a better chance of surviving a ride up Commerce Street.

But regardless of the Rangers' history, be there anyway this season when Nolan Ryan is on the mound. Be there early, and often.

This will be one last time to see a real live legend in action, and when Ryan is gone, there's not another one waiting in the baseball wings. Not now, maybe not ever. Outside of Michael Jordan, you won't find another of these "Made in the USA" legends in all of professional sports.

Think about it. The Ryan kind have disappeared off the sports pages. Now Nolan gives himself just one more year.

I heard what he said at yesterday's news conference, and I've heard him fret in the past about knowing "when to say when."

To a full-of-pride Ryan, there was a private worry over being labeled as another ancient jock who hung around too long.

So one day this winter, Ryan said he was "driving down the road, going to the ranch," and then and there he made up his mind on retirement. One more year, over and out. More time with his family, and with his business interests, and less physical demands on his body were the primary reasons given.

But I've got a question.

Is his announcement premature? Seriously.

Even pitching at age 46 in 1993, and in his 27th major-league season, is Ryan not rushing his exit?

Outside of the physical breakdowns that have become more frequent (four times on the disabled list in the last three years after seven in the previous 20 seasons), there is nothing to suggest Ryan is close to being finished as an effective pitcher. He's forty-something and fine.

Totally misleading last season was his 5-9 record, with a still-good 3.72 ERA. Factor in six blown saves by the gawd-awful bullpen, plus a glaring lack of offensive support, and Ryan could have easily won a dozen games out of 27 starts. In fact, in 17 appearances, he was credited with a "quality start," meaning six innings or more with three or fewer earned runs allowed.

"It's all up to Nolan, and how much he wants to punish his body, but I see two or three more good seasons for him," said former pitching coach Tom House in the final week of the 1992 season.

The day before, Ryan's fastball had been clocked at 95 in his last start.

Speaking of House, it is probably more than coincidence that Ryan had a retirement statement only a few months after the team's longtime pitching coach was fired when a new managerial administration took over.

House's theories on pitching came under fire from many in baseball, and he was a favorite target of local paying customers. But in Ryan, House had a huge future Hall-of-Fame fan.

These two were not only friends, they also shared a philosophy on pitching, and certainly in the belief that high-tech and rigorous training methods made better pitchers.

When it was mentioned to Ryan late last season that House would probably be fired, his eyes hardened, and he replied, "You can write that down as a big mistake."

New manager Kevin Kennedy, however, has also promised to do Ryan a favor, whether Nolan agreed or not. Kennedy will use a pitch count limit on Ryan, plus juggle some starts for additional rest. Who knows, that actually could mean better health, and, yes, prolong the career of . . .

Well, forget that last part. Ryan is not Sugar Ray Leonard. If he says he's retiring after this season, book it.

"I hope I pitch well enough to have regrets and second thoughts," said Ryan. "But this will be the last year."

Which, incidentally, clears the way for a proper name to be given the new stadium when it opens in April 1994. Ryan Park? Team president Tom Schieffer wouldn't rule that out at yesterday's news conference.

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