Nolan Ryan - Top 100 Angels #8

The Express. - Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

The Express personified the Angels in the 1970s


For nearly a decade, one player personified the Angels. He was the face of the franchise and of pitching. He was Nolan Ryan. His fastball topped a hundred miles per hour on many occasions. He finished his career with 5,714 strikeouts (2,416 with the Angels) and was nearly a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer.

Ryan was a dominant pitcher, as the heat and the Ks attest to, and his four no-hitters as an Angel (of the seven he would toss in his career) are a marvel. But he had lots of control problems. He walked so many batters that there was never any chance one of those no-hitters would ever be a perfect game. His fastball and curveball were sublime, but the stenght it took to throw them never guaranteed their accuracy.

He was traded to the Angels as one of four players the Mets offered to the Halos for infielder Jim Fregosi. He had already won a world series with the Mets in 1969. At 25, he started 39 games, pitched 284 innings, had an ERA of 2.28, struck out 329 batters (leading all of baseball) and throwing nine shutouts.

The downside was leading the majors in walks with 157 free passes.

In 1973 he set the all time single season record with 383 strikeouts in a season. He came in second in the Cy Young voting.

He was the face of the franchise, ironically replacing the man for whom he was traded.

His 40.2 Wins Above Replacement are the second most by an Angels pitcher. His 138 Wins are too. His 3.07 ERA ranks fourth lowest for an Angels pitcher and his 6.27 Hits Per 9 IP ranks second best as well. Those 2,416 strikeouts as an Angel are the most by any pitcher in franchise history as are the amazing 156 complete games and 40 shutouts.

So there was a time when Nolan's feats would have easily made him the greatest Angel of all time. And his unceremonious departure only makes the front office look terrible. When asked how Ryan could be replaced, the infantile general manager Buzzie Bavasi said that the 16-14 record Ryan delivered in 1979 would simply require two 8-7 pitchers. Ryan went on to be a world class pitcher for fifteen more seasons with the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. If all of his gaudy numbers have only been partially matched and bettered in the 35 seasons since he left, his status as an all-time Halo has suffered simply by the prominent role he has played in pitching elsewhere and in running the rival Rangers franchise, hence his being ranked #8 all time.

A generation of Angels fans marveled at his mastery but, through no fault of his own with no malice in his heart, he instilled the same spectacular superhuman hope elsewhere and he entered Cooperstown wearing a Rangers cap despite a majority of his significant pitching accomplishments occurring while he wore an Angels cap. He was a great Angel but he is not thought of as an Angel when his name is mentioned. It takes a lot to climb this list but it takes even a little more to climb its highest peaks.

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