Facing Nolan is a new documentary on Netflix. It’s an interesting one, and you get to hear Nolan Ryan talk about a lot of subjects, including his time with the New York Mets, something I wanted to hear my entire life. Joe Pignatano, longtime Mets coach explained to me that he was never comfortable in New York. He was a Texas guy and that made sense to me. I stopped blaming the Mets for the trade.
When Nolan Ryan broke the strikeout record in 1973, he didn’t win the Cy Young Award. Jim Palmer did and that was correct. Palmer was 22-9 and Ryan was 21-16. Palmer had a 2.40 ERA compared to Ryan’s 2.87. Ryan set the walk and strikeout record that year but wasn’t as good as Palmer. But there was plenty of bellyaching about that in this documentary. Fun fact, Palmer was second in MVP voting to Reggie Jackson according to baseball reference. Second, for a pitcher, and yet they acted like Ryan was shunned again.
When Ryan was clocked at 100.9 back in the day that was considered as accurate a reading as you could get. They said, “using the more accurate technology of today, that number comes out to 108.1 miles per hour”. How? With what? They never even attempted to explain why this was the case, the audience was just supposed to believe it. Sorry, I didn’t.
In 1974, when Ryan won 22 and struck out 367, there was a guy named Jim “Catfish” Hunter who was 25-12, with an ERA of 2.49 compared to Ryan’s 2.89. Hunter had six shutouts and Ryan had 3. Ryan came in third in the voting and Ferguson Jenkins was second and I believe the writers got that right as well.
It’s easy to say Ryan should have won a Cy Young, but when you look at it, just what year was that going to happen? Ryan was a great pitcher, but as a young kid in my neighborhood, we’d talk about him being a .500 pitcher when wins and losses were valued more.
“The Express” has a great enough history that it doesn’t need to be built up to a point that it’s a bedtime story. He was great. He was never the best pitcher of his era. He was the best strikeout pitcher, and the no-hitters were phenomenal, but there’s more to pitching than that.