Note: A Q-and-A with Rob Goldman appears in Sunday’s editions, linked here.
- The book: “Nolan Ryan: The Making of a Pitcher”
- The author: Rob Goldman
- Vital stats: Triumph Books, 320 pages, $26.95
- Find it: At the publishers’ website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com
- The pitch: It’s all there in Chapter 8, respectfully entitled “Buzzie’s Folly: 1979.”
Goldman notes: “Since arriving in California in 1972, Ryan had thrown more than 56,000 pitches and basically re-written the record book for power pitcher. But for all that, the Angels had played just one season of .500 ball.”
And Angels GM Buzzie Bavasi helped make that change. The team added Rod Carew and won the AL West before they lost to Baltimore in the playoffs to miss out on their first World Series trip.
Ryan, who started that summer’s All-Star Game in Seattle based on his 12-6 mark and 2.54 ERA, finished the year 16-14 with 223 strike outs and a 3.60 ERA that included a trip to the disabled list with a sore elbow.
Ryan and agent Dick Moss had asked the team for a new contract calling for $550,000 a year or else he’d become a free agent.
Bavasi’s famous quote: “All I need to replace Ryan is hire two 8-7 pitchers.”
Bavasi said he believed in old-school, wins-and-losses statistics. Yet, he apparently didn’t realize that Ryan’s career win percentage as an Angel was .533, while the team was .481 over the same period. The Angels had averaged 1.95 runs in his 121 losses. He led the league in strike outs seven times, with four no-hitters, five one-hitters, 13 two-hitters and 19 three-hitters.
Sorry to bring that all up again, but it’s Angels history that will never stop hurting.
It caused long-time coach Jimmie Reese to break down and cry.
It hurt Ryan, sure. He wanted to end his career in Anaheim, where it blossomed. But while he and owner Gene Autry let the businessmen work it out, the Houston Astros came up with a four-year, $4 million deal that blew everything away.
“I don’t have any grudges or animosity toward anyone,” Goldman quotes Ryan about that time on page 168. “I’m a believer that everything will work out for the best and it did for me.”
For Goldman’s purpose to write “Making of A Pitcher,” that may be a very telling example that he accomplished what he set out — to explain what made Ryan not just a Hall of Fame player, but a Hall of Fame person.
Goldman, whose did a wonderful job in the 2006 book “Once They Were Angels” (with Ryan on the cover) and also helped Tim Salmon with his 2010 autobiography, set out to find out “what exactly are the attributes that Nolan possessed that made him rise above the competition and become a success on and off the field for so long?”
Authenticity, for one. Empathy, for another.
“He was happiest when he wasn’t the center of the universe,” Goldman also writes.
For the Angels, and many of their young fans, he was front and center, and getting over that 1979 offseason still doesn’t seem doable, considering how Ryan went on to not only throw three more no-hitters and finish out his career in his native state of Texas, but also become a successful businessman and rancher.
Goldman’s five-year process that involved talking to more than 80 people about Ryan doesn’t overlook his own personal story — that of an Angels batboy who witnessed some of Ryan’s greatest on-field moments.
For example: During Ryan’s fourth no-hit game against Baltimore in 1975, Goldman was sent to fetch the smaller, tighter-seamed “X”-marked balls that Ryan had set aside because he liked them better from the batch of inconsistent balls that AL teams used that year from the Rawlings company in Haiti.
And afterward, Goldman gathered four balls so that they could be marked with large “0” on them to signify Ryan’s career achievement for the photographers.
Goldman’s relationship with Ryan over the years gives him access to much more than most authors could provide, yet it doesn’t seem to taint the pursuit of what Goldman is trying to achieve.
To his credit, Goldman also circled back to see if Bavasi wanted to add some perspective of his comment about why letting Ryan go set fine with him.
“I’m not going to comment on anything,” said Bavasi, who died in 2008. “Something this outrageous I wouldn’t dignify with a comment. I’d like to do it in (Ryan’s) face, though, not in the press, the way some people do things. He’s go this money. What does he want?”
Ryan really doesn’t want anything, apparently. He did OK for himself. And, thanks to Goldman’s book, we understand why a whole lot better.
- More to know:
== “Throwing Heat: The Autobiography of Nolan Ryan,” from 1990
== “Nolan Ryan’s Pitchers Bible” from 1991
== “Miracle Man: Nolan Ryan” from 1992
== “Nolan Ryan: The Road to Cooperstown” from 1999
== “The Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes from a Texas Kitchen” from 2014
== Goodman has book signings coming up at Barnes & Noble in Costa Mesa (May 24) and Orange (June 7)