Nolan Ryan was the meanest, toughest S.O.B. to ever step on a pitching mound. The former MLB pitcher and Baseball Hall of Fame member spent a ridiculous 27 years of his life throwing baseballs for the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, New York Mets and California Angels and still remains the sport’s all-time leader in strikeouts (5,714) and no-hitters (7).
Of course, Ryan didn’t earn the title of Major League Baseball’s greatest pitcher without doing more than just fire fastballs past hitters. There’s the legendary brawl where the 26-year-old Chicago White Sox player Robin Ventura charged the 46-year-old Ryan on the mound and got his face beat in by the old man’s headlock. He also became America’s Pastime’s first million-dollar man in 1979 when the Houston Astros inked him to a four-year, $4.5 million contract that players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper would scoff at nowadays.
“The Ryan Express” ran his fastball up to 100 mph and had a mean streak that instilled fear in opposing hitters. Maybe no instance in his career showcased that hard-nosed mentality than when the eight-time All-Star took a line drive off the bat of Bo Jackson in a 1990 game and finished the game in a blood-soaked jersey.
Nolan Ryan vs. Bo Jackson
It wasn’t quite David versus Goliath. One might call this matchup Goliath versus Goliath.
The Texas Rangers were facing the Kansas City Royals on September 8, 1990, in Arlington Stadium. On the mound for the Rangers was the 43-year-old Ryan, the man who’s hair was beginning to disappear from the top of his head. Ryan threw his sixth no-hitter that season, and the following one he twirled his seventh and final no-hitter at age 44, which is still one of the most remarkable feats in baseball history.
The Royals, meanwhile, boasted a heart-of-the-order consisting of Hall-of-Famer George Brett in the three-hole and Bo Jackson in the cleanup spot. As one might recall, Jackson was the fastest, strongest player maybe baseball has ever seen. The former Auburn running back and Heisman Trophy winner tore the covers off baseballs, pummeled 28 home runs that season and broke bats over his head like it was nothing.
Ryan and Jackson faced each other in the top of the second inning. On the first pitch he saw, Jackson chopped a hard ground ball back at Ryan’s face. The ball trickled away but Ryan was able to pick it up and fire a missile over to first to nab the speedy Jackson for the out.
Then, blood. Lots of blood.
When Ryan returned to the mound, his face and jersey were covered in his own blood. He licked his bloody lip because, well, that’s just who Nolan Ryan was.
Nolan Ryan Finishes Game as Bloody Mess
As fans soon found out, “The Ryan Express” didn’t stop until it reached its destination. Ryan wasn’t coming out of the game, and he made damn sure of that.
Nolan Ryan walked two batters after the Bo Jackson liner, but he finished the second inning following a pop-out and a fly-out. MLB’s all-time strikeout leader went seven strong innings, striking out eight and surrendering just one run before reliever Kenny Rogers took over for him in the eight.
The Rangers won the game on Rafael Palmeiro’s walk-off RBI double in the bottom of the ninth, and they might not have done so without Ryan’s effort. Texas improved to 72-67 with the win but missed the playoffs after finishing 83-79.
Everyone knows about the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura fight, but not many know about this unreal encounter between two of professional sports’ all-time greats.
Now, I wonder where that legendary bloody jersey from that night is? Forget rookie baseball cards. That’s the one I want framed.
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This post was originally published on March 3, 2020.