Nothing anyone could ever say would convince me Nolan Ryan isn’t the greatest starting pitcher in baseball history. Sure, the statistics and achievements tell one side of the story. There are the MLB record seven no-hitters, the unshatterable 5,714 strikeouts, the unbelievable 61 shutouts and inexplicable zero Cy Young awards.
But the eight-time All-Star and Baseball Hall of Fame member was the fiercest competitor to ever step on a mound. The flamethrower pitched in four different decades until he was a balding, 46-year-old. Ryan had no problem fighting, like when he beat Robin Ventura’s face in, or pitching through injury, like when kept flinging fastballs after Bo Jackson bloodied his face.
However, The Ryan Express’s true calling card was his signature 100 MPH fastball. I mean, no one threw the laces off the ball and popped a catcher’s mitt quite like the kid from Refugio, Texas. Paired with that filthy curveball, Ryan’s heater made for a deadly repertoire that left hitters guessing.
Current Major League Baseball fans will claim Aroldis Chapman is the king of velocity after recording a 105 MPH fastball, but if the sport had the technology and radar guns like today I think we’d find Nolan Ryan is more deserving of that title. Plus, Ryan was throwing as hard as he could for nine innings at a time.
Just how fast was Ryan’s fastball, and what in the world did it look like from a batter’s perspective? Hop into the batter’s box if you dare…
How Fast Was Nolan Ryan’s Fastball?
A good fastball is better than any other pitch. There’s no denying it. Hitters have less time to react and therefore less time to decide if it’s going to be a ball or a strike.
Brandon Phillips, the former Cincinnati Reds second baseman who was with the Cleveland Indians at the time, once said a 100 MPH fastball “becomes a golf ball” to hitters.
Bob Feller was dubbed “The Heater from Van Meter” for his four-seamer. Randy Johnson’s heater instilled fear and exploded birds. Walter Johnson, an older name who popularized the fastball, likely threw in the 90 MPH range way back in 1917. Even prolific pitchers like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have been known to light up the radar gun every now and then.
As for Nolan Ryan, the best big league pitcher of his generation turned heads as a rookie for the New York Mets after being drafted out of high school and cemented himself as a Hall of Famer thanks to his lively fastball. Ryan?s first and only World Series ring would come as a New York Met, after defeating Brooks Robinson and the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 Fall Classic.
How fast he threw and whether or not he was the fastest pitcher of all time depends on who you ask, but he was definitely one of the hardest throwers to ever play.
The Game Haus‘s Mark Rivard dug into just how fast The Ryan Express could hurl a ball toward home plate. He found that Ryan was once clocked at 100.9 MPH in the ninth inning (of all innings) of an 11-inning complete game loss against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 20, 1974.
That pitch was measured when the ball was 10 feet in front of home plate, according to Rivard and Sports Illustrated, which means after a small calculations adjustment that Ryan’s fastball was closer to a 108 MPH pitch.
And that may not even be his fastest fastball ever.
Facing Nolan Ryan’s Fastball
Nolan Ryan was a wonder to baseball nerds today. He completed more than 5,000 innings over a span of 27 seasons with the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, New York Mets and California Angels, proving he didn’t need pitch and inning limits to keep his arm intact during Ryan’s career.
At 44, he tossed his seventh no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays in 1991, becoming the oldest pitcher to ever accomplish the feat. The guy could even swing the bat a little, like when kicked off his Houston years by hitting a home run off Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Sutton in 1980.
According to the baseball documentary “Fastball”, Nolan Ryan?s final fastball, which he threw at age 46, was clocked at 98 MPH. Yep, you read that right. The final Nolan Ryan fastball was still an elite heater.
One can only imagine what it would be like to play with Ryan in his prime, let alone carry a bat to the plate and face the fastest pitch in MLB history. It turns out you can. Well, sort of.
In this vintage video on YouTube, a team rigged up a camera behind home plate to get a look at what Nolan Ryan’s heater looks like. I have no idea when this was filmed, but he’s wearing a Rangers uniform so this must be from the late 1980s or early 1990s. Either way, that is definitely The Ryan Express’s wind-up.
How fast do we think that pitch speed is?
Think you could hit a home run against the World Series champ or would you go down swinging like hundreds of others have?
Nolan Ryan was one of the best pitchers and baseball players in the history of America’s Pastime, and stepping in against a guy with a legendary fastball is pretty cool stuff.
This article was originally published April 10, 2020.