On May 15, 1973, California Angel Nolan Ryan strikes out 12 Kansas City Royals and walks three to pitch the first no-hitter of his career. The game was played under protest, as Royals Manager Jack McKeon complained that Ryan wasn’t maintaining contact with the pitching rubber while throwing.
Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr. was born January 31, 1947, in Refugio, Texas and raised in Alvin, 12 miles southeast of Houston. As a high school sophomore, he was scouted by Red Murff of the New York Mets. Ryan’s coach told Murff of the young pitcher’s intimidating fastballs, so powerful they had broken catchers’ bones. Murff was impressed—his report said Ryan had the “best arm I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Nolan joined the Mets in 1968, and was soon a highly regarded fireballer. In what is often pointed to as one of the most short-sighted moves in baseball history, the Mets traded Ryan to the Angels for third baseman Jim Fregosi after the 1971 season. Ryan went 19-16 in 1972, striking out 328 batters. Fregosi hit a disappointing .232 in 1972 then was sold to the Texas Rangers in early July 1973. Meanwhile, Ryan pitched his first no-no on this day in 1973, and then followed it up with a second on July 15 versus the Detroit Tigers in Tiger Stadium. Ryan struck out a total of 383 batters in 1973, setting a new major league record. He went on to throw five more no-hitters in his career, with the last coming on May 1, 1991, when he was 44 years old.
Ryan’s work ethic was the secret to his success. A believer in the theory that pitching power comes from the legs and not the arms, Ryan ran every day and chalked up his consistency and endurance to his strong legs. In 1983, Ryan broke the legendary Walter Johnson’s career strikeout record. He pitched for 27 years in the big leagues, with the Mets, Angels, Astros and Rangers. He struck out 5,714 batters in his career, breaking his own record 2,206 times. He was 324-292 for his career, with a 3.19 career ERA.
Nolan Ryan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.