This Day In Sports: Baseball’s forever strikeout king is crowned

April 27, 1983, 40 years ago today: Nolan Ryan surpasses Walter Johnson’s 56-year-old career strikeout record of 3,509, fanning five in Houston’s 4-2 win over Montreal. At the age of 36, Ryan was in his 16th full season in the majors and, incredibly, still had 10 years to go. He had the longest career of any major leaguer in history, 27 seasons, from 1966-93 with the New York Mets, California Angels, Astros and Texas Rangers. Ryan’s all-time strikeout record would end up at 5,714.

The famed flamethrower was the first hurler to consistently top 100 miles per hour. And he was still hitting the upper 90s at the end of his career. Six times Ryan recorded more than 300 strikeouts in a season—another one of the 51 MLB records he holds (the last time he did it was in 1989 at the age of 42). Other “K” standards include 15 200-strikeout seasons, four career 19+ strikeout games and 16 career 16+ strikeout games. He always fanned batters at an amazing clip. Ryan, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Trevor Hoffman and Sandy Koufax are the only Hall of Famers who had more strikeouts than innings pitched in their careers.

The Hall of Fame righthander won 324 games and threw seven no-hitters, also the most in history, with the last one coming at the age of 44 in 1991. He also tossed 12 one-hitters, tied for the most in history with the legendary Bob Feller. Amazingly, Ryan never won the Cy Young Award. And he earned his only World Series ring at the age of 22, when he was a reliever and spot-starter for the 1969 Miracle Mets.

I can’t see Ryan’s record ever being broken. For one thing, no future pitcher is ever going to last as long as he did. In second place is the great Randy Johnson, and he trails Ryan by 839 strikeouts. The active leaders right now are Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, and they’re more than 2,500 behind. As for Walter Johnson, who was once a semipro pitcher in Weiser before being signed by the Washington Senators in 1907, he amassed his total in 21 seasons. But he made 802 career appearances, just five fewer than Ryan.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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