Baseball players are not supposed to still be playing when they are 43 years old. Some players like Phil Niekro and Julio Franco were still productive well into their 40s. But the majority of players are retired before they turn 40 and thinking about possibly continuing their career as a coach or manager.
More than any other player, Nolan Ryan debunked the myth that 40-somethings are on the downside of their career. On the night of June 11, 1990, he pitched like a star rookie in the body of a 43-year-old pitcher.
Entering the game with a 25-33 record, Texas sent Ryan to the mound at first place and defending World Series champion Oakland. The Rangers gave Ryan all the support he would need in the first inning. In the top of the first, Franco, who would still be playing well into his 40s, tallied a two-run home run off of Athletics starter Scott Sanderson. After catcher John Russell added a solo shot in the second, Franco hit another two-run home run off of Sanderson in the fifth to increase the Rangers lead to 5-0.
Ryan did the rest by shutting down a potent Oakland offense.
In the bottom of the third, Walt Weiss was the first Athletic to reach base after drawing a walk. He stole second with one out, but Ryan retired the next two hitters to end the inning. His most impressive inning was the bottom of the fifth when he only needed 12 pitches to strike out Felix Jose, Dave Henderson and Jamie Quirk.
Ryan recorded his fourth consecutive strikeout and his ninth of the game by fanning Walt Weiss to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Mike Gallego followed with a one-out walk; however, Ryan induced Ricky Henderson to line out to left center field. Willie Randolph followed with a deep fly ball down the right field line, but it was caught by Ruben Sierra.
The 33,436 fans in attendance at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum were buzzing. How could a 43-year old pitcher make one of the best hitting teams in the league look so bad?
Ryan kept things rolling by striking out four straight hitters in the seventh and eighth innings. After Weiss was retired on a foul pop up to third baseman Steve Buchele, Ryan was only three outs away from his mind-boggling sixth career no-hitter.
Ken Phelps pinch-hit for Gallego to lead off the bottom of the ninth and became Ryan’s 14th strikeout victim. Ricky Henderson, who was Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout victim in 1989, followed with a weak ground out that shortstop Jeff Huson collected and fired over to first base in time to retire the speedy leadoff hitter.
Randolph was the last hope for the Athletics, and he jumped ahead in the count, 2-0. On Ryan’s next offering, Randolph lifted a fly ball into the vast foul territory in right field. The ball settled in Sierra’s glove for the final out, and a celebration ensued around Ryan.
At age 43, Ryan became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter. He was also the first pitcher to toss a no-hitter for three teams. Ryan’s first four no-hitters came as a member of the California Angels, and he also pitched a no-hitter for Houston in 1981.
This would be one of seven no-hitters in 1990, however, it would not be Ryan’s last. His seventh and final game with no hits would come one year later in a 3-0 win over Toronto at Arlington Stadium.