Nolan Ryan and the Toughest Texas Rangers of All Time
Few fans of the Texas Rangers can forget when Robin Ventura made the mistake of charging the mound while Nolan Ryan was on it.
Rangers fans born after the incident have no doubt heard countless stories, seen limitless photographs and even watched some video of Nolan Ryan giving Robin Ventura a good old fashioned Texas beat-down.
Nolan Ryan is a true Texas Legend. He personifies a living definition of what toughness is all about. Ryan first took to a Major League mound at the tender age of 19. He threw his final pitch—with a partially torn rotator cuff—at the not-so-tender age of 46.
Although Ryan certainly deserves his many accolades, especially those in regards to his toughness, he isn't the only Texas Ranger that deserves recognition for his gritty resolve.
"Toughness" and what it entails is highly subjective, as is this list. The following is by no means a comprehensive look into all of the toughest players in the history of the Texas Rangers. However, it does paint a picture of a few Rangers that deserve acclaim for their firmness in fortitude.
Toughest Texas Rangers of All Time—No. 6: Charlie Hough
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of going to Arlington Stadium to take in a Texas Rangers game.
The majority of those mid-80s "V-ball" Rangers teams—so dubbed due to their manager, Bobby Valentine—were far north of bad and just south of god-awful.
There were some real quirky characters on those teams. Charlie Hough always comes to mind.
Charlie Hough was "old-school" during a time that we now consider to be "old-school". In many ways, Hough was a pioneer of retro-toughness.
You needn't see only his knuckle balls fluttering to and fro to know that Hough was on the hill. You could also tell by observing the Rangers' dugout in between innings. Plumes of smoke wafted into the Arlington air, and all of it came from Hough hot-boxing cigarettes in a fusion of nerves and nicotine addiction.
Don't let his sub-80 MPH pitches fool you either—Charlie Hough was as tough as nails. Hough was a grinder, as he is still the Rangers' team leader in games started (313), innings pitched (2,308), and complete games (98).
Of special note: Charlie Hough is the Texas Rangers' strikeout leader, with 1,452. He also is the team leader in home runs allowed with 238—can't win 'em all, Charlie.
Toughest Texas Rangers of All Time—No. 5: Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers, over his 20-year career, was a four-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner. Rogers also won 210 big league games and struck out 1,968 batters. Not bad for a former outfielder.
A fierce competitor—sometimes a tad too tempestuous—Rogers always demanded the best out of his teammates and himself as well.
Kenny Rogers is the Texas Rangers' all time record holder in games played by a pitcher, with 528.
And although his little cameraman shoving "incident" back in '03 might have tarnished his credibility just a tad, it didn't damage him too much in the long run.
Kenny Rogers was enshrined in the Texas Rangers' Hall of Fame last weekend.
Toughest Texas Rangers of All Time—No. 4: Rafael Palmeiro
Rafael Palmeiro would easily be a first-ballot Hall of Famer had it not been for that teeny-weeny little "steroid" thing.
Regardless, I don't feel that steroids take away from anyone's "toughness". It doesn't shrink anyone's backbone (although it may shrink something else). Palmeiro certainly did wreck our collective images of what a steroid user "looked like."
Palmeiro's numbers are absolutely astounding. Palmeiro slugged 569 home runs and had 3,020 hits.
But it was that one over-confident finger jab—"I never took steroids..."—that may just be his lasting legacy.
Too bad too, because Palmeiro wasn't just one of the best Rangers of all time, but one of the toughest as well.
Palmeiro holds the Rangers' record for most times hit-by-a-pitch, with 54. And Palmeiro wasn't the type to wear the Barry Bonds-esque elbow pads to protect himself from the pain of the pitch. Palmeiro was a throw-back tough guy.
Toughest Texas Rangers of All Time—No. 3: Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez may have had a little bit of help from the same "vitamin" supply that so aided Palmeiro. But, you know what? What truly defines Pudge as tough was not so much his hitting accomplishments, but his tenure behind the dish.
Considered by most to be the most physically—as well as mentally—grueling position on the baseball diamond, they don't call a catcher's gear the "tools of ignorance" for nothing.
On 1,507 occasions Pudge Rodriguez suited up and played a game as a Texas Ranger. Barring rare occasions, he played the majority of those games at catcher.
Feared for a strong arm and quick feet, Pudge wouldn't hesitate to throw to second, first, or even third to attempt to catch a napping runner with a little too much light between him and the bag.
Over his career, Pudge won as many Gold Gloves for his excellence behind the plate as HOFer Ozzie Smith did at shortstop (13).
And just to think, Pudge Rodriguez is still playing, for the Washington Nationals—at age 39, and in his 20th big league season nonetheless.
Toughest Texas Rangers of All Time—No. 2: Michael Young
When Alex Rodriguez was traded to New York and incoming second baseman Alfonso Soriano was unwilling to give up his spot, Young moved to shortstop. Despite a few that were critical of his range at the position, Young succeeded at shortstop and won a Gold Glove there following the 2008 season.
The very next season Young was supplanted from short to play third base. He made for an apt replacement of often-injured Hank Blalock, while dazzling young shortstop Elvis Andrus burst onto the scene.
Prior to this season, Young was once again asked to move, this time into the role of designated hitter and "super" utility man.
With an injury to Beltre, the depth of having Young able to slide into the hot corner, has been a key that has helped keep the Rangers in first place without the Gold Glove-caliber play of Beltre.
Young's own particular style of "toughness" is characterized by his ability to rise above and beyond any challenge and succeed. He's known for his clutch hits and cool demeanor as not just the Rangers' team leader, but also as the "Face of the Franchise."
The Toughest Texas Ranger of All Time—Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan is many things. He's the all time leader in career strikeouts with 5,714. He's a Hall of Famer, inducted into Cooperstown in 1999. He's the CEO and President of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.
Ryan is also one tough son of a gun.
During playing days, Ryan had a reputation for throwing his 100 MPH fastballs up and in on any batter that dared lean over the plate a little more than Ryan found necessary.
When Nolan Ryan plunked you, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you were supposed to take it, and deal with it. Those that didn't—well—just ask Robin Ventura.
Ryan is the career leader for the Texas Rangers in strikeouts per innings pitched (10.06/9 IP).
Nolan Ryan's incredible career is made even more outstanding provided that he pitched in 27 seasons, and he was a power pitcher. From his debut in 1966 at the age of 19, until his final season in 1993 at 46, Nolan Ryan threw the heater in excess of 100 MPH.
Besides, not making Nolan Ryan the toughest Texas Ranger of all time, would be downright, well, un-Texan.