Some of the greatest pitchers in baseball have never thrown one. It has become one of the true definitions of perfection amongst those that take the mound. Nine innings, 27 outs, no hits. Looking at that line, it doesn’t even sound simple. But Nolan Ryan sure made it look easy seven different times.
We have all seen the drill. A pitcher gets to the seventh inning and no opposing batter has been able to hit a ball that found some space. The crowd starts to sense it, and his teammates start giving him space in the dugout. Three outs are recorded in both the seventh and eighth.
Now ESPN gets involved. They cut from their current program to show the ninth inning. The local broadcasts don’t go to commercial, letting the fans at home hear the ovation. The simple rock and fire motion becomes tighter. As any pitcher that has thrown one, or even come close to throwing one, will tell you, those last three outs are the hardest to get.
Some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history have never experienced this seeming perfection. Sure-fire Hall-of-Fame pitchers Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez were no-hitters waiting to happen every five days. Yet, these two do not have one between them. Steve Carlton, one of the greatest of all time, and Don Sutton, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher, never threw one either.
Four entire teams have never had one thrown in the history of their franchises. The Mets, Padres, Rockies, and Rays have nothing to show in that category. The Mets have 23 complete-game one-hitters, but not a no-no. The Padres have 16 of those.
And that is what makes this feat of Ryan’s so remarkable. It’s not that he threw one. Plenty of pitchers, good and bad, have done that. But he was able to repeat this perfection six more times. Ryan is one of the few pitchers that made fans think they could see one every time he toed the rubber.
He was a strikeout pitcher with a 100-mph fastball. And, there is no doubt that helped him. Ryan was able to reach back for that type of speed when it wasn’t even close to common across baseball. And the guns were not juiced to make crowds react. He struck fear into the hearts of hitters, because he not only set strikeout records, but also led the league in batters hit on several occasions. It made him that much more effective.
Ryan threw no-hitters in three different decades against seven different teams. In 1973, he threw two in one season. His final effort came at the age of 44, against Toronto. Even at an age when most pitchers are retiring, Ryan was still throwing 95-mph. Adding to his legend; he allowed four hits or less 96 different times.
We likely will never see the likes of Nolan Ryan again. There may be pitchers that are as dominant, if not more. But with the advent of pitch counts and inning limits, it is highly unlikely that we will see a pitcher come close to seven no-hitters. Offenses are getting much better, hitters are getting bigger, and ballparks are getting smaller. The combination of these items makes it harder and harder on pitchers.
Some may argue that his strikeout total is more impressive, and is even less likely to be broken. That could very well be. And it would likely be because of the exact same reasons.
But while it takes a special pitcher to have the longevity and the ability to register as many strikeouts, it takes something beyond that to record a no-hitter. As good as a pitcher needs to be, he still needs his offense to perform and his defense to be stellar. It often takes one good play to save a no-hitter, but it can be wrecked with one bloop hit or swinging bunt.
It’s not a record that garners much attention. But just ask some of the best in the game how hard it is to throw one. Then multiply that seven times.