Ryan Howard and the 2010 MLB All-Ryan Team
Here's a little baseball trivia for you: how many major league baseball players with the first name of "Ryan" have there been in baseball history?
The answer is 45.
Here's another one: how many of those players played before 1990?
The answer is one: Ryan Kurosaki.
What's going on here? Has the overall popularity of the name "Ryan" spiked in the last 30 years? Are teams more likely to sign guys named Ryan? What's the deal?
We have a theory: a whole generation of children born during Nolan Ryan's hey-day have been named after the Ryan Express by baseball-crazy fathers, and those same baseball-crazy fathers have also raised their sons to be ballplayers.
Crazy? Perhaps. But the evidence, albeit circumstantial, is there.
For example, let's take a look that the 2010 All-Ryan All Star Team.
Catcher: Ryan Doumit, Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit was born at the beginning of the 1981 baseball season in Washington state, so there isn't a whole lot of connection to the Ryan Express, who was starting his second season with the Houston Astros.
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati Reds
Whereas Nolan Ryan was one of the most feared pitchers in baseball, and had one of the best fastballs in baseball history, Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan has the privilege of catching some of the best fastballs in the majors today from Aroldis Chapman.
First Base: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies' mighty first baseman was born in November, following the 1979 baseball season during which Nolan Ryan led the AL in strikeouts for the seventh time in eight years. Howard was born in St. Louis, where his family probably didn't see too much of the Ryan Express.
Nevertheless, Nolan and Howard have lots in common: every year, Howard, like Nolan, is at or near the top of the league in strikeouts.
Second Base: Ryan Raburn, Detroit Tigers
We come up a bit short with infielders named Ryan in the 2010 season; thus, Ryan Raburn—who has 55 career games at second base in four seasons—slides to second to fill the gap.
Could Ryan Raburn have been named after Nolan Ryan?
He was born in April of 1981 in Tampa, Florida, just after Nolan's first year with the Astros. Who knows?
Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman is probably the best overall player on this team.
Born in 1984 in North Carolina, there can be no doubt that he was born at a time when Nolan Ryan had become a household name all over the southern United States, if not the United States as a whole.
Shortstop: Ryan Theriot, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ryan Stewart Theriot was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in December of 1979.
During the 1979 season, Nolan Ryan had just led the AL in strikeouts for the seventh time in eight years, and, just a month before Theriot was born, Nolan signed one of the richest free agent deals in baseball history to that point to join the Houston Astros, who played just down Interstate 10 from Baton Rouge.
Left Field: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun was born in November following the 1983 baseball season in Mission Hills, California, which is just up the road from Los Angeles, where Nolan Ryan had been an All-Star for the decade of the 1970s.
During the 1983 season, Ryan and Steve Carlton jockeyed back and forth for the lead in career strikeouts. By then, Nolan was surely a household name around the country, and especially in southern California.
Center Field: Ryan Spilborghs, Colorado Rockies
Ryan Spilborghs was born in September of 1979 in Santa Barbara, California, as Ryan was wrapping up a decade of dominance with the Angels.
We can't say for sure if he was named after Nolan Ryan, but we can say that even if he wasn't, his parents probably got asked that by a lot of people.
Right Field: Ryan Ludwick, San Diego Padres
Born in July of 1978 in Satellite Beach, Florida—which is just up the road from spring training meccas Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach—baseball could certainly have been on the minds of Ludwick's parents when they chose to name him Ryan.
Starting Pitcher: Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs
His full name is Ryan Scott Dempster, which would be a great name for a guy born in Houston in the mid-to-late 1980s.
However, Dempster was born in Canada in 1977, so the link to the Ryan Express is minimal.
Which is ironic, because of all the players named Ryan in baseball history, he is the one whose game most closely approximates that of the Express.
Relief Pitcher: Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies
Born in August of 1980 in Long Beach, California. Not hard to believe that Madson may have been named as a tribute to the recently departed Ryan Express by Angels fans.
Closer: Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals
Born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1973, he probably would have had to have been related to Nolan Ryan in order to be named after Nolan Ryan.