Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Top 50 On Cardboard- #4 Nolan Ryan

My Top 50 On Cardboard 
Nolan Ryan 

1971 Topps Nolan Ryan

Hobby Impact-
I own the rookie card of every player on the Top 50 On Cardboard countdown except Nolan Ryan.  I have waited and waited to find one at the right price, but have not really ever come close to finding one.  I credit Ryan's terrific popularity and outstanding value.  Ryan's career intersected the first decade of my collecting career, his baseball career was already seventeen years old.  Ryan played a total of twenty-seven years and had a pretty big impact on the game on the field and also on cardboard.   By the time I started collecting cards Ryan was already chasing the strikeout record and spent the 1983 season flip-flopping the all-time record with Phillies left-hander Steve Carlton.  He would later pass the magical 5,000 marker which no one else has crossed.  Along the way, Ryan's popularity grew and grew.  He's pretty much a hobby legend and his popularity has remained sky-high since his retirement. 

Nolan Ryan has been retired from baseball for 20 years now and is still a dominating figure in the hobby.  I do not seek out Nolan Ryan cards, but I will trade or buy cards that are under listed in terms of value and flip them around for cards that fit my collection.  Nolan Ryan cards hold great value and always have a market and collectors actively seeking out his cards.  I don't flip all of my good Nolan's though.  He's a player worth having a few good of in your collection.  

I have several nice Nolan Ryan pieces in my collection, but focus on two different types of items.  I started my collection and love for baseball during the second half of Ryan's career, so one simple rule I have created is to sell or trade all the Angels and Mets autographs or relics I pull or land.  I never say Ryan with either of those teams and that's not how I remember him.  Astros and Rangers stuff I am fond of and always consider for addition to my collection.  Specifically, I try to find Astros relics with multiple colors.  Here's one:

2005 Prime Patches Nolan Ryan Jersey

Autographs can be from either the Astros or Rangers, but I prefer them to be one card.  If you are looking for an inexpensive Nolan Ryan autograph I would look at some of the late 90s cards.  I have found several copies of his Donruss Signature autograph for less than $50.  There are some other nice products with Nolan Ryan items that can also go a little lower than expected.  One of my favorite Nolan Ryan autographs is this Bowman's Best:

2001 Bowman's Best Nolan Ryan Autograph 

On The Field-
Nolan Ryan is best known as the strikeout king of Major League Baseball and had some pretty amazing totals some of the years he played.  He had six seasons with more than 300 strikeouts, eight with more than 250, and fifteen with more than 200.  His career total stands at 5,714 which amazing considering that there is nobody with more than 5,000.  The strikeout record is kind of like wins and stolen bases.  Records with big numbers that are going to be really hard to beat.  Ryan played a total of 27 seasons and lead the league in Ks four times after he turned 40 including a 300.

Ryan was a Hall of Fame pitcher, but I think the strikeout totals and benchmark 300 wins gets him a lot higher place at times then what he actually deserves.  Can a Hall of Famer be overrated?  In Ryan's case I vote yes, at times.  Again, the strikeout totals were incredible and I understand the some of the people who argue Ryan would have won more games if he hadn't spent his career playing for the Angels, Astros, and Rangers.  Still there are other ways to measure players beyond just wins and strikeouts.

For example, JAWS rates Nolan Ryan as the 31st best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball history.  That's right behind Tom Glavine in their rankings which would seem to be a good neighborhood and certainly worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown.  Again, I am not arguing that Ryan should not be in the Hall, but here's his standing in comparison with players whose career also intersected some portion of his playing career.

Let's look at the JAWS ratings first:

 I count: Clemens, Seaver, Johnson, Maddux, Gibson, Niekro, Blyleven, Carlton, Perry, Pedro, Fergie, Schilling, and Moose.  I did not count Robin Roberts because their careers intersected by one month.  That places Ryan thirteenth amongst modern pitchers which is probably a lot lower than most people would have in on their lists.  When ranking modern pitchers by WAR, Ryan actually fairs slightly better passing by Curt Schilling on the list, but still ranking behind the other eleven players.

Ryan also has a lot of trouble stacking up against his peers in terms of ERA+.  Remember that an ERA+ of 100 represents an average pitcher.  Ryan's career mark of 112 represents the fact that he was an above average pitcher.  However, it ranks as the lowest amongst his modern peers by a pretty healthy margin.  Glavine is the next lowest on the list with a career mark of 118.  Breaking that number a part a little differently: Ryan had three years where he posted an ERA+ over 130.  Roger Clemens had 16, Randy Johnson 12, Maddux 11, Pedro 11, Schilling 11, Mussina 10, Seaver 10, Bob Gibson 8, Blyleven 8, Carlton 5, and with Niekro 4.

In fact, if you stack up Ryan's career ERA+ up against all starting pitchers all-time Ryan ranks just inside the top 200 right beside Ben Sheets and Orel Hershiser.  Nothing wrong with those two pitchers.  I like both of them.

In review strikeouts are fun and exciting to watch, but.....

and I cannot possibly have a Nolan Ryan post without this gem...

I didn't remember this being that big of a fight, but Gene Lamont restarts the fight after it calms down.  I believe this is the highlight of Gene Lamont's coaching career.

Favorite Card-
I could have put the Nolan Ryan Upper Deck football card here too, but I went with his 1990 Upper Deck 5000th Strikeout card.  I also thought about his 1990 Topps cards which commemorated his strikeout record.  They're all great cards.  I loved this card when I was in seventh grade.  Classic in my collection.  It's also cheap and easy to find.


  1. Love the auto. It's almost luminescent.

  2. Great cards! Nolan Ryan was one of the first baseball players that I remember from when I was a kid. He will always be a favorite!

  3. That autographed card is beautiful. After this post, I'm off to COMC to see who else signed for this set. Oh... and both of those videos are awesome.

  4. Hey Eric, I have a Nolan Ryan 1968 RC. It's not in the greatest condition, but I'd consider a partial cash/trade deal (and I'm local). Let me know...