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Posts Tagged ‘Nolan Ryan’

Toward the end of Friday afternoon’s edition of the Michael Kay radio show, which was being co-hosted by Don La Greca and Bill Daughtry, the conversation shifted toward the favorite myth of the middle-aged sports media (and many older fans): baseball’s decline in popularity.

Lincecum Meets the Mets on May 4 at Citifield (Photo: AP)

Every objective piece of statistical evidence suggests that baseball is more popular now than it has ever been. From attendance to revenue to local RSN television ratings, more people are enjoying the national pastime than ever before. However, that didn’t stop La Greca and Daughtry from lamenting about waning interest in the game.

As evidence for their opinion, the hosts pointed to the attendance for Tim Lincecum’s recent start at Citifield. Before the game, the Mets were averaging 27,022 fans per game, but 29,333 poured through the turnstiles to see the Wednesday evening game against the Giants. Considering the persistent rain that fell earlier in the day, a 9% increase seemed like a solid boost, but La Greca and Daughtry were not impressed.

Back in the good old days, the hosts fondly recalled, a marquee name like Lincecum would have created such a buzz in the city that fans would have flocked to Shea to watch him, even during the franchise’s darkest days in the late-1970s and early-1980s. The relatively tepid response to Lincecum, La Greca and Daughtry argued, was further evidence that baseball no longer resonated like it once did.

There are two obvious counters to that argument. The first is the proliferation of baseball games on television has removed the urgency to see star players when they come to town. If a fan in New York wants to watch to Lincecum pitch, he can catch every single start on television or over the internet. What’s more, because of the advancements in technology, the best place to actually observe Lincecum’s pitching style is from the living room couch, not the ballpark.

Another fact neglected by this argument is the precipitous increase in baseball attendance versus 30 years ago. If the Mets maintain their average attendance, the number of people watching baseball in Flushing will be two to three times greater than at any point between 1977 and 1983. What’s more, the average attendance would also be higher than the one recorded by the 1969 championship team.

Even if you acknowledge baseball’s unprecedented popularity, La Greca’s and Daughtry’s point could still be valid. Regardless of the reason, it’s certainly possible that big names no longer serve as drawing cards. Verifying that claim would take mountains of research, but it isn’t that difficult to analyze the specific suggestion that Shea Stadium used to fill up for legendary mound opponents.

In order to test the veracity of this claim, games between 1974 and 1984 were considered (all years in which the Mets’ attendance lagged). Then, a list of 14 Hall of Fame pitchers active in the National League during that period was pared down to four indisputable legends: Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, and Bob Gibson. Finally, the attendance at Shea Stadium for every game started by that quartet was compared to the season average. The results of that comparison are presented in the graphs below (click to make larger).

Drawing Cards: A Look at Shea Stadium Attendance for Select Legends, 1974-1984

Note: Blue area represents actual game attendance; orange outline represents season average.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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In addition to seven no hitters, Nolan Ryan also threw 12 one hitters.

Anibal Sanchez came within three outs of pitching his second no hitter, but his attempt at history was thwarted by Dexter Fowler’s leadoff single in the ninth inning.

Had Sanchez been able to seal the deal in the final frame, he would have become only the 24th pitcher in major league history to record multiple no-hitters.  All was not lost, however. By completing the game without surrendering another safety, Sanchez became only the 77th pitcher since 1919 to surrender no more than one hit in at least three complete games (and of that group, only 46 pitchers, including Sanchez, have thrown a no hitter). Although not exactly exclusive, the Marlins’ right hander still finds himself in rather select company.

When it comes to multiple no hitters, Nolan Ryan is usually the first name that comes to mind. In his long career, the Ryan Express threw an astounding seven hitless games, including at least one in three different decades and for three different teams. What almost seems more impressive, however, is he also had 12 near misses. In total, Ryan threw 19 complete games in which he surrendered one hit or less. Only Bob Feller, who had 14 such games, is within earshot of that remarkable accomplishment.

A lot of great pitchers have never thrown a no hitter (or even a one hitter for that matter), but of that group, no one came closer more often than Steve Carlton. During his career, Lefty had six one hitters, a total surpassed by only three other pitchers since 1919. At least Carlton was spared too much anguish in those games because on all six occasions, he never carried a no hitter past one out into the seventh inning.

Low Hit Leaders, Since 1919

Player Total 1 hitter No hitter
Nolan Ryan 19 12 7
Bob Feller 14 11 3
Jim Maloney 7 5 2
Virgil Trucks 6 4 2
Dave Stieb 6 5 1
Tom Seaver 6 5 1
Jim Palmer 6 5 1
Sandy Koufax 6 2 4
Randy Johnson 6 4 2
Steve Carlton 6 6 0
Bert Blyleven 6 5 1

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

You don’t mess with Nolan Ryan, at least not in Texas. Today, former Rangers’ managing partner and CEO Chuck Greenberg learned that lesson the hard way.

I have great respect for the Texas Rangers franchise and am enormously proud of all we have accomplished together since August. Unfortunately, Nolan Ryan, the co-chairmen and I have somewhat different styles. While I am disappointed we did not work through our differences, I remain wholeheartedly committed to doing what’s right for the franchise.” – Chuck Greenberg, quoted by MLB.com, March 11, 2011

A showdown with Nolan Ryan prompted Chuck Greenberg’s resignation as CEO of the Texas Rangers.

Less than one year ago, Greenberg was an instrumental figure in the long, drawn out and often messy process that resulted in the sale of the Texas Rangers from the Hicks Sports Group to Rangers Baseball Express. Although Greenberg was the leading figure throughout the initial sale process and subsequent bankruptcy court-ordered auction, the name of the ownership group he put together pretty much said everything about where the future of the franchise was headed.

The initial plan was to have Nolan Ryan (the Express) focus on baseball operations, while Greenberg took care of the business side. At first, that formula seemed to be working well. In the couple of months they ran the team together, Greenberg scored a number of business successes, including a new lucrative cable TV contract, while Ryan oversaw a roster reconstruction that culminated in the franchise’s first trip to the World Series. Soon thereafter, however, it seems as if egos got in the way and the partnership fell apart.

According to an MLB.com report, the first sign of friction occurred when Greenberg injected himself into the team’s pursuit of Cliff Lee. Unhappy with the blurring the lines of their division of power, Ryan reportedly objected to Greenberg’s increased profile on the baseball side of operations, and that dispute resulted in the latter’s resignation.

Greenberg’s decision reportedly comes after weeks of attempted mediation. After that process failed, it seems as if Ryan laid down an ultimatum, thereby forcing the team’s two largest investors, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, to make a choice. Davis is from Dallas and Simpson is from Ft. Worth. Needless to say, the New Jersey-born Greenberg probably didn’t stand a chance. If there was only going to be room for one sheriff on the Rangers, you can bet it wasn’t going to be the east coast lawyer.

Whether or not he was treated fairly, Yankees’ fans aren’t likely to have sympathy for Greenberg. After all, when he wasn’t criticizing the denizens of Yankee Stadium for being uncivilized, he was exulting in the role he played steering Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. It remains to be seen if those high-profile incidents contributed to Greenberg’s demise, but many in New York will undoubtedly enjoy the karma.

Greenberg and Ryan are going separate ways after attempts to reconcile their differences failed.

The friction between Ryan and Greenberg really isn’t that unique. In fact, a very similar situation occurred when George M. Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees from CBS back in 1973.

When the Yankees’ sale was made official on January 4, 1973, the AP headline read “Burke Heads Syndicate Buying New York Yankees”. Burke referred to Michael Burke, who served as Yankees President when the team was owned by CBS. At the time of the sale, Burke’s role as matchmaker between Steinbrenner and CBS head William Paley was vital. Some have even argued that Steinbrenner would not have been able to buy the Yankees without his intervention. This claim is supported by a story from Bill Madden’s recent book, “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball”, in which Paley cited Burke’s continuation with the team as an important consideration of the deal.

“Mr. Paley. I can assure you we wouldn’t want to it any other way…I won’t have much time for baseball, so Mike’ll have to carry the load…He’s Mr. Yankee, and that’s a helluva asset for us”. – George M. Steinbrenner, quoted in “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball”

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