It’s Nolan Ryan’s birthday today, so the first order of business is to wish an all-time great a happy 74th.
Yet, on a less pleasant note, when I hear Nolan Ryan’s name I always ask the same question: “Why aren’t more questions asked about Nolan Ryan’s extremely suspicious late career performances?” If we’re going to attribute Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ (among others) late career greatness to PED usage, why does Nolan Ryan (among others) not receive the same scrutiny?
Because Ryan’s post age 40 performance wasn’t “good” – it was staggering.
- He led the league in Ks per 9 innings five seasons in a row from ages 40-44, which he had never done at any other career stretch.
- He led the league in fewest hits per 9 innings four of the five age 40-44 seasons.
- He led the league in total Ks four seasons in a row from ages 40-43.
- He led the league in WHIP in both his age 43 and 44 seasons, after never having accomplished that in any of his previous 23 seasons.
- He led the league in both K/BB ratio and FIP at age 40, never having done either previously.
- He led the league in both ERA and ERA+ at age 40.
- He threw a no-hitter at age 43 and another at age 44.
- At age 44, he posted the best K per 9 and hits per 9 of his career.
Simply put, in a 27 year Hall of Fame career, his best five season stretch came at ages 40-44.
Here’s the important part about which I can’t be clearer: I’m not saying Ryan used PEDs. I’m not saying he did not use PEDs. And more importantly, I don’t care if he did or did not – it won’t affect my opinion of him either personally or as a player.
But if you’re going to question Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ late career performances then you’re being intellectually dishonest by not questioning Ryan’s too. And to be fair, you can replace Ryan’s name above with Carlton Fisk’s, Randy Johnson’s or Mariano Rivera’s and still have pretty much the same article. All of them had very long careers but were at their best in their very late 30s and early 40s and yet none faced scrutiny.
Don’t misunderstand, I don’t like being the defender of all things Bonds and Clemens. But if we’re going to be casting PED stones, particularly when it comes to Hall of Fame discussions, let’s be fair about it.
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