Facing Nolan is a by-the-books documentary about Nolan Ryan, baseball’s strikeout king and the most dominating pitcher to ever play the game.
Nolan Ryan still owns 51 Major League Baseball records almost thirty years following his retirement from baseball in 1993. Unbelievable, right? Perhaps what is the most surprising thing about Ryan’s records is the lack of a single Cy Young Award to his name. It’s something that comes up during the film. Even during the season in which he set a new single season strikeout record, he finished second in AL voting to Jim Palmer. There were only six seasons in which Ryan finished as a top-5 pitchers in the voting. Feel free to check out his career stats for yourself.
As a pitcher, Nolan didn’t begin to come into his prime until after the New York Mets traded him to the California Angels. Listen, he’s a Texas kid at heart and New York just didn’t offer the right environment. The Angels offered a pitching coach that would basically turn him into the Ryan Express. If you’re a baseball fan, I’m not telling you anything you do not already know. Of course, we know what happens next. Ryan becomes the first million-dollar player in any sport by signing with the Houston Astros. The Astros would end up letting him go in the 1980s and while others came calling, he signed with the Texas Rangers. It’s with the Rangers where Ryan would finish his career in 1993. His records of 5,714 strikeouts and 7 no-hitters are unlikely to ever be broken.
The documentary isn’t groundbreaking although it offers the definitive word on Ryan’s life and career. We get to learn about Nolan’s family life and how much Ruth meant to both Nolan and his career. There were times when he thought of quitting, especially while struggling with the Mets. Unlike Major League players these days, you had to work during the offseason when Ryan was coming him. During those months, he was working the ranch in Texas. He’s still a rancher today. Friends, teammates, managers, coaches, and announcers also chime in with their thoughts on Nolan Ryan. As do quite a few opponents who faced him during their time in the game. Family members, too. One person who is not in the film is Robin Ventura. What’s surprising today is that Ryan did not get ejected from the game.
Memorable highlights in the film include the no-hitters. This also includes the time when Norm Cash pranked both Nolan and the umpire by carrying a clubhouse table leg instead of a baseball bat. Forced to get a bat, Cash would pop out and end the game. We also get the highlights leading up to Ryan striking out Rickey Henderson for his 5000th career strikeout. There’s also Ryan’s first career home run and discussions of his .110 batting average. The first homer in his career came during his first season with the Houston Astros. Pitchers don’t always make the best hitters and the same goes for position players as pitchers (see Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina in May 2022). George Brett is on hand to talk about the time Bo Jackson hit a grounder and split Nolan’s lip.
After appearing on 491 of 497 ballots, Nolan Ryan will forever live in baseball immortality as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Ryan joined George Brett, Robin Yount, Orlando Cepeda, Joe Williams, Frank Selee, and Nestor Chylak as members of the Class of 1999. While Cepeda was the only living Veterans inductee, Ryan, Brett, and Yount were voted in by the writers.
There’s some people out there who will argue that Nolan Ryan isn’t one of the best players of all time. I beg to differ with them–of course, Nolan’s career was coming to an end just as I was beginning to get into baseball as a sport. Look at his strikeouts during his final years as a ballplayer. He was averaging over 10 strikeouts a game! There’s an argument to be made about 2,975 walks he gave up –the next closest player is Steve Carlton with 1833. The game is not the same as it used to be. Players like Ryan or Bob Gibson would not go as deep as they did in their era. Today’s pitch counts just would not allow it. When you look at how deep Ryan would go in a game, it makes sense to have the most in a lot of stats, for better or worse.
It is safe to say that there will never be another player who touches Nolan Ryan’s greatness.
I’ll let Randy Johnson have the last word:
“There’s been pitchers that have won more than him, that have a better ERA than him. But in the history of baseball, he was the most dominating pitcher that the game has ever seen.”
DIRECTOR: Bradley Jackson
FEATURING: Nolan Ryan, Ruth Ryan, Reid Ryan, President George W. Bush, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Rod Carew, Dave Winfield, Craig Biggio, George Brett, Roger Clemens, Pete Rose
Fathom Events will screen Facing Nolan in theaters for one night only on May 24, 2022. Grade: 4/5
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