The Ryan Express

February 6, 2012 by staff 

The Ryan Express, “God gave Nolan the ability to throw a baseball faster than anybody else.” –Phil Garner, former Astros teammate

The recent rant from Joe Morgan regarding radar gun readings while watching Detroit Tigers rookie fireballer Joel Zumaya placed a spotlight on measuring the speed of fastballs and recognizing the fastest of the fastest. It’s a debate for the ages, covering legends Walter Johnson, Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan and continuing to a seeming glut of would-be fastball kings in the game today.

“Who throws the fastest?” and “How fast does he throw?” are questions that undoubtedly date to the origins of the game. Baseball Almanac put together an interesting chronicle of “The Fastest Pitcher in Baseball History.” The article details a variety of tests to measure fastballs over the years, with Johnson’s recorded at 134 feet per second or 91.36 miles per hour. Feller’s 98.6 mph entry was achieved using a speeding motorcycle. But Rapid Robert claimed to have been clocked as high as 107.9 in a 1946 demonstration.

One of the most famous of the fastball documentation events was Nolan Ryan’s official “clocking” at 100.9 MPH in 1974. As the oldest son of George Lederer, the California Angels Director of Public Relations and Promotions, I had an opportunity to play a small role in the event.

As the summer of 1974 wore on, the Angels fell ever deeper into the American League West cellar. Attendance figures were taking a similar dive, as weeknight crowds often fell short of 10,000. What’s a team to do beyond the scheduled bat nights and ball nights?

In this case, the attention was focused on their 27-year-old budding superstar, Nolan Ryan.

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