Nolan Ryan was my favorite baseball player growing up.
It was at the tail-end of his career when he played with the Texas Rangers and thanks to his longevity and dominance, he was smashing his way through the record books – and doing it over the age of 40.
His most attention-getting records are the more than 5,700 strikeouts and an astonishing seven no-hitters, but there was also a mystique about him with his Texas drawl and his cool, imposing demeanor that made him seem more like a gunfighter out of a Saturday matinee than a major league pitcher.
Needless to say, the documentary “Facing Nolan,” which traces Ryan’s life and career, was more than relevant to my interests.
The film starts with his humble beginnings as a small-town kid with a strong arm growing up in Alvin, Texas. Ryan married his high-school sweetheart Ruth, a driven and competitive woman who stood in contrast to Ryan’s laid-back, off-field personality.
But it was Ruth who proved to be as critical to Ryan’s success as anyone, as she encouraged him through the downturns in his career, all while raising their three children.
Ryan began his professional baseball life with the New York Mets in 1966 and even though he was a part of the team that won the 1969 World Series, Ryan was inconsistent and had very little personal success.
It wasn’t until he was traded to the California Angels in 1972 that he began to develop into the Hall-of-Fame caliber pitcher he is known as today. It was in California where he through four of his no-hitters and set the modern-era single season strikeout record at 383.
In 1980, he signed with the Houston Astros and became the first professional athlete to have a $1 million salary. Back in his home state, Ryan became the face of the franchise and continued to rack up his eye-popping statistics.
But it was his years with the Rangers where he became a legend. At the end of his career from 1989 to 1993 he threw two more no-hitters, passed 5,000 strikeouts and famously beat up Robin Ventura who charged the mound after getting hit by a pitch.
Much like Ryan himself, “Facing Nolan” is fairly direct and to the point. There’s not much sizzle as the filmmakers let the highlights and statistics speak for themselves. The quality of the interviewees strengthens the film as well, as they include, Ryan and his family, his teammates and all-star contemporaries like George Brett, Pete Rose, Dave Winfield and Rod Carew. There’s even an appearance by former president George W. Bush who was owner of the Rangers during Ryan’s time there.
While “Facing Nolan” didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, it did validate and solidify my boyhood fandom of one of the most impressive men to play the game of baseball.
“Facing Nolan” is not rated, but features some adult language.