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After several unrewarding swings, Jackson did hit one—on a line into the glove of the Angel leftfielder. Jackson felt he had emerged from the confrontation with a moral victory, for he had at least made solid contact, no inconsiderable achievement when Ryan is in full possession of his "heat."
On a scale of values, what is uppermost in the minds of many batters is not so much to hit the Ryan fastball as to not be hit by it. Ryan feeds off this fear. "Nolan's wildness works to his advantage," says Angel Coach John Roseboro, who in his playing years as a Dodger caught the revered Koufax. "The hitters don't really know where he's gonna be throwing the ball. You don't dig in against him unless you are an imbecile. Koufax had that kind of speed, but he also developed control. He lived on that outside corner. If Nolan learns to pick up the outside part of the plate and retain that fear factor, he'll be unbeatable."
Ryan does not himself live in fear, as Walter Johnson allegedly did, of hitting a batter. "I put those things out of my mind," he says. "Griffin is the only hitter I've seriously hurt. And the next time I faced him he got two hits off me."
Ryan is tall, slender, deceptively strong and certainly one of the handsomest men in sports—a natural-born hero. He is friendly and personable, but probably closer in temperament to the reclusive Koufax and the humble Johnson than to the roistering Dizzys and Dazzys of popular legend. Koufax was, in fact, a boyhood idol of Ryan's. "I lived in Alvin, Texas," Ryan says. "That's about 30 miles from Houston. In junior high and high school we kids would drive up there to see Koufax pitch. He was the king then. I liked him because he was a fastball pitcher and so was I. I could always throw farther and harder than the other kids. Speed always attracts. Fans want home runs out of hitters and strikeouts out of pitchers. Look who people talk about when they talk about pitchers—Koufax, Feller, Johnson."
And now, with good cause, they talk about Nolan Ryan, which is fine with him, for there were times during his four formative years with the New York Mets that he despaired of achieving even minor celebrity.
"I lost confidence in myself, even in my fastball," he admits. "The Mets were always fighting for a pennant. They couldn't afford to let me work out my control problems."
The trade that brought him to the Angels in late 1971 gave him the opportunity to work regularly on a team that could afford to take a chance on a pitcher with such fathomless potential. The results could scarcely be more gratifying.
And yet, pitching more than 300 innings a season and throwing 150 pitches a game, Ryan does not envision a lengthy career.
"I don't look for longevity," he says. "I look for productivity. If I can escape injury, I should be a fastball pitcher for maybe another five years."
If he eases up a bit and resorts more to trickery he can last much longer, or so says that old Koufax teammate, Drysdale, now an Angel announcer.