Do you think Nolan Ryan used steroids?

This thread is not meant to bash Nolan Ryan. I was a big fan of his when I watched him late in his career; he remains for me one of the greatest power pitchers ever (note the emphasis on the word “power”; I realize he is not among the greatest pitchers of all time). When he was on his game, he was literally unhittable.

However, I wonder if he may have used roids at the end of his career. He was always into working out with weights (well before it was acceptable in baseball, based on fears of getting too muscle bound, Ryan was lifting). One of the books I bought as a teenaged pitcher was from Ryan on fitness. Moreover, Ryan pitched well into his mid 40’s, never seeming to lose any steam on his pitches. Indeed, it could be argued that some of his best years were while in his 40s (his stats are here

So, if we accept that steroids were in baseball by the late 1980’s (given Canseco’s ramblings), do you think that Ryan might have been a user?

Anything is possible, but Ryan’s career predates the known use of steroids in most cases.

Ryan was always a bizarre, unusual player. He was freakish, even when he was young, and trained with weights at a time when maybe 12 guys in all of baseball did. His statistics are unlike anything anyone else has put up. He was never at any time a REALLY great pitcher (except in the shortened 1981 season) because when he was most dominant, he had no control. Absent any evidence he did steroids, it’s just as reasonable to assume he was just a one-of-a-kind player.

He doesn’t rank among the greatest pitchers of all time to me either, he ranks as the greatest pitcher of all time, IMO.

By what measurement?

Originally Posted by MadTheSwine
He doesn’t rank among the greatest pitchers of all time to me either, he ranks as the greatest pitcher of all time, IMO.

By the measurement of “IMO”.

Though ,here are a few stats

5,714 strikeouts-1st all-time,by far.

7 no hitters- 1st all-time,by far.

12 one hitters- tied for 1st all-time

18 two hitters-no idea how this compares to others, but I imagine its up there.

Pretty impressive numbers,and yes there are bad numbers as well,but not to include him among the greatest pitchers of all time is absurd.

I’m not saying he was a bad pitcher. He was very good for a very long time. I just don’t see him as the best.

I’m perfectly happy if this thread veers course into how great Nolan Ryan was. I loved watching him pitch, because his pitches could be so overpowering (his 4 seam fastball really did seem to jump). I put in my caveat to avoid the arguments that he was basically a .500 pitcher.

That, though, is true. It is also true that, until he learned a changeup (apparently, IIRC, from Mario Soto during the 1981 strike), he was just a 2 pitch pitcher - fastball and curve. And if the curve wasn’t getting thrown for strikes, he was just a fastball pitcher (admittedly, an amazing fastball, but throwing just one pitch is eventually going to get you knocked around).

What I find so fascinating about Ryan is how well he “matured” in his last decade in the bigs. Maybe it was just learning how to throw pitches besides the fastball, maybe it was deference to his reputation*, or maybe…steroids, perhaps?

*I once met Randy Bush, who played a decade for the Twins as a reserve outfielder. He was on both World Series teams. At the time I met him, Ryan had just noogied Robin Ventura in a classic mound charging, and I asked Bush what he thought of Ryan. He said that, if Ryan threw a close pitch that wasn’t called a strike, he’d tell the ump “I’ve been getting that call for 20 years.” Invariably, the next pitch would be called for a strike.

He also had an ERA+ of 111, which, among those who are (roughly, in some cases) his peers, is worst than Bob Gibson (127), Tom Seaver (127), Jim Palmer (126), Juan Marichal (123), Gaylord Perry (117), Steve Carlton (115), Ferguson Jenkins (115), and Phil Niekro (115). I really don’t think that either his strikeouts or his no-hitters make up for this.

His WHIP, the true test of a pitchers greatness :slight_smile: , is atrocious.
ETA: atrocious for a “great” pitcher, not for every pitcher in history.

If you were picking a starting rotation with players from his era, would he make it? I think he would have to be in there personally.

Ryan was certainly a good pitcher, but was highly erratic. He allowed more hits (per nine innings) and walks than anyone in baseball, but managed to work around it due to his many strikeouts. He could be unhittable one game, but get pummelled the next. He never won a Cy Young award and most of his records are due to his longevity, not for his ability in any given season.

If you were picking a rotation, you’d go with Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, and Steve Carlton before even thinking about Ryan (Gibson and Marichal were past their prime by the time Ryan was reaching his), and maybe Gaylord Perry would be ahead of him, too. In the right seasons, Catfish Hunter or Fergie Jenkins would have been also way ahead of Ryan.

I saw one rating back in the 70s that put Ryan well behind most of the Hall of Fame pitchers, with his numbers in the negative area. Ryan’s teams at that time did better with other pitchers starting than they did when Ryan was on the mound.

His greatness comes from the strikeouts, no hitters, and longevity, but if you were picking the best pitcher in baseball during any given year of Ryan’s career, he would not be the first person a GM would want.

This question is starting to edge into one of my pet peeves. These days, anyone who is effective into their forties or gains muscle or suddenly raises their level of play is automatically accused of using steroids–almost always without any evidence. If you’re tangled in some Balco-style mess like Bonds and Giambi, fine, accuse away. However it now seems like ballplayers are like accused witches in Puritan times: if you don’t test for steroids, that just means you’re hiding it better. There have always been players who manage to play well later in their careers. Do Gordie Howe, George Blanda, or Satchel Page ring a bell? Some players just have better genetics and better health regimens.

Still, would you be horribly surprised to find he used them to recover from injury, rather than to build muscle? I don’t think I would, provided it was ‘legal at the time’.


Nolan Ryan is a god among pitchers. Is it any wonder that two of the greatest (semi-)active pitchers (Clemens and Randy Johnson) rank him as their idol?

I don’t think he would quite make it, but he would be one hell of a closer. Of course what era Ryan would be considered a part of would be up for considerable debate.

This statement could be construed to mean that he allowed more hits AND allowed more walks than anyone in baseball, which obviously is not true. Few if any pitchers allowed as few hits as Nolan Ryan did, at that time. I assume what you meant to say is that he allowed more hits plus walks than anyone in baseball.

But that isn’t true, either. His WHIP was high for a Hall of Famer, but for an average pitcher wasn’t high at all. If you compare him to ordinary pitchers, like Dick Ruthven or Jim Clancy or whatnot, it’s low. You can’t have a high WHIP for a sustained period and have a good ERA, no matter how many guys you strike out.

Ryan was, like I said, weird. I don’t know why anyone would think he was the greatest pitcher of all time; I always find it hard to believe any semi-informed baseball fan would say something like that. It’s like picking Sam Crawford as the best hitter of all time because he hit so many triples. If Nolan Ryan was the best pitcher of all time why did he never win a Cy Young Award? Why didn’t he lead the league in ERA every other year? Why did he lose almost 300 games? Is 324-292 actually a better record than 349-215 (Greg Maddux)? Justin Bailey, you don’t think Ryan is a better pitcher than Greg Maddux because he struck out more guys, do you? Joe Sewell struck out less than Babe Ruth; was he a better hitter?

On the other hand, let’s not go overboard and say Ryan allowed more baserunners than any other pitcher of his time or crazy stuff like that. He WAS a very good pitcher for a very long time and he’s a deserving Hall of Famer.

Nah, not really. It’s more nostalgia bias than anything. When I was a kid watching baseball in the 80s (and early 90s) there was Nolan Ryan and then there was every other pitcher. I’ve been a Nolan man for a long time.

But you’re right, even just limiting it to modern pitchers, both Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens would have much more claim to “Greatest Pitcher Ever” than Ryan. But there does seem to be a Ryan backlash in recent years (and I’ve heard a few people say he doesn’t belong in the Hall) and I can’t understand why.

While Ryan might not be the greatest ever, he definitely belongs in any mythical “All-Time Greatest Starting Rotation”

Because he was overrated, and all overrated players become underrated as well. They polarize people; look at Derek Jeter. Jeter’s a great player and all but his near-deification has resulted in a lot of people hating him, and saying he’s not as good as he really is.

Same with Ryan. I mean, he wasn’t that highly rated when he was actually playing (or else he would have won some awards) but the strikeout record garnered him an absurd amount of praise. He’s not as great a pitcher as Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver were, but for whatever reason he was a huge post-career icon. People react negatively to that, but then go too far.

Frankly, I’m not well versed on the history of anabolic steroids, and perhaps you can educate me on that line of information. I do know, though, that transplants of monkey and goat testes were touted as cures for impotence in the 50s and 60s. These days, we know that testosterone will assist unusual muscular development, and that today’s athletes can be banned for high levels of testosterone. Roger Maris’s hair was falling out in his year of fame, as you might expect during an overdose of testosterone. I assert there’s a lot we don’t know about how far back the steroid era reached.

Agreed. Although I posed the question in the OP, I don’t actually think Ryan used steroids. However, I was watching Real Sports, and they did a feature on Lenny Dykstra. While he didn’t admit to steroids on camera (in fact, he actually denied it), reporter Bernard Goldberg said that Dykstra told him off camera that he had lied about his denial (in the interest of full disclosure, he then told Goldberg that he was joking about admitting to lying).

So, given my opinion that Dykstra did use steroids, and given that Dykstra played in the early 90’s, I began to think for the first time that the steroid era probably began earlier than I realized. Which got me to thinking about other players of the era, which got me to thinking about Nolan Ryan (who was amazing in that he seemed to improve with age), which got me to posing the question.

For the record, though, I don’t think that the steroid era really did extend back to the 60s, if only because the culture of baseball was so strongly against weight lifting for so long (football, on the other hand, is a different story, and I’ve read accusations that the 70’s Steelers were heavily into steroids). Amphetamines in baseball in the 60’s? Yes. But steroids? I don’t think so.