THIS BASEBALL SEASON, no doubt, will be remembered for Pete
But it also will be recalled as the year Nolan Ryan invaded
America's consciousness. Ryan has labored in the major leagues
since 1966. But isn't it odd that only recently has he been
viewed as a national treasure?
Maybe passing the 5,000-strikeout mark did it. After all,
that means for a future pitcher to threaten the record he
will have to average 250 strikeouts for 20 years! More probably,
though, it's because the Texas Rangers now are attracting
sellout crowds virtually every time he pitches.
One whose career parallelled Ryan's, but ended eight years
ago, is Fred Patek, former Kansas City Royals' shortstop.
When Ryan hit the 5,000 mark in August, researchers chronicled
all those who have had a "K" marked next to their names
in the scorebook by Ryan.
Claudell Washington was No. 1 with 36. Patek was No. 2 at
"I'm proud of every one of 'em," chortles Patek. "I swung
at all of 'em. Hard!"
Patek, who owns and runs six Grandy's restaurants in Kansas
City (with two more scheduled 1990 openings), credits Ryan's
continued success to two things: Fear and incredible physical
The fear factor always has worked for Ryan.
"He always had the reputation of being just wild enough,"
says Patek. "You never wanted to step up there and dig
in. Late in the season, though, you had to buckle up your
belt and just say, `He's going to have to throw it through
me to get me out.' You couldn't be scared in the pennant
stretch. But the fear was always there. It's still a factor."
As for Ryan's ability to maintain his fastball long past
where others had retired to easy chairs, Patek says:
"I was watching him pitch on TV the other night and I told
my wife, `Look at that guy. He's just phenomenal. He's 42
and still throwing it 90 to 95 miles an hour.'
"And he'll come back and do it again next year. He's better
now than he ever was. He's got a changeup now. And that
really makes him nasty."
Patek's memories of Ryan are as a Royal, even though he
also faced Ryan in the National League when he started in
Pittsburgh. He later played with Ryan for the California
Angels in 1979 before Ryan took his heater back to the National
League in Houston.
"One game I'll never forget, he struck me out four times,"
says Patek. "And everytime I went back, (Amos) Otis, (John)
Mayberry and (Hal) McRae were all over me. They were all
falling down laughing in the dugout."
Otis didn't have much reason to poke fun. He struck out
27 times against Ryan (No. 4 career-wise), but late in his
career developed something of a feud with the flame-thrower.
Earlier, though, Otis was one of many who began grabbing
for a sore hamstring as soon as Ryan got off the airplane.
Manager Whitey Herzog often "rested" Otis on days when
Ryan was scheduled to pitch.
Patek says he never was accorded that privilege.
"My problem, during those years, was I had no backup. Whitey
couldn't take me out. Otherwise, he'd have gotten me out
of the lineup, too, I'm sure."
Patek finished his career with a .242 lifetime batting average,
but he's remembered as a slick fielder with a cannon for
a throwing arm, a major plus for the Royals when they moved
onto artificial turf in 1973. Patek never made much money
- he started at $7,000 with the Pirates in 1968 - until
signing a three-year contract with the Angels in 1979-80-81.
The silliest business decision he made was including a $50,000
incentive clause if he played 100 games in 1980. The Angels,
picked to win the division, fell out of contention early
and Patek found himself permanently benched in August. He
played 98 games.
"Afterwards, I thought, `How dumb can you be?' to sign
something like that," said Patek.
Maybe. But many players would prefer that option to striking
out 31 times against Ryan. That means Patek heard the simultaneous
grunt and sizzle at least 93 times.