Before Game 3 of the World Series, fans got a treat. Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group reported:
Nolan Ryan’s ceremonial first pitch was a 68 mph fastball – not bad for a 63-year-old man wearing a dress shirt and necktie. It also was low and wide, but catcher Pudge Rodriguez, another Rangers legend, made it OK by scooping the ball out of the dirt.
It makes me wonder what Ryan could do with proper attire and a little training. Like fellow 60-something Sylvester Stallone in the latest Rocky film, I think Ryan could face younger adversaries if he wanted. With some effort, Ryan — who was arguably one of the most durable pitchers all-time during his career — might top 80 mph in a scoreless inning or two of relief against a weak-hitting team like the Pirates or Nationals. I’d certainly pay to see it.
Ryan wouldn’t be the first man to pitch again following a long break. Here are six pitchers who showed their stuff years after retirement:
Satchel Paige: Ryan can look to Paige for inspiration if he decides to pitch again. Paige may have been older than Ryan is now when he made a start for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965. Officially 59 but perhaps as old as 65 — depending on the source — the Negro Leagues legend had last pitched in the big leagues in 1953. Paige pitched scoreless ball in his return, though his relief lost the game. In September, Joe Guzzardi wrote a fine recap of the game.
Dizzy Dean: The same team that had Paige on its pitching staff in the early 1950s, the St. Louis Browns, gave their broadcaster Dean a start on September 28, 1947. The 37-year-old future Hall of Famer, who quit playing in 1941 due to injuries, said on-air he could pitch better than nine out of 10 Browns. Dean backed up his talk with four scoreless innings before hitting a single and pulling a muscle rounding first. His reliever gave up five runs in the ninth inning and lost.
Chief Bender: Tom Swift wrote in his biography of the Deadball Era hurler about how in July 1925, as a 41-year-old coach for the Chicago White Sox, Bender made a relief appearance in a 6-3 loss to Boston. Swift wrote of Bender retiring the first three batters he faced before surrendering two runs on a walk and home run.
Jim Palmer, Jim Bouton: I wrote of these pitchers in September 2009 and again in February, about how Palmer had an aborted comeback in 1991, and Bouton pitched five games for the Atlanta Braves in September 1978, eight years after he published Ball Four and quit playing.
Sandy Koufax: The Dodgers Hall of Fame southpaw never pitched again in the majors after retiring at 30 in 1966, but Koufax brought the heat at Dodger batting practices and camps into the 1980s. Jane Leavy wrote in her biography on Koufax:
It was at one of those Dodger Fantasy Camps that he first met Dave Wallace. Wallace watched from the third base coaching box the transformation in the aging left-hander when his mettle was questioned. “He was in throwing shape because he had thrown batting practice in the summer for the minor league teams. And you’re throwing the ball and having a little fun and some wise-ass fantasy camper walking up to the plate says, ‘Goddamn, Koufax, is that all you’ve got?’”
“I mean to tell you, his eyes changed like that. He threw four or five pitches there’s no doubt in my mind were on the verge of ninety miles an hour. ‘Take that, you smart-ass sonofabitch.'”
Ryan’s not the only pitcher who could join these ranks. For what it’s worth, here are five retired pitchers I believe could pitch again: Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling.