Facing Nolan (2022)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 18, 2022 @ tonymacklin.net.

Facing Nolan is a memorable documentary about the life and times and strikeouts of Nolan Ryan.

It captures the mythic career of the Hall of Fame pitcher who set or equaled 51 records, including seven no-hitters and 5,714 strike outs.

It also emphasizes the experience of a Texas rancher, with a loyal family and a forceful wife. Ruth is a lifelong power behind her high school boyfriend and husband of more than 50 years. He says, "I grew up a Texan, I am a Texan, and I'm proud to be a Texan... there's a mystique about it. It's in my blood."

You don't mess with Ruth. It is because of her consistent insistence that Nolan finally agreed to a documentary. Nolan and his sons Reid and Reese are executive producers on the film, so obviously it is positive.

Facing Nolan has its Hallmark moments, especially when it focuses on Nolan's delightedly happy family. Ruth is called the "most competitive" member of the family, but there is little evidence of that in the film. She is "the strength behind Nolan."

There is little negative, although the film does note that Ryan's records include most walks, most stolen bases, most grand slams, and most wild pitches.

The film also concentrates on Nolan's wildness and inconsistency, especially early in his career. When as a youth, he pitched in his first game he broke the first batter's helmet and broke the second batter's arm. The third cowering batter struck out on three pitches.

Like Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan had the reputation of intimidating batters. His best known one was in 1993 near the end of his fabled career, when he hit Robin Ventura with a pitch. The irony is that it was the only time that he hit a batter that season. Ventura charged the mound. Ventura was twenty years younger - he was 26 and Nolan was 46. But Nolan got the best of the brawl.

The film has the snide statement that Ventura didn't do an interview for the movie. C'est la guerre.

Nolan only made one appearance in a World Series in his whole career. In 1969 against the Baltimore Orioles he pitched 2 1/3 innings and got a save. {You have to find out this information elsewhere. It's not in the film.}

Although his time with the Mets spanned five years (1966, 1968-1971), he failed to get a regular place in the starting pitching rotation, since he was so wild and inconsistent.

He was traded to the California Angels in 1972 and was with them until 1979. Nolan said that Tom Morgan of the Angels was "my first pitching coach." On May 15, 1973 Ryan pitched his first no-hitter. Sixty days later he threw his second. There were five more to come. But he never won a Cy Young award. Jim Palmer was voted the award in 1973.

Ryan also pitched for the Houston Astros (1980-88) and ended his pitching career with the Texas Rangers (1989-1993). He never made it out of the first inning of his last game, when he tore a ligament in his elbow.

Nolan's biggest hero was Sandy Koufax On their second date, he took Ruth to see Koufax pitch. "He loved Sandy Koufax... he was mesmerized."

[As a boy I saw Koufax pitch a no-hitter against the Phillies. It was the only game I saw with my Dad who was a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Koufax only allowed one baserunner. Richie Allen walked, but was out trying to steal. So Koufax only faced the minimum number of 27 players. I later found out that Koufax and I share the same birth date December 30, obviously not the year.].

Facing Nolan includes comments by many of baseball's most stellar players. Randy Johnson, who is second on the lifetime strikeout record with 839 fewer strikeouts than Nolan, speaks in near-awe about his masterful forebearer. George Brett, Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, et al, make salient comments about the iconic pitcher.

In Facing Nolan, writer/director Bradley Jackson capably mixes mythology and humanity.

No matter how much you may know about Nolan Ryan, Facing Nolan has some pitches you never knew he had.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin