Nolan Ryan's memories of the 1977 All-Star game?
A day at the beach. Easy. A breeze.
Then again, Ryan didn't actually pitch that day at Yankee Stadium. Instead, he was, well, soaking his toes in the surf at Laguna, a no-show to a game that would have seen him take the mound as the American League's starting pitcher.
Turns out Ryan was a conscientious objector in 1977, busy waging a personal, almost comical battle against then-Yankee and AL Manager Billy Martin and the entire All-Star game selection process. So rather than pitch, Ryan went to the beach with his family. His best toss was when he threw a beach towel in the car trunk; his best move, the time he turned over so his chest wouldn't get burned.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Martin was steaming, going so far as to say that Ryan should "be suspended and not receive his salary for a week." Martin was angry, hurt, even embarrassed at the turn of All-Star events. One moment he had a perfectly fine AL pitching staff; the next he had bedlam, ill will, controversy . . . everything except Ryan.
Even then-National League Manager Sparky Anderson agreed with Martin's sentiments, calling Ryan's decision not to play "a disgrace. I think every player should be proud to be selected and to participate."
That's where Anderson was wrong. Ryan was proud, all right, enough to wade in the surf while the rest of the AL All-Stars took their places on the Yankee Stadium field. And contrary to what he says nowadays, Ryan's past comments suggest that he didn't agree with the selection process or, in this case, the man doing the selecting--Martin.
This was a clash of egos for the ages: the volatile, combative, ultra-competitive Martin vs. the Texas-proud, somewhat sensitive and ultra-competitive Ryan. Something had to give.
"Billy and I have never had high opinions of each other," Ryan says now.
And all because of an All-Star game so memorable that Ryan can't even recall the year or it's location. "That one, I think, was in San Diego," he said.
Uh, no. Try New York.
So for Ryan's sake, a brief review of the circumstances:
In short, Ryan, then with the Angels, was left off the AL pitching staff in favor of two other teammates, starter Frank Tanana and reliever Dave LaRoche. Ryan had as many wins (12) as Tanana that season and his earned-run average of 2.58 was among the best in both leagues, to say nothing of his major league-leading 222 strikeouts. LaRoche, while a fine relief man, couldn't match Ryan's production. So, on paper, it looked like a no-brainer for Martin.
Martin chose differently. His explanation as it appeared in The Times 12 years ago:
"There was certainly nothing personal involved. If there was, I could easily have picked (Detroit Tiger pitcher) John Hiller, who is one of my closest friends. Hell, I'd pitch Hitler if I thought he'd win. I like Ryan personally and I think he's one of the best pitchers I've seen in years. I'm disappointed that he feels the way he does but I don't feel any need to apologize."
What prompted the controversy was that Tanana suffered an inflamed elbow tendon shortly after the All-Star pitching staffs were chosen. Then Detroit's Mark Fidrych, also sidelined with an injury, had to cancel, too, leaving Martin with two spots to fill. Martin picked Ryan, probably figuring he had solved part of his roster dilemma, as well as found a starter for the game.
Problem was, Ryan wanted no part of the game. Told of the late change, Ryan said: "It's an honor to be picked. But it will be hard to start under the circumstances: I'll be soaking up the sun at Laguna Beach."
Pressed further on his reasons, Ryan told reporters, "If I can't go on my merits the first time around, I'm not going.
"I just don't want to be a fill-in. If Martin didn't have enough confidence in me to put me on the original list, then I have no interest in going as a substitute."
When Ryan arrived at the Angel clubhouse the next evening, he found a beach ball placed in his locker stall. A volleyball game also was scheduled. Even Ryan could smile at that one.
But earlier that day, the mood hadn't been so lighthearted. Ryan had been called by American League President Lee MacPhail. Would Ryan please reconsider? MacPhail asked. The league needed him, he said. Ryan told him no thank you.
Then Angel President Red Patterson called and appealed to Ryan's competitive instincts. It didn't work.
Then General Manager Harry Dalton gave it a shot . . . with similar results.
"I'm not going," Ryan said afterward. "There's no question about it. The thing is settled."
This wasn't the first time Ryan had been at the center of All-Star game controversy. Only three seasons earlier, Ryan and Willie Mays were added to the All-Star rosters by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in an attempt to right a wrong. Ryan had thrown two no-hitters and one one-hitter before the 1973 All- Star break, but wasn't selected to the original AL team. Kuhn changed that with his unusual ruling.