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Ryan, True to His Word, Can't Make a Pitch

Family and business obligations keep Hall of Famer from a ceremonial appearance at any Anaheim games.

October 24, 2002|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Nolan Ryan says it's not animosity that has kept him from Anaheim. It's his hectic schedule.

Ryan insists he's rooting strongly for his former team to win its first World Series. He has watched every game, has shared several postgame telephone chats with his equally excited children and wishes he could attend games in person.

But he can't. He made previous commitments.

"I'm thrilled as can be for that team, and would've loved to be out there, but the timing couldn't be worse," Ryan said in a Wednesday telephone conversation from San Antonio. "I commit to things way out and things always seem to pile up on me in October. Last spring, it never crossed my mind that the Angels would be in the World Series."

Ryan, 55, said the conflicts forced him to decline the Angels' invitation to throw out the first pitch of any division series or league championship series games. He also told Major League Baseball of his unavailability for Game 1 of the World Series in Anaheim.

Ryan said business and family interests, specifically a vacation with his wife, Ruth, and a cattle breeders' convention, haven't allowed him to "fly out and fly back without missing something."

He denied that his absence was the result of any lingering animosity toward the organization after a bitter parting in 1979, when then-general manager Buzzie Bavasi let Ryan test the free-agent market and sign the first $1-million annual contract with the Houston Astros. Bavasi said later he could replace Ryan, 16-14 that year, with two 8-7 pitchers. Ryan wears a Texas Ranger cap on his plaque at the Hall of Fame.

Ryan said he was envious of those who've experienced the excitement at Edison Field after hearing from "longtime friends who have tickets."

"He really wanted to do it," said Tim Mead, the Angel vice president of communications who asked Ryan about the division and league championship series first pitches. "He was always on our 'A' list, and he was on the 'A' list of people we forwarded to MLB for the World Series. But he keeps a hefty schedule."

So what could have been an emotionally charged moment on an unprecedented evening never happened.

Instead of taking his former spot on the Anaheim mound to fire a ceremonial fastball before Game 1 of the World Series, Ryan, the best pitcher in team history, the man who blazed his way to the Hall of Fame with four of his seven no-hitters, five 300-plus strikeout seasons and 138 wins in eight years as an Angel (1972-79), was home in Texas on Saturday night, baby-sitting three of his grandchildren with his wife.

Nolan and Ruth had long ago promised their son, Reid, and his wife that they'd watch the children -- ages 2 1/2 and 9 months -- while the young couple celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary in San Antonio. A day earlier, Nolan and Ruth returned home from a vacation to Tucson.

"Dad really wanted to be [in Anaheim] for that," Reid Ryan said. "If I would've known the Angels were going to be in the World Series, I never would have got married Oct. 19."

Nolan asked his other son, Reese, and his wife to represent the family. Reese, named after former Angel coach Jimmie Reese, left his 1 1/2-year-old daughter with Nolan and Ruth and watched Game 1 in a private box also occupied by Jackie Autry, the wife of former team owner Gene Autry. Jackie Autry participated in the first-pitch ceremony that night with former Angel pitcher Chuck Finley.

Ryan's retirement life has been active. He's an accomplished rancher, raising cattle at three Texas ranches and serving as president of the 7,000-member Beefmaster Breeders United. On Saturday, one of his bulls was the highest-selling animal at a cattle sale he attended with a grandson.

Ryan also owns the double-A Round Rock Express, a Texas League team affiliated with the Astros. He's a spokesman for Advil and Southwest Airlines. And he's going to open a new bank in Austin in the summer.

"Dad's got a lot of good friends in Anaheim, his most dominating years were as an Angel, and I know his toughest decision in baseball was saying no in 1989 to Gene Autry's offer to return to the Angels," Reid Ryan said. "Baseball also wanted him in San Francisco [on Wednesday] for the top 10 moments event [honoring his record seventh no-hitter]. He couldn't make that either. We've just laughed about it. This is one of the neatest deals ever and it's like fate is not allowing him to go."

The Angels have booked several former players, including Buck Rodgers, Rod Carew and Brian Downing, to participate in first-pitch ceremonies.

Ryan's schedule is filled through Sunday because Beefmaster Breeders United is conducting its annual convention in San Antonio. He said there's no way he could make it to Anaheim in time for a possible Game 7.

"I guess there could be some people saying, 'I can't believe he'd miss the first pitch for a cattle sale,' but that's the exact thing that makes him great," Reid Ryan said. "He treats everyone with equal respect. His thing is that he committed to these other things first and he's a man of his word."

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