One for the Books: "Throwing Heat" and Nolan
the Major League Baseball Draft in the news, with the season underway
and going full tilt, all kinds of stories of scouts and prospects,
wrong turns and lucky decisions are in the air.
One of the truly moving stories in this category is in my book THROWING
HEAT: the Autobiography of Nolan Ryan. When I began working on it, his
sister said to me: "How can you write a whole book told by him - Nolan
doesn't talk that much." Her comments led me into making the book - one
told in Nolan's voice and those who knew him best - -his wife, his high
school coach, other players and managers, family members and especially
Red Murff, the scout who discovered him. It was truly my first attempt
at oral SPORTS history.
I was in Houston, Texas and called Red Murff on Nolan's recommendation.
Red was not too pleasant.
"You call me with that New York voice and want me to get together with
you and talk about a legend - you better be who you claim you are. Stay
at that number. I will call Nolan and find out if you are the real
A little while later Red Murff called back:
"Sorry I jumped all over you. You are the real deal. Nolan said you are
okay. He said to give you whatever you need."
Red gave me more than I needed. A straight shooting Charlton Heston type
Texas character - he had a voice and a style that suited oral history
and baseball stories perfectly.
Here is a sample:
RED MURFF: In 1963, I began working for the New York Mets as a scout. I
was scouting in Galveston one Saturday morning the first weekend in
I had about an hour to pass on my way from Galveston to another scouting
assignment that afternoon in Houston. So I figured I'd watch a high
school baseball game in Alvin just to see who was winning.
There was just one other scout there - Mickey Sullivan, who worked for
the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the second or third inning of the
game. It was Alvin High playing somebody - Clear Lake or Clear Creek.
The Alvin coach was changing pitchers just about the time I got settled
This skinny, handsome right-hander threw two fastball strikes and I was
You could hear the ball explode.
Then he threw an atrocious curveball and the hitter doubled to right
"Who's the kid out there?" I asked Mickey Sullivan.
"Nolan Ryan," he said. "He doesn't have too much, does he?"
"I don't know... "I said. Then I started to bite my tongue. "He doesn't
have a very good curveball."
"That's the closest I've ever come to being a liar.
That night I was at the old Colt Stadium and saw Turk Farrell of
Houston and Jim Maloney of Cincinnati pitch against each other in the
twilight. They could both throw 95 mile per hour fast balls. At high
noon that young man I had seen threw harder than either of them. I'm a
hunter and know something about ballistics. And when I filled out my
report for the New York Mets, I said that Ryan was in the 100 mile per
hour range, that his ball stayed level in flight, rose as it got to the
plate, and then exploded.
At the end of Nolan's sophomore year I took it upon myself to inform
Alvin's athletic director Jim Watson what they had. I knew the way it
was in Texas high schools, how they grabbed a sophomore with a lean,
lithe body and put him in a weight training program so that before he
became a senior he was muscle-bound. Knowing this, I made my first
threat ever to an athletic director and a coach.
"You-all have one of the ten best arms in the world in your school," I
"You mean JOHNNY BROWN-?" Jim asked
"No," I answered.
"Oh, then you mean...STEVE POWERS..."
"I mean Nolan Ryan."
"Nollie? I can't believe this Mr. Murff." Jim didn't even dream I was
talking about Ryan because Nolan had some problems pitching in high
"If you put Nolan on a weight program to make him stronger - - - and I
hear about it I'm gonna get all the scouts to sit in your park and we're
gonna get your job." You'll make a big mistake if you try and tamper
with that arm."
"Red," he said, "you sure as shootin' know more about pitching and
baseball than I do. I'll go along with whatever you say."
"Don't bulk him. Just let him throw a baseball. You do what I say and
it'll be good for you, good me. And especially good for Nolan."
I had a close friend Robert "Red" Gaskell, and he was my bird-dog, my
sub-scout, back then. "Your assignment," I told him, "is to watch Nolan
Ryan pitch. Wherever he goes, you go."
Nolan had some rough times pitching in high school. He did not pitch
well when Red Murff brought along Mets executive Bing Devine to watch
him in a game. Perhaps that was the main reason for what happened next.
RED MURFF: The New York Mets wound up drafting Ryan in the eighth round
in 1965. He was the 295th player taken in the draft. The thought that
the best arm that I've seen was taken so low deeply bothered me. But I
knew what we had. And I was intent on signing him.
Steve Vernon, a former farmer who had gone to college and became a
sportswriter in Texas City, got the Ryans' okay to sit in on our signing
discussions. The Ryans welcomed Steve to their home to watch and listen,
but he could have no input in the discussions.
We had two meetings with the family. Our third meeting took place June
28, 1965. I recall it was a lovely Texas evening. We sat around the
kitchen table: Nolan, his mother and father, the sportswriter Vernon and
"Major leaguers make so much money, I am almost embarrassed to talk
about it," I told Nolan. "You can make $150,000 a year if you're real
good." Little did either of us imagine he would one day make a million
dollars a year.
The Met offer was a good bundle of cash for an eighth round pick. With
incentives and a college scholarship, the total package reached about
$30,000. We talked some and I then gave him the pen.
"It's your turn, Nolan, "I said. "It's your turn to get on the mound
now." He sat there and reached for the pen, then shied away like it had
some electric current in it. Then he rubbed his hand and stared at that
old pen. We sat there in that house with all the memories of Nolan's
growing up years, his plaques and trophies from Little League and high
school sports. But Nolan did not pick that pen up. I'd been through it
all before with signings - you just wait.
"Your mom and dad are waiting for you to sign, Nolan," I said. "It's on
the table." The atmosphere in that house was like a ballpark in the
bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded, two outs, and a 3-2
count on the batter. Everybody sitting there knew that something had to
What gave was Steve Vernon. He forgot his neutral-observer vow. "What's
the matter with you, boy?" he cried, jumping out of his chair and
throwing his hands in the air. "You crazy? Sign."
I didn't bring Vernon around for that purpose, but he sure as shootin'
put the finishing touches on the deal. Nolan signed.
Writing that book also gave me a little moment of personal satisfaction
in St Louis where I entered the press box at Busch Stadium along with
the famed sportswriter Bob Broeg who I had read in the Sporting News. He
introduced me to a few people, one of whom had a name that I had kept
filed in "the one day folder" in my head."
I asked this guy. "Do you remember a review you did some years ago on a
book SPORTS ROOTS?
"No," the guy said.
"Yes!" I said. "You reviewed it and said the writer is a professor at a
college in NYC and should stick to doing that and not write sports
books. Well, I am that writer and I did not take your advice.
"Is that so," he smirked. "What are you doing now?"
"Mister, I am writing Nolan Ryan's autobiography.
# # #
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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