ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There's no question that Nolan Ryan is one of the true marvels in baseball history. The question is, just how unique is he?
Always one of the last players to report to spring training, Ryan is also one of the first pitchers to go any significant distance -- whether during batting practice or an exhibition game.
Whereas most pitchers start at a slow pace, with 10 minutes of batting practice, an inning or two in an intrasquad game and then the same in an exhibition, Ryan comes out of the chute like a quarter-horse.
Although admittedly concerned that he didn't get enough off-season work in preparation for his final season, Ryan, 46, threw batting practice for 30 minutes in his first workout. Then he pitched five innings in his first exhibition appearance and followed that up with five scoreless innings this week against the New York Yankees.
"I'm kind of under the gun for that game in Houston," Ryan said of the exhibition the Texas Rangers will play against the Astros on April 2. More than 51,000 tickets already have been sold for the game, which will make it the biggest crowd to see a baseball game in Texas.
Ryan, who played for the Astros before joining the Rangers in 1989, lives just outside of Houston.
"I can't afford any setbacks," Ryan said of his spring routine. "I kind of have to be able to pitch that day."
Ryan has pitched more than 5,000 innings in the big leagues. A conservative estimate of his average number of pitches per nine innings is 150. That translates to about 90,000 pitches in major-league competition.
Using the popular 100-pitch limit that seems to be the trend, a pitcher today would need 900 successful starts -- 30 per year for 30 years or 36 for 25 years -- to throw the same number of pitches.
And, just in case you're interested, the average number of pitches thrown during batting practice is about six or seven per minute. That means Ryan threw between 180 and 210 -- more than a normal complete game -- in his first batting practice session this spring.
If you put it all together -- the minor leagues plus the major leagues, spring training, workouts between starts and pitches thrown warming up before the game -- chances are that Ryan has thrown about a half-million pitches during his professional career.
This year, Ryan will earn approximately $4 million -- about $8 for each time he has thrown a ball during his career.
And by the way, when he pitched against the New York Yankees the other night, Ryan's fastball was timed at 93 mph. Kind of makes you wonder why the guy wants to take an early retirement, doesn't it?
Kevin Mitchell is more than happy to be back in the National League (with the Cincinnati Reds). His stay with the Seattle Mariners wasn't too productive, producing only nine home runs in a park known as a launching pad.
"I didn't have anything to prove last year," he said. "You don't know what's going to happen. Everywhere I go, I get traded. I'm not going to buy no house nowhere."
It's a good thing. If he did, Mitchell would own homes in New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Cincinnati.
So bad, Sparky is depressed
The Tigers were so bad during one recent stretch, giving up 68 runs in seven exhibition games, that manager Sparky Anderson all but conceded a job to top pitching prospect Greg Gohr.
"He's leading so far, he's going uncontested," said Anderson. "He's 37 lengths in front coming down the stretch. We just have to hope he doesn't have a heart attack and drop dead."
Not even the unlikely possibility of obtaining Rickey Henderson in atrade with the Oakland Athletics could excite Anderson.
"That's not our immediate problem," said Sparky. "We'd still be in trouble -- we'd just be more exciting."
World according to Sparky
Here are the best Sparky-isms at the midway point of spring training:
* "We're getting close to Opening Day -- I don't know if that's
good or bad."
* "We've got to teach some of our guys [pitchers] to wind up and not let go of the ball. Something will still happen -- it just won't be as loud."
Joe Garagiola is going to be a substitute for the San Diego Padres broadcast team when Jerry Coleman is doing network assignments.
"It's nothing new," said Garagiola, "somebody's pinch hitting for Coleman."
But Coleman had the last guffaw. His lifetime batting average in the big leagues was .263. Garagiola's was .257. Incidentally, Garagiola is donating his pay to the Baseball Alumni Team, and ))
the Padres are making a matching contribution.
When enough isn't enough
What does this tell you about the state of baseball salaries? Cincinnati right-hander Jose Rijo broke off his negotiations by saying: "I'm not going to sign. They're not even up to $5 million a year."
Ticket to nowhere
Darrin Jackson, who has been in volved in trade rumors all spring, got the message early that he didn't fit into the Padres' frugal plans.
Management sent a letter to season-ticket holders, explaining its cost-cutting moves and pointing out that it still had three of the best hitters in the game -- Tony Gwynn, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff.
No mention of Jackson, who got a copy of the letter because he happened to be a season-ticket holder. He canceled his order.
Ranger Rip makes impression
Charlie Hough, who will pitch Opening Day for the Florida Marlins, is impressed with the moves one of his former teams, the Rangers, have made.
"It's the first time that I can remember they've had a catcher [Ivan Rodriguez], a second baseman [Bill Ripken], and a shortstop [Manuel Lee] who look like they should be playing their positions," said Hough.
People who have been watching the Rangers say that Ripken clinched a job after the first two exhibition games, during which he turned four hits into outs.