Nolan Ryan earned the major league minimum of $12,000 in 1968, his first full season with the New York Mets. Now the minimum is $100,000, and Ryan is guaranteed $1.4 million in 1990 and $3.3 million in his option year of 1991.
Obviously, times have changed, and when Ryan goes for his 300th career victory tonight it might represent a milestone in more ways than one--the appearance and accomplishment of a vanishing breed.
Inevitably, of course, there will be other 300-game winners, but when and how often?
Bert Blyleven of the Angels is next on the list at 279. Blyleven is 39 and struggling. Then comes 41-year-old Rick Reuschel of the San Francisco Giants, who is at 213 and holding, his future clouded by a knee injury.
Big salaries have affected motivation in many cases, and the emphasis on relief pitching and five-man rotations has reduced the winning opportunities for starting pitchers.
Ryan was asked about it at a news conference Tuesday, and he said that from a physical standpoint, with pitchers getting bigger and stronger, "there will be guys who have a shot at 300 if they can maintain their drive, their competitiveness.
"I mean, the money affects everyone differently, but the key is staying competitive. You have to be a competitor. It has to be a motivating factor in your life."
At 43, in his 23rd season and pitching with a stress fracture in his lower back, Ryan the competitor is 10-4 and will face the New York Yankees tonight having won five consecutive decisions.
"I'm trying to approach it as just another game," Ryan said, "but it's not just another game, or all of you people wouldn't be here.
"I'm sure there'll be some anxiety, pressure and nervousness, but I feel that everything that has happened in my career has made me better prepared to handle it."
Ryan said he looked on 300 victories and 5,000 strikeouts as testimony to his longevity and the ability to maintain his legendary "stuff."
"This won't change my won-and-lost record as far as quieting critics who think I should have been a bigger winner," he said, "but it reinforces my satisfaction at being the same type pitcher throughout my career.
"I've never thought about changing, and I'm confident I'll go out the way I've always been. As a pitcher, I don't really feel differently than I did 15 years ago. I know there's been a loss of physical ability, but I feel I make up for it now with experience."
Having been in the spotlight so long and so often, there is little new that Ryan can say. He said Tuesday that:
--He has pitched at least eight years longer than he anticipated.
--He hopes to avoid the wear and tear of a long struggle for 300--which would include a Monday start at Milwaukee on four days' rest.
--The 300-victory total has only been a goal in the sense that he would have been disappointed if he had failed to win at least 11 games this year.
--His back is only a problem in that it limits the amount of throwing he does between starts.
--He obviously would have achieved 300 before this if he had spent eight years with a team more productive than the Angels of the 1970s.
"But not everyone gets to pitch for the Oakland Athletics or the Big Red Machine," Ryan added, "and my attitude is that I feel fortunate I went to the Angels as a young pitcher, because they put me on the mound and gave me the opportunity and experience I needed.
"I also had the opportunity to work with (the late) Tom Morgan, and no pitching coach has ever been more of an influence on me."
Ryan said he will have about 60 friends and relatives in the sellout crowd at Arlington Stadium tonight. He also pointed out that his fate, to an extent, rests on what opposing pitcher Dave LaPoint does. LaPoint is 5-7 this season and 78-82 in his career. "I don't understand all this fuss about my 79th victory," LaPoint said Tuesday.