Nolan Ryan Had a Softer Side. He Just Hid It (Very) Well.

Like the Beatles did shortly before him, Nolan Ryan performed at Shea Stadium and sang on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The former is a well-known and well-told part of Ryan’s life, the early days of a Hall of Fame career that eventually launched the Ryan Express as if by rocket fuel. The latter, when he and the entire 1969 Mets World Series-winning roster sang “You Gotta Have Heart” to a national television audience, is less known and one of the many surprising parts of a new documentary, “Facing Nolan,” that surely will elicit smiles.

“I thought that was the worst suit I’ve ever seen,” Reid Ryan, the oldest of Nolan and Ruth’s three children and an executive producer of the film, said. Reid laughed and added: “I’m not sure the mustard suit was ever in. I know he can’t sing, but that was funny.”

Nolan Ryan said that though it might look as if he and his teammates were lip-syncing, they really were singing.

“We were all plenty excited about being on that show and the honor it was to be on it,” Ryan said during a recent telephone conversation. “But the highlight of the evening for me was that Eddy Arnold was there. I was a big Eddy Arnold fan, and that made the night special.”

What is both charming and disarming about the film, which began streaming on multiple services this week, is the surprising humility shown by Ryan. A Hall of Fame pitcher that still owns 51 major-league records — according to the film’s count — Ryan has a legend that easily fills his native Texas, but to some of his on-screen co-stars he is simply grandpa, who tells corny jokes and who, yes, cannot sing. And he loves it.

The high praise for Ryan comes in interviews with his fellow Hall of Famers. George Brett, Rod Carew and Dave Winfield are among those who offer keen insight into the challenge that is described in the film’s title. Pete Rose, too. Upon being reminded that Ryan finished second to Baltimore’s Jim Palmer in the 1973 American League Cy Young Award voting after a record-setting 383 strikeouts — of course, Ryan also led the league that year with 162 walks — Carew reacts as if hearing it for the first time.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Carew exclaims when told Ryan never did win a Cy Young.

Says Brett: “Nolan never won a Cy Young Award? I thought he won three, four, five.”

The Batters Who Befuddled Nolan Ryan

Scott Miller⚾ Hoping to avoid any brush-back pitches.

The Batters Who Befuddled Nolan Ryan

Scott Miller⚾ Hoping to avoid any brush-back pitches.

Getty Images

In “Facing Nolan,” batters talk about the challenge of facing Nolan Ryan. Ryan agreed to flip the script and discuss the batters he struggled against.

Among batters who faced him 30 or more times, these are the ones with the most success (ranked by O.P.S.). →

The Batters Who Befuddled Nolan Ryan

Scott Miller⚾ Hoping to avoid any brush-back pitches.

JPK/Associated Press

Jim Wynn, outfielder (1.433 O.P.S., 9 for 24, 4 HRs, 7 R.B.I., 7 walks)

“That’s interesting. He was a hard swinger. He was a fastball hitter, and that was early in my career when I didn’t have command of my curveball, so it played into the type of hitter he was.”

The Batters Who Befuddled Nolan Ryan

Scott Miller⚾ Hoping to avoid any brush-back pitches.

George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Lonnie Smith, outfielder (1.280 O.P.S., 12 for 24, 5 walks)

“The thing that I remember is, for some reason, I never made good pitches to him, and why that is I don’t know. When I look back on that, for some reason he always put the ball in play.”

The Batters Who Befuddled Nolan Ryan

Scott Miller⚾ Hoping to avoid any brush-back pitches.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Will Clark, first baseman (1.274 O.P.S., 12 for 36, 6 HRs, 11 R.B.I.)

“I knew he had to be looking fastball so I started him off with a changeup, and it was a bad changeup. It was about waist high, and I imagine it was too hard and he hit it out of the Dome.”

The Batters Who Befuddled Nolan Ryan

Scott Miller⚾ Hoping to avoid any brush-back pitches.

Associated Press

Dick Allen, corner infielder (1.249 O.P.S., 16 for 44, 3 HRs, 16 R.B.I.)

“I think he hit two of those home runs in one game with me when he was with Philadelphia and I was with the Mets. He definitely was a good hitter, but a good fastball hitter, too.”

The Batters Who Befuddled Nolan Ryan

Scott Miller⚾ Hoping to avoid any brush-back pitches.

Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Rick Cerone, catcher (1.213 O.P.S., 11 for 29)

If you’d have given me a list of people and said pick out one, I never would have picked him, where I would have Dick Allen or one of those other guys. I never would have guessed that.”

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