Ephemera Found When You Move, Part III: Nolan Ryan Signed Baseball

Signed Nolan Ryan Ball--after the family dog had his way with it

Please humor me for a moment to follow (and perhaps check) my math here: according to Major League Baseball’s sanctified Official Baseball Rules, the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s plate at the mound is 60 feet and 6 inches or 60.5 feet. Now this means when Nolan Ryan hurled his fastest recorded pitch at 100.9 miles per hour in an official major league game that it took all of .408 of one second for the ball to travel from the origin of the mound to the destination of home plate.[1] You may also note that this time is not far off from the average blink of the human eye.

So while the length of time that the featured Nolan Ryan autographed baseball (above) remained in mint condition certainly exceeds that of Ryan’s official fastest pitch, this particular piece of memorabilia nonetheless existed in pristine form for a still relatively brief period.

The story goes that my physician father-in-law received the autographed ball as one of those curious gifts given by some traveling pharmaceutical salesperson. And whatever you may feel about that particular, perfectly legal and not uncommon practice and the lamentable ethics of the broader pharmaceutical industry, I can say with confidence in knowing this discriminating man (my father-in-law, that is, not the traveling pharmaceutical salesperson) that he more than likely said “why, thank you very much—that’s very generous,” while in the same breath, “but no thank you to that worthless poison you’re peddling.”

My father-in-law couldn’t care less about baseball or Nolan Ryan, though, so he in turn gave the signed ball to his teenage daughter (my future partner-in-crime). At the time, she was an avid sports enthusiast, immersed in all manner of scores and statistics, nightly basking in the glow of broadcasts from the soon-to-be imperial ESPN. In fact, she even once attended a Texas Rangers and New York Yankees baseball game.

This inked orb of ephemeral memorabilia did not remain long in her possession, however, before a younger sibling (of yet fully developed capacity for appreciating material values) looked up towards a lofty bedroom display shelf and gazed upon said perched orb. Of course, the first thought that popped into this young child’s noggin proved just too tempting to resist: now isn’t that the perfect little bauble for me to throw and to catch and to play with—with my dog. Thus shortly thereafter Nolan Ryan’s still freshly scrawled autograph met with much smudged and slobbered disaster in the jaws of the family dog. . . .

But the ball survived just fine, albeit a bit lopsided, smeared, and worse the wear.

[1] After much nocturnal, numeric agony and my own feeble math skills, the calculations first require conversion from mph to ftps, or miles per hour to feet per second; hence 100.9 is multiplied by 5280, since 5280 feet equal one mile, and then that product of 532752 is divided by the 3600 seconds that comprise one hour. This yields 147.986 ft./sec. Given this rate, then divide the distance of 60.5 feet by 147.986 ft./sec. (as t = d/r, or time = distance/rate), all to arrive at the .408 seconds travel time.



Poor Nolan–or Poor Koosman



Jerry Koosman was a pretty darn good pitcher in his own right: two-time All-Star, career strikeout total of over 2,500, and a World Series championship. Of course he shared that 1969 World Series victory on the Miracle Mets with the same fellow he shared some space with on his 1968 Topps rookie card–Nolan Ryan. Now I’m not exactly sure about the mentality involved in the destruction (or “damage,” as the online auction descriptions put it with such fine understatement for both of these artifacts) of a Nolan Ryan rookie card. Suffice to say, though, that Koosman certainly looks to have suffered for the worse in this cardboard havoc; in fact, he’s not even present in the first.

And if pressed, my personal favorite would have to be the uppermost example–especially since Nolan is now an “Ookie Star”!

*SABR entry for Jerry Koosman.

The Dock Ellis RC—and other vintage cards that pop (out)

1969 Topps, Dock Ellis

I just love the Dock Ellis rookie card. The photographer positioned his subject perfectly for this image: Ellis faces the camera directly with his throwing arm reaching towards the viewer—the pitcher’s almighty hand highlighted in a kind of extreme foreground’s foreground. The two-dimensional becomes almost three-dimensional. It’s really the only card of its kind in the 1969 Topps set. The somewhat similar Nolan Ryan, Bob Moose, & Barry Moore cards in that set come close, but they all fall just a little short of the Ellis effect. Clearly, the same photographer worked on many of these (or different photographers were contracted with similar Topps Photography 101 training). But Dock himself does some nice work here, too; he seems gleefully in the moment—and more so than most other players appear to be on photo day. Jocular, he “chews the scenery” and breaks the fourth wall. Of course this isn’t theatre or film, but baseball does have its share of drama.

1969 Topps, Nolan Ryan

[Silly Nolan: he forgot to throw (or hide) the ball.]

1969 Topps, Barry Moore

1969 Topps, Bob Moose

In any case, the 1969 Topps Ellis card also made me wonder about other vintage cards of pitchers (or hitters) that achieve this distinct pop-out look. I’m sure there must be plenty of great examples scattered throughout the bins, boxes, & binders of other cardboard curators. For now, here are some absolutely pristine specimens that I managed to find.


1967 Topps, Byron Browne

Stop, Byron! You only just won that nice little trophy! Now you’re trying to destroy it?!

1967 Topps, Chuck Estrada

1967 Topps, Hoyt Wilhelm

1967 Topps, Jack Baldschun

1967 Topps, Jim Barbieri

1968 Topps, Barry Moore

Here’s some Moore of Barry (yuck, yuck).

1968 Topps, Bob Veale

1968 Topps, Jack Aker

1968 Topps, Jack Hamilton

1968 Topps, Larry Jaster

1968 Topps, Mike Epstein

1968 Topps, Mike McCormick

1968 Topps, Tony Conigliaro

1968 Topps, TY Cline

1970 Topps, Fred Gladding

1970 Topps, Jerry Grote

1970 TOPPS, Reggie Jackson

1970 Topps, Ron Hansen

1970 Topps, Tommie Agee