“Tom helped me slow down the aging process,” Ryan said. “He brought recovery to my attention — how long it takes to recuperate from a start and be ready again five days later. That was very different at 44 than it was at 24, and the routine we developed was vital to my process.”
It almost defies belief, but five of the Rangers’ nine primary pitchers during Ryan’s first two seasons with the club — the other four being Hough, Rogers, Kevin Brown and Jamie Moyer — played into their 40s. Ryan, Hough and Moyer make the list of the eight oldest players of the modern era. They were righties and lefties, control artists and fireballers and each was looking for ways to extend their careers. No matter their demographic, they had one thing in common: They all learned how to maintain their pitching arms from Tom House.
‘I’m a Teacher First’
Randy Johnson was struggling. It was 1992, and Johnson, a tall left-hander with a Ryan-like fastball, was in his fourth full big league season. His talents, though, were undercut by a profound lack of control. At 6 feet 10 inches, Johnson simply possessed too many moving parts for consistent coordination. When the Rangers arrived in Seattle that August, Johnson was 2-7 over his previous nine starts, having walked 52 batters over 56 innings while posting a 5.46 E.R.A.
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From the visitors’ dugout, House and Ryan knew what he was going through. House had followed Johnson, a fellow University of Southern California alumnus, since the pitcher’s college days. Ryan had once been a wild fireballer himself, leading the league in walks eight times in an 11-year span. In 1989, however, which was Ryan’s first season under House, the 42-year-old topped 300 strikeouts for the first time in a decade while walking only 98.
He and House wanted to help Johnson. A meeting was arranged for early in the morning, before anyone else arrived at the Kingdome. The three men talked through Johnson’s mechanical issues, and House offered one primary suggestion: He wanted Johnson to land on the ball of his foot instead of his heel while striding toward the plate. The results were immediate.
“I’d been losing my arm slot, falling off toward the third-base side, and that tip helped me stay balanced,” Johnson said. “I didn’t play for the Texas Rangers, but Tom helped me anyway. That meeting was extremely impactful.”