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On This Date in Sports April 27, 1983

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Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros strikes out five batters, in a 4-2 win over the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium to become All-Time Leader in strikeouts. Ryan’s strikeout of Brad Mills in the eighth inning was the record breaker passing Walter Johnson’s old record of 3,508 strikeouts. The record which stood for over 55 years, would also be surpassed by Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry during the 1983 season.

During the Dead Ball Era, there was not a more dominant pitcher than Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators. Playing most of his career on a second division club, Johnson complied pitching numbers that were among the best of all-time. His 417 wins rank second all-time to Cy Young while posting a career ERA of 2.17. Nicknamed the Big Train, Walter Johnson was the first pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts, retiring with 3,508 in 1927, as he was a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1936.

Walter Johnson’s record of 3,508 strikeouts stood for over half a century and was at one time considered unbreakable. Bob Gibson was the second pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts in 1974 but finished a year later with 3,117 Ks. Gaylord Perry was second to join the 3,000 strikeouts in 1978, while Nolan Ryan reached 3,000 in 1980. A year later, it was Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton reaching 3,000 strikeouts, while Ferguson Jenkins struck out his 3,000th batter in 1982.

As the 1983 season began, it was clear that Walter Johnson’s record would fall as Nolan Ryan with 3,494 strikeouts; Gaylord Perry with 3,452 strikeouts and Steve Carlton with 3,434 were within reach of 3,508, needing less than 100 strikeouts. Ryan was the first to move past Johnson, with his five-strikeout game in Montreal.

Nolan Ryan would not stand alone as baseball’s all-time strikeout leader as he went on the disabled list and was passed on June 7, 1983, by Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies. For the rest of the 1983 season, Ryan and Carlton would pass the record back and forth with 14 lead changes and one tie over the next three months. When the season was over Steve Carlton was baseball’s all-time leading strikeout artist with 3,709 strikeouts to Ryan’s 3,677. Gaylord Perry, in his final season playing with the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals, would finish the season 3,534 strikeouts without ever holding the lead. The strikeout duel continued into 1984 as Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton flipped back and forth five times as Ryan took over the lead for good in September, finishing the season with a two-strikeout lead at 3,874 to Carlton’s 3,872.

Injuries would lead to Steve Carlton fading in the strikeout race in 1985, as Nolan Ryan surpassed 4,000 strikeouts and later 5,000 strikeouts, finishing his career in 1993 with the new record set at 5,714 strikeouts. Carlton meanwhile retired in 1988 with 4,136 Ks.