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King of Throws

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 forw 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.

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.

Credit…Tony Bock/Toronto Star via Getty Images

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.”

Johnson closed his season by striking out 117 batters over his final 11 starts while walking only 47 and shaving about two full runs off his E.R.A. That dominant stretch included a game in September in which he struck out 18 Rangers batters — a result that gained extra notice when Johnson credited House with his improvement.

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