If you were an Angels fan and collector in 1972, just chomping at the bit to see a baseball card featuring your new fireballer in his new togs, well … the best advice might have been, “don’t hold your breath.”

Or, maybe, “do hold your breath” would have actually been more helpful.

Because, had you been holding your breath when the first Angels card for Nolan Ryan started exploding out of packs that summer, at least you would have had a chance to avoid being overcome by airbrush fumes.

Here, take a gander at 1972 Topps, #595 …

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Classic, huh?

I mean, who doesn’t love those legendary Angels pinstripes?

Or a blobby, misshapen “small-a” Angels cap?

No one, that’s who.

No one doesn’t love those things.

But, if for some reason you think you don’t think those things are the bees knees, then you will surely appreciate what Ryan did that summer of 1972.

Fresh off the trade that sent Jim Fregosi to the Mets in exchange for Frank Estrada, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton, and a wild young freight train of a pitcher (yes, Lynn Nolan), Ryan finally got his shot at a steady, headlining gig in a major league rotation.

The young righthander repaid California for that opportunity by going 19-16 with ridiculous 2.28 ERA, while leading the majors in both strikeouts (329) and walks (157).

It was an Amazing season with a capital “A.”

Who knows … maybe he pilfered a bit of the leftover Amazin’ from the 1969 Mets locker room to pull of his swan-unveiling act.

Whatever the case, he brought enough of the capital-A-Amazing to while the small-a Angels right off our baseball cards come the next spring, as evidenced by #220 in the 1973 Topps set

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Sure, the small-a Angels remained there on Ryan’s chest, and the off-kilter camera angle is a bit jarring, but this dude had earned his “A” and he set up the expectation of more to come.

At 25, after all, he had tamed his wildness just enough to put together an ace-level season while still leaving enough doubt to keep batters shaking in the box.

The sky was the limit, and the back of his Topps card sort of hinted at that:

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That text in the middle drove home the key point:

Nolan became 4th greatest strikeout hurler in modern baseball, 1972. Only Sandy Koufax (382 in 1965), Rube Waddell (349 in 1904) & Bob Feller (348 in 1946) have exceeded Nolan’s 329 K’s last season.

Yeah, that didn’t last long.

By the time the 1973 season was done, while Ryan’s first full-on, non-faked Angels card was wrapping up its live-wax tenure, The Express had passed all of those guys.

Sure, he *just* edged Koufax, but Ryan’s 383 strikeouts still stands as the all-time record nearly 50 years on, and he’s eliminated that “4th” jazz from the back of his ‘73 Topps card — Ryan is the “greatest strikeout hurler in modern baseball,” bar none.

And, if you ever want a glimpse of real-life action hero’s origin story, just tilt your head a smidge to the left and reach for Nolan’s 1973 Topps classic.

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Nolan Ryan baseball cards are still hobby royalty after all these years, as evidenced by the whopping sales totals from eBay late in 2021. Check out our video rundown right here:

1973 Topps Baseball 397-660 Your Choice

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