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Free agent Nolan Ryan, baseball's all-time leading strikeout pitcher,signed...

By RICHARD L. SHOOK, UPI Sports Writer

ATLANTA -- Free agent Nolan Ryan, baseball's all-time leading strikeout pitcher,signed a one-year contract with the Texas Rangers for $1.5 million Wednesday with an option for a similar season.

'It came down to a family situation,' Ryan, 41, said in announcing his choice of Texas over comparable offers from the San Francisco Giants and California Angels, 'what's least disruptive for my family.'

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Ryan pitched the last nine seasons for the Houston Astros, who made a much lower offer which the right-hander rejected. 'I'm a die-hard Texan,' said the native of Alvin, Texas, which is 275 miles from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The signing was the fourth move Texas has made since the start of the winter meetings. It will cost the Rangers a No. 1 draft choice since Ryan is a Class A free agent. Houston will also receive a supplemental choice at the end of the first round.

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'This is probably one of the greatest days in the history of the franchise,' said Texas general manager Tom Grieve, who at 40 is younger than the pitcher he signed. Rangers' manager Bobby Valentine, who played with Ryan at California in 1973-75, is also younger than the pitcher.

In another move, the Philadelphia Phillies and Mike Schmidt reworked their agreement to the satisfaction of both parties. Schmidt, 39, will return to Philadelphia in 1989 for a guaranteed $500,000, which increases by similar increments if he is on the active roster May 15 and Aug. 15.

Schmidt also would get $1 million if unable to play due to a non-shoulder related injury. He underwent arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery last September.

Ryan was 12-11 with Houston last season with a 3.52 ERA. He struck out 228 batters to lead his league for the ninth time and boost his career total to 4,775. The Rangers entered the bidding for Ryan just '2-3 weeks ago.

'I felt like in my situation, the Houston offer was less than the other three,' Ryan said. 'I felt it was in my best interests to move on. I think Texas' aggressive attitude here will show on the field next year.'

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The addition gives Texas a potential starting rotation of Ryan, left-hander Jamie Moyer, Jose Guzman, Bobby Witt and fellow veteran Charlie Hough, a knuckle-baller.

'It was extremely tough to tell (Angels' owner Gene) Autry we weren't going to be able to go there,' Ryan said. 'I have personal relationships with all three clubs. Al Rosen (GM for the Giants) and I were together in Houston.'

As to whether he'll still be pitching when he collects his first Social Security check, the author of a record five no-hitters declined to say.

'In 1979, when I signed (with Houston) as a free agent, I asked for a three-year contract at that time because I felt I like getting out of the game. I don't want to make any predictions about longevity now.'

Ryan still owns a fastball above 90 mph and a crackling curve. His devotion to a workout regimen that lasts all year is also responsible for keeping his legs and body in pitching condition. He did not feel pitching in the mid-summer Texas heat at home would be a problem.

'Nolan is arguably one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball,' Grieve said.

Ryan's greatness as a strikeout pitcher is unquestioned. It is his 273-253 won-lost record that critics point to. His winning percentage is only slightly higher than the cumulative won-lost percentage of the teams he has pitched for in his 22-year career.

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He has established or equalled 38 major league records, one of which is the all-time mark for bases on balls (2,442). Ryan has pitched nine one-hitters. He narrowly missed a sixth no-hitter April 27, 1988, when Schmidt singled with one out in theninth.

He pitched four complete games last season, his most since 1985.

The Rangers, the most active team at the meetings, previously obtained Moyer, second baseman Julio Franco, infielder Bobby Meacham and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro in previous trades.

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