ROUND ROCK, Texas (AP) -Although he's 60 and walks with a limp, Nolan Ryan would be happy to listen if any team offered a deal like his pal Roger Clemens got.
``If I can pitch, I'd be there,'' Ryan said, smiling wide. ``And I think my family would encourage me.''
The one thing he wouldn't do: give Barry Bonds anything worth hitting.
``You don't want him to beat you,'' Ryan said. ``Make the other guys beat you. Because the odds of him beating you, if you go right at him, are a lot better than the next guy.''
The Hall of Fame pitcher spoke Sunday at a regional meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors. The gathering was held at Dell Diamond, home of the Ryan-owned Round Rock Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.
Ryan was 46 when he retired following the 1993 season with the most strikeouts (5,714) and no-hitters (seven). After earning baseball's first $1 million annual salary in 1980, he peaked at about $4.2 million in his final years. The 44-year-old Clemens will make about that much every month he pitches for the New York Yankees this season.
Good for the Rocket, Ryan said.
``He's one of those really unique guys,'' said Ryan, the only pitcher with more strikeouts than Clemens. ``The aging process hasn't affected him as early as it has some other people and he's kept himself in great condition. He's a great competitor and he knows his body, so there's an awful lot of plusses.''
Many of the same things were said about Ryan, who remained a fireballer throughout his 27-year career. However, the older Ryan got, the more he broke down, with his innings count dipping each of his last four seasons.
Ryan recalled other problems, like lingering fatigue from West Coast trips. He also noted how much Clemens' body has been helped with his creative scheduling the last few years, from optional road trips to a season start in midsummer last year.
``As far as making a prediction of how long he'll be able to do it, it'll come down to physically how he holds up,'' Ryan said. ``I think the way it's been handled with him, where he doesn't have to make those road trips - fly all night, get in in the morning, things like that - it's beneficial to him. ... That's part of the aging process people never think about. Those things take a toll.''
While discussing Bonds, Ryan also delved into the topic of steroids, calling them ``a big stain on all athletics.''
``It probably has impacted baseball more than any other sport because the history of the game has benchmarks that are truly a mark of the type of year someone was having, or their career,'' he said, adding that 600 career homers should now be the benchmark that 500 used to be.
He realized how drastically things had changed a few years after he retired, when he was watching batting practice at the Astrodome and guys were routinely putting balls into the upper deck, something that rarely happened when he played there.
``One of three things happened - the ball was different, the bats were different or the players were different. Obviously, it came down to the players,'' Ryan said. ``Steroids at its peak was probably more rampant than baseball wanted to admit. And I think it filtered all the way down to the high schools.''
So what does he make of Bonds, who is widely perceived to have benefited from performance-enhancing drugs?
``Under the circumstances, he still had to hit the ball over the fence,'' Ryan said.
Ryan said he considers Bonds among the greatest hitters. He also puts Hank Aaron on his short list, adding that ``I pitched against both guys, and know what kind of hitters they are.'' Thus, he has mixed feeling about Bonds likely breaking Aaron's career record of 755 home runs.
``You don't want to see a shadow cast on it,'' Ryan said.
Ryan expects pitchers to do their best to avoid giving up No. 756.
``If I were pitching against him, it would be my job not to let him get the record off of me, even if the game was out of reach,'' Ryan said. ``From a competitive standpoint, that's just the way I am. I don't think that Barry would want you to give in to him. He'd rather get it off Roger Clemens or someone of that caliber, but he wouldn't want Roger to groove it.''

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