On this day, 24 years ago, Robin Ventura decided to take on Nolan Ryan
Although Nolan Ryan won 324 games during his Hall of Fame career, one of his most memorable was also one of his last. Win No. 322 came on Aug. 4, 1993, a 5-2 Rangers victory over the White Sox. Ryan battled through seven innings of three-hit ball, allowing just one earned run while fanning five Chicago batters.
At first glance, this game appears unremarkable, but the stat line does not tell the story here. The famous part of that boxscore is this:
HBP: Robin Ventura (2, by Nolan Ryan)
More specifically, fans remember this:
Ventura's decision to charge Ryan wasn't entirely random, either.
The genesis of the fight between the Rangers and White Sox actually went back three years. As Ryan recounted to author Rob Goldman in a 2014 biography, it started when light-hitting infielder Craig Grebeck showboated on a home run against the Rangers during Spring Training in 1990. That August, Grebeck connected off Ryan for his first career long ball, and he "whooped it up rounding the bases."
One week later, when Ryan faced the White Sox again, he plunked Grebeck. Over the next couple years, the teams continued their slow-building beanball war, though it never got too out of hand.
Then came Aug. 4, 1993. Ventura singled in the first off Ryan to drive in a run, so the future Hall of Famer followed an old strategy. "His first time up, I left a fastball out over the plate and Ventura hit a line drive to left field, so I felt like I had to get him off the plate," said Ryan. "Next time, I came in on him and hit him right behind the shoulder blade, but it wasn't on purpose."
Ventura was remarkably the only batter Ryan plunked all season, the last of his career. After getting hit, however, Ventura paused, and dashed out to the mound. Ryan wrapped his arm around Ventura's neck in the ultimate noogie and delivered blow after blow:
The normally cool-headed Ventura was only ejected four times in his 16-year career, but this, his first, seemed to be an inevitable result of the teams' tension. "Everybody on both teams knew [Ryan] was hitting guys, and the mentality on our club was when he hits us, we're gonna hit one of them," Ventura later said. "There was so much friction going on between us that eventually whoever got hit was probably going to charge anyway."
Ryan recalled that putting Ventura in a headlock was a split-second decision without much thought, but it immediately became an indelible image to a generation of baseball fans. Perhaps the most amusing and forgotten part of it all is the fact that the original culprit, Grebeck, came in to pinch-run for Ventura. He was immediately picked off by Ryan's Hall of Fame batterymate, Ivan Rodriguez.
Since Ryan's playing career ended before a potential rematch with the White Sox, it would be a long time before Ventura and Ryan's paths crossed again. In a twist of fate, Ventura made his managerial debut with the White Sox on Opening Day 2012 against the Rangers, who employed Ryan as their president. The two had long since buried the hatchet, but they shook hands to mark the peace.