Ventura, Ryan downplay infamous encounter
Almost 19 years later, fight is still talked about by fans
ARLINGTON -- By the fifth step, Robin Ventura had made up his mind.
The helmet was flipped to the ground, followed by the bat. And the 25-year-old White Sox third baseman was off to charge one of the game's all-time great power pitchers, Nolan Ryan, standing on the mound in his home state of Texas.
"Again, it was more of what the teams were going through," said Ventura, when asked for his reasoning behind the bench-clearing brawl of Aug. 4, 1993. "When you play a team game, and you're in a locker room of 25 guys, you're asked to do things that probably aren't in your comfort zone. But I had to be that person at that point, and it is what it is."
"When [Rangers executive vice president, ballpark entertainment and productions] Chuck [Morgan] shows it on the board, I find it interesting," Ryan said. "You see something different about it. It's something that happened you don't give much thought to."
This "basebrawl" always has received cult status because of what unfolded after Ventura was hit by the first pitch of the at-bat with one out in the third. Ryan, who was 46 at the time and in the final season of his illustrious career covering 27 years, grabbed Ventura in a side headlock and delivered five shots to the top of his head, followed by a right uppercut.
At that point, Ventura managed to pin Ryan's arm against his body as he was being grabbed by Pudge Rodriguez and Dean Palmer, as Ryan was dragged awkwardly to the ground. To be honest, nothing much is discussed about that encounter after Ryan's jabs.
Walk into almost any sports memorabilia shop around the country, and a framed snapshot of that headlock can be found for sale. In a particular sports bar in Glendale, Ariz., near where the Rangers and White Sox take part in Spring Training, that same moment is framed and hangs on the men's bathroom wall.
It's arguably one of Major League Baseball's most famous bench-clearing brawls. And this weekend in Arlington, the interest in that moment has increased once again.
Ventura will be opening his managerial career at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Friday at 1:05 p.m. CT. His White Sox face the two-time defending American League champion Rangers, an accomplishment produced with Ryan as the team's CEO and president.
Since almost the day he was hired on Oct. 6, Ventura has answered questions about renewing acquaintances with Ryan. He takes it in stride and addresses that piece of past history often in his easygoing manner.
"Yeah, it has been [dragged] through the mud enough," said Ventura with a smile. "We are not playing, so I don't [think about it]. ... I actually played there after it happened for a long time, so it's not like it's the first time I've ever been back to kind of have to witness it."
Texas has shown this video clip as part of its pregame montage to fire up the home crowd. But that fight will be omitted this weekend out of respect for Ventura.
In Game 1 of the teams' three-game set 19 years ago, during a season in which the White Sox ultimately won the AL West, White Sox reliever Bobby Thigpen had hit two batters, Jason Bere hit another and Roger Pavlik hit Ron Karkovice. By the time the series finale rolled around, Ventura showed his leadership by taking action.
"That has taken on a life of its own," said Ryan during a recent interview. "It's something that happened in the heat of the moment.
"I'm surprised that a mere baseball fight, and I'd had a few others over the years, could have this kind of life. It's been nearly 20 years."
John Danks and Philip Humber were both kids just getting interested in baseball at the time of the incident. But the native Texans know all about Ryan, and know all about the legend of the fight.
Nothing was more important to Danks, the White Sox Opening Day starter on Friday, than getting a pack of baseball cards whenever he went with his mom to Walmart or Target. One special pack, which Danks assumes was only available in Texas, had 30 or 40 cards simply with different pictures of Ryan.
"One is him with Robin in a headlock," Danks said. "But just in terms of how much it's talked about back home, it really isn't a topic."
Unless, that is, you are a friend of Humber.
After Ventura's hiring was announced, the first thing coming from a lot of his buddies centered on Ryan's mound work upon Humber's new manager.
"Everybody idolizes Nolan back home, and it's well deserved," Humber said. "He's had a great career. But just that one moment right there, it's something that they have made a bigger deal out of than it probably was at the time."
These two men have been linked together for 19 years, even though they haven't really spoken since. Respect is the overriding sentiment between Ryan and Ventura, without any hint of animosity. And there's plenty of humor from Ventura's side when talking about that night.
"If you try to argue with people or go with, 'Let me tell you what really happened,' then you will just make it worse," Humber said. "Robin has handled it really well, kind of the class he shows pretty much all the time, anyway."
"People want to have something to talk about, so they kind of [dredge] it up again," Ventura said. "It's not going to affect any decision I make or ... the way my players play. So, they can show it or do whatever. It's not going to affect me one way or the other."