You charge the mound because you’re furious. Because you want to hurt someone. You know you’ll be ejected, fined, suspended, but it’s all worth it for brief taste of revenge. You never do it thinking that it all might go horribly wrong, and you might wind up on the receiving end of one of the most iconic beatdowns in sports history. Robin Ventura was one of the finest third baseman to ever play the game of baseball. I can’t hear his name without picturing him in a headlock, being whaled upon by a 46-year-old man.
It was nothing personal. The Rangers (and Ryan in particular) and White Sox had been at each other’s throats for three years, going back to when rookie Craig Grebeck had pimped a spring-training home run off the aging, ornery flamethrower. The two teams exchanged occasional beanballs, but things escalated in a game on Aug. 2 that saw four hit batsmen.
On Aug. 4, 1993, Robin Ventura greeted Ryan with a first-inning RBI single. In the second, White Sox starter Alex Fernandez hit Juan Gonzalez. So when Ventura came up in the third, Ryan drilled him in the upper arm. Ventura took four steps to first, then changed his mind.
Ventura’s errors were manifold. Rather than barrel into Ryan at full speed, he slowed down when he hit the mound, allowing Ryan to remove his glove. Ventura went low on Ryan, trying to wrap up his trunk, but couldn’t get any leverage on the big Texan. Ryan wrenched Ventura’s head to the side, as if trying to wrest it off, then deliver five or six short, quick uppercuts to Ventura’s dome before the cavalry could arrive.
Ivan Rodriguez was the first there, and the 21-year-old catcher was already in rough shape. He had undergone surgery on a broken cheekbone less than a week earlier, and had missed the previous night’s game with what sound like post-concussion symptoms. “I didn’t try to go out there and fight,” Rodriguez said. “I went out there to try to separate them.”
He couldn’t do a thing, as Ventura’s momentum was carrying the fight away from Rodriguez and into center field.
The arrival of the White Sox bench was what saved Ventura, but lead to what Ryan considered the scariest part of the altercation. Ryan ended up beneath a massive pile of bodies, and only the arrival of Bo Jackson kept him from serious harm. From a Ryan biography:
“All I remember is that I couldn’t breathe,” says Ryan. “I thought I was going to black out and die, when all of a sudden I see two big arms tossing bodies off of me. It was [Chicago’s] Bo Jackson. He had come to my rescue, and I’m awful glad he did, because I was about to pass out. I called him that night and thanked him.”
After the game, Ventura tried to downplay his humiliation. “I’m all right,” Ventura said. “He gave me a couple of noogies, but that was about it.”
Ryan was not ejected from the game, though Ventura and Chicago manager Gene Lamont were. Ryan would retire 12 of the next 13 batters and picked up the win in a 5-2 Rangers victory. It would be Ryan’s last season in MLB, and Ventura would be the only batter he hit all year.
Neither player was apologetic about their role in the fight, though Ryan emphasized that he wasn’t about to hold a grudge. “I have nothing against Robin Ventura,” Ryan said after the game. “The next time I face him, it won’t even cross my mind.”
The two met in 2012 for the first time since the brawl and were cordial, though Ventura was and is more reluctant to bring it up again. Can’t say I blame him.