On Aug. 4, 1993, Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura engaged in one of the most memorable on-field brawls in baseball and sports history.
The incident was memorialized in a Ryan biography entitled: “Nolan Ryan: The Making of a Pitcher.” Author Rob Goldman sets the scene like this:
During a spring training game against the Rangers in 1990, [Craig] Grebeck hit a home run on the first pitch and pumped his fists triumphantly as he jogged around the bases. Sitting on the Rangers bench, Ryan stared at the Lilliputian and made a mental note. A few months later the Rangers were at Comiskey Park. Ryan was on the mound, and Grebeck hit a home run off him. As he had in Florida, Grebeck whooped it up rounding the bases. When Ryan got back to the bench, he asked pitching coach Tom House, Who is that boy? House told him Grebeck’s name. How old is he? asked Ryan next. He looks like he’s about 12. He’s pretty young, said House. Well, I’m gonna put some age on the little squirt. He’s swinging like he isn’t afraid of me. Sure enough, recalls House, next time up [in the teams’ next meeting], plunk! Nolan hits him right in the friggin’ back. Grebeck was 0-for the rest of the year off him.
Over the next few seasons, the White Sox and Rangers engaged in old-fashioned beanball, with pitchers from both teams letting hitters have it.
On Aug. 3, 1993, the night before the brawl, the Sox crushed the Rangers, 11-6. The next day, with Ryan on the mound, Ventura hit an RBI single.
In his next at-bat, Ryan buried a pitch into Ventura’s back. The Sox third baseman took a few steps toward first base before changing course and barreling into Ryan.
Here’s the whole incident:
Tom House, the former Rangers pitching coach, described the pitch as being not “really that far inside.”
This screengrab begs to differ:
“Everybody on both teams knew [Ryan] was hitting guys,” Ventura told Goldman, “and the mentality on our club was when he hits us, we’re gonna hit one of them. So whoever got hit, I’m sure he would have went. He had hit Grebeck on purpose and he had hit me on purpose. It was going to happen no matter what. It just happened that Ryan was well known. Had it been anyone else, it would have all been forgotten.
“Nobody said ‘you had to go, charge the mound,’ and we didn’t talk about it beforehand. There was so much friction going on between us that eventually whoever got hit was probably going to charge anyway.”
Ventura was ejected from the game. Ryan was not — a decision then-Sox manager Gene Lamont strongly protested.
Here’s the story that ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on Aug. 5, 1993, after the brawl.
RYAN SCORES A TKO — WINS BRAWL BEFORE TEXAS STOPS SOX
ARLINGTON, Texas The White Sox put up their dukes and came out fighting Wednesday night.
Never mind that they lost Robin Ventura and manager Gene Lamont in a 5-2 loss to the Rangers that was interrupted for over five minutes by a third-inning fight.
They had challenged the right of Nolan Ryan to hit people with fastballs.
“I don’t care who it is,” said Ventura , who seemed to get the worst of it when he went to the mound. Ryan put him in a headlock and landed four blows to the head and one to the face.
“If they’re going to do that, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I think he should have been ejected, too.”
Lamont was certain of it. He couldn’t believe it when umpire crew chief Richie Garcia allowed Ryan to stay in. Thus, he followed Ventura to the showers.
“Damned right ( Ryan ) should have gone,” Lamont said.
“He hit him and he was the one throwing the punches. I don’t blame Robin for going out there.”
Garcia wasn’t certain Ryan was throwing at Ventura .
“In beanball incidents, you want something to hang your hat on,” he said.
Ventura was enraged at being hit in practically the same spot on the right elbow that absorbed a Cal Eldred pitch July 16 at Milwaukee.
He wasn’t hurt in the melee with Ryan , however.
“He gave me a couple of noogies and that was about it,” Ventura said.
There only were a few visible cuts, both on Rangers. Coach Mickey Hatcher had a butterfly bandage over a cut near his right elbow and catcher Ivan Rodrgiquez had a cut on his right wrist.
The White Sox speculated that the Rangers may have been upset that Ventura had tried to steal in the ninth ninning of Tuesday’s 11-6 Sox victory.
“How about them sending one of their guys with a nine-run lead Monday night?” Ventura retorted.
“I’ll run if my checks are written by the White Sox. The day they’re written by the Rangers, I’ll stop running.”
Ryan wouldn’t comment on his intent, but did explain why he felt it necessary to punch Ventura , who conveniently ducked his head for Ryan to be able to take hold.
“After Dave Winfield came out (charging Ryan after being hit by a pitch in 1980), I took the attitude that if anyone comes out again, I wouldn’t be passive because I know they’re trying to hurt me.”
The only time Ryan was ejected from a game was last season when he hit Willie Wilson, then of the A’s, after Wilson had tripled.
It was the first time this season the White Sox have been involved in any kind of threatening action or posturing. They had been talking the previous two days of the Ryan , 46 and headed for the Hall of Fame, being allowed to throw at hitters and intimidate umpires.
The Sox scored their runs in the first inning on a single by – who else? – Ventura and error by third baseman Dean Palmer on Steve Sax’s ground ball.
Ventura extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
The Sox have scored in the first inning in four straight games, and Ventura has the RBI in three of them.
Ryan (3-3) outdueled Alex Fernandez (12-6) the rest of the way, though. He didn’t allow a hit his last 5 1/3 innings. Craig Lefferts and Tom Henke finished up to secure the victory for Ryan .
Fernandez had a three-hitter through five innigs, but a single by Doug Strange and 396-foot home run by Rafael Palmiero leading off the sixth marked the beginning of the end.
Juan Gonzalez followed with a single and scored on Julio Franco’s double to break the tie.
Palmer and Dan Peltier insured the win by following Franco with RBI on a single and double, respectively.
All that was left was war stories.