clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

About that Nolan Ryan thing


"People bring it up," said Robin Ventura. "They're always going to bring it up. But that's the way life goes."

As you probably already guessed, Ventura was talking about his unfortunate fight with Nolan Ryan. I pulled that quote from a Chicago Tribune story from March 1, 1994, and, well, he wasn't wrong.

After all, when the Ventura hiring was announced on Twitter, "Nolan Ryan" became a trending topic. Multiple outlets sought Ryan's comments on Ventura's new job. And with the two teams set to meet on Opening Day next season, it's not going to die anytime soon. In fact, it'll probably die after we do.

Since we're going to become far too familiar with that moment in time, I figured it might be best to talk about the circumstances surrounding Aug. 4, 1993, and what happened afterward (spoiler alert: The Sox win the division).


While Ventura was ejected, Ryan stayed on the mound, picked off pinch-runner Craig Grebeck and then faced the minimum over his final four innings. His final line: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K ... and the one HBP, of course.


The Sox were furious that Ryan wasn't ejected, and Ventura predicted that he wouldn't be suspended (he wasn't). Ventura cited a counterpoint from two years earlier, when Jack McDowell was ejected and suspended under similar circumstances on May 19, 1991, when Mark Whiten charged the mound and connected with a right to McDowell's left eye.

Working against McDowell was the fact that Black Jack threw behind Whiten immediately after serving up a homer to John Olerud. While Ryan's HBP was shady (Ventura hit an RBI single in his first at-bat), waiting a full turn through the lineup obscured any intention well enough.

(Whiten was ejected, too, with a 1-0 count. Guess who took his place and finished the at-bat? Kenny Williams!)


The Sox were familiar with Ryan's brand of vigilante justice. On Aug. 10, 1990, Grebeck and Ozzie Guillen hit back-to-back homers off Ryan. When they met one week later, Ryan drilled Grebeck with the first pitch he saw.


Ellis Burks, who did not start for the White Sox on Fight Night, had a previous run-in with Ryan as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1989. After hitting two homers the previous night, Ryan drilled Burks in the earflap during his first at-bat.

And when they faced each other five days later, Ryan threw another high-and-tight fastball that buzzed Burks' face. Burks charged the mound, but was restrained by the catcher. Neither player was ejected, but Burks got his revenge when he finished the at-bat with a single and game-winning RBI. -- Boston Globe, May 6, 1989.


Ventura was the only batter Ryan hit that year, which also made Ventura the last of Ryan's 158 major-league HBPs.


The White Sox and Ryan engaged in a war of words afterward. The Sox called Ryan a headhunter who was protected by Major League Baseball, while Ryan basically dismissed the Sox for being crybabies after losing a fight and a ballgame. -- Sun-Times, Aug. 6, 1993.


Ventura appealed the suspension, but was convinced to drop his appeal for strategic reasons. He missed the first two games of a series against the Yankees, but he also missed batting against Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott, a pair of lefties that gave Ventura a tough time. -- Sun-Times, Aug. 26, 1993.


When he came back, Ventura finished the season by hitting .297/.408/.469, all well above his season numbers.


Ryan was supposed to face the White Sox on Sept. 24, but Texas manager reshuffled the rotation, saying, "I don't want to give [the Sox] any extra incentives." The Rangers were 3 1/2 games back at the time, and Kennedy said if the Sox beat Ryan, it would have given the Sox an emotional lift that Texas couldn't recover from.

That sounds like defeatism that made the White Sox-Twins rivalry a one-way affair, especially when Johan Santana took the mound. But Gene Lamont offered a different idea: "I just don't think Ryan 's one of the guys he wants pitching against us," he said. "I think he has other guys he feels can do better."

It didn't matter. When the two teams met on the day Ryan was supposed to start, the Sox held a six-game lead with 10 games to play. They won the division by eight games. -- Sun-Times, Sept. 16, 1993.


Even if Kennedy kept the original schedule intact, Ryan might not have lasted until Sept. 24. His last start ever on Sept. 22 was one he'd like to forget, as he failed to retire any of the six batters he faced due to a torn elbow ligament.

The White Sox didn't pursue the matter further as the September series with Texas drew near. McDowell could've rubbed it in if he wanted to -- among the harsh words he had for Ryan through the media, these ones stood out:

"He pulls that stuff off wherever he goes. Too bad he doesn't show up for his team until the next time it's his turn to pitch. He'll be home on the ranch. You watch his team fall just short again while he shows up on the DL." -- Tribune, Sept. 26, 1993.


Gene Lamont earned some street cred for rushing out into the middle of the mess -- even though he didn't fare better than Ventura, getting punched and reinjuring a trick knee. But like Jerry Manuel's doorman act following the twin Tiger brawls of 2000, it was a signature moment for a manager who was often criticized for being too placid. -- Tribune, Aug. 5, 1993.


The Rangers were on full alert for Bo Jackson...

"I had ahold of somebody and I poked my head up and saw Bo running toward the pile," said Ranger outfielder Donald Harris. "I quick poked my head back down and tried to stay out of the way."

George W. Bush, general partner of the Rangers, was in a box seat near the Texas dugout when the brawl broke out and said he considered for a second running onto the field.

"I thought about it, but then I saw Bo coming out and decided to stay where I was," said Bush. -- Tribune, Aug. 5, 1993.


But that was after Ryan got out of the center. Before that point, the Rangers might have had less reason for concern, if there's anything to this:

Ryan ended up at the bottom of the pileup that followed, but protecting him, according to some sources, was none other than Chicago White Sox DH (and fellow Nike spokesman) Bo Jackson. -- Sports Illustrated, Aug. 16, 1993.