Earlier this morning, reports out of the Dominican Republic said Andy Marte died in a car crash. Marte, 33, was a former top prospect for the Atlanta Braves who never quite made it. He did carve out a career of seven partial MLB seasons, and was still grinding away overseas as of last season. The tributes all reflected a generous personality.
That would have been enough baseball-related sadness for a day or month, but a second wave of reports from the Dominican Republic said a separate accident claimed the life of Yordano Ventura. The league made it very real:
It’s often reflexive, bordering on trite, to say that tragedies like this “put things in perspective,” but a death like Ventura’s gets to the heart of that sentiment.
Before today, many if not most White Sox fans would probably put Ventura among their most disliked players. It’s not just that he sparked a bench-clearing brawl between the White Sox and Royals two years ago...
... but that he had a rich history of other such bizarre flare-ups. If he wasn’t barking at Adam Eaton, then he was yelling at Mike Trout for no good reason, or plunking Brett Lawrie in retaliation and following him up the line, or throwing at Manny Machado out of frustration.
The last of those might have forced Ventura to evaluate his behavior. For one, his organization started getting tired of it, and two, he got punched in the face. Whatever the reason, he mostly stopped posing a health hazard to all players surrounding him, but with his reputation cemented, it still made him eminently hateable (in the sports arena), and thus a lot of fun to get the best of him.
His game log against the White Sox shows traded blows, figurative to go along with the literal. In his second-to-last start against the Sox, he took the loss after wearing down from a 10-hit attack. In his final start against the Sox 10 days later, he threw a 106-pitch complete game for the victory. Sox fans had to settle for the satisfaction of two of the team’s longest home runs for a moral boost.
He was good enough to command that respect, as begrudging as it came. As news of Ventura’s death solidified, I was a little bit anxious that some of that sports-hate might cross the threshold into the real world. That doesn’t appear to be the case from what I’ve seen (I’m sure I can find it if I go hunting for it, but that’s the case for anything). With distance from the situation, people can easily draw the line between the two and immediately empathize regardless of allegiance. Baseball fans might not have liked the sight of the guy, but they’d undoubtedly like to see him again, if they had a choice.