A headlock, punches to the gut, a 46-year-old fighting a 26-year-old.
If I told you I was describing a famous sporting event, you'd probably guess boxing, or maybe an MMA bout gone crazy.
Nope. I'm talking about a Major League Baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Chicago White Sox.
The 46-year-old was legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, and the 26-year-old was All-Star Robin Ventura.
The history of the infamous Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura fight is one that you may have heard about, or you might have even seen the video footage.
However, there are probably a lot of things you didn't know about this epic fight, and you might find that you're even more intrigued by it once you hear some of the backstory and coincidences. Let’s take a trip down memory lane as we explore one of the most famous, or infamous, bench clearing brawls in the history of Major League Baseball.
A History of Bad Blood
The bad blood between these two teams didn't just start on the night of the brawl in 1993.
It goes back to three years earlier, when White Sox player Craig Grebeck hit a home run against the Rangers in Spring Training. Apparently, Grebeck showboated a little too much for the Rangers' taste.
Later in that 1990 season, Grebeck hit his first career regular season home run off of none other than future Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan. Ryan didn't much care for Grebeck admiring his home run, and the bad blood was born.
One interesting connection to this story is the fact that Grebeck actually played in the brawl game as well. Not only that, he was the one who replaced Ventura as a pinch runner on first base. Ryan was able to exact revenge on Grebeck however, as he picked him off at first base right after the brawl.
In the second inning of the game, the White Sox pitcher, Alex Fernandez, hit Rangers batter Juan Gonzalez with a pitch.
An unwritten “rule” in baseball is when one team hits a batter with a pitch, especially early in the game, the other team will retaliate at some point. It is an old-school philosophy, but one that’s been followed for many years.
One phrase that definitely defines Nolan Ryan is old-school, so the expectation was that Ryan would likely plunk a White Sox batter at some point after the second inning.
Oddly enough, the bad blood between the teams was so ripe before the game that Robin Ventura reportedly told his teammates he'd rush the mound if he got hit. That was before Juan Gonzalez had been hit in this game.
This is a recipe for disaster, and sure enough, when it all unfolded, Ryan hit Ventura with a pitch, Ventura was off to the races, and the fight began.
Ventura hesitated for a moment after being hit, then dropped his bat and charged Ryan with full force. However, the 46-year-old had been in a few fights in his day, and was able to get Ventura into a headlock, throwing in a few punches to the face for good measure. The benches cleared, chaos ensued, and after 5 minutes of mayhem, order was restored.
Ejected, Not Ejected
Usually, when two or more players fight, they get tossed out of the game. Sometimes they get suspended for games after the brawl too.
What's wild about this particular brawl is that only one of them even got punished. Robin Ventura was ejected, and even suspended for two games. He considered appealing the decision but decided against it.
Nolan Ryan, on the other hand, didn't even get ejected from the game!
Instead, he actually was allowed to continue pitching, and the home town fans chanted his name for the rest of the night.
The Game's Results
When people talk about this game, nobody ever mentions who won. The Rangers managed to hold on and win the game, 5-2.
They scored all of their runs in the sixth inning, after the fight went down.
Nolan Ryan not only stayed in the game, but he was also credited with the win. Well, two wins, if you count winning a fight against a man 20 years younger than him!
Stay Back, Future President
President George W. Bush was a part owner of the Texas Rangers before he went into politics, and he was at this infamous game.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Bush said he contemplated rushing the field along with all the players. However, when he saw that Bo Jackson, the former two-sport athlete who also played in the NFL, was rushing out there, Bush decided against it.
Probably a great idea! An accidental black eye is not the kind of sports memorabilia the future President would have wanted.
They Made Up
Amazingly, Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura didn't cross paths again until well after they had both stopped playing professionally.
In 2012 they met upat a Rangers/White Sox game in Texas. Nolan was there as part of his role as CEO of the team, and Ventura was just starting out as the White Sox manager.
According to ESPN, Ryan went over to the White Sox dugout to wish Ventura good luck, and neither of the two held a grudge about the infamous brawl. In fact, there are autographed baseballs and photos available that both players have since signed!
Though it is worth noting that Ventura was booed loudly when he was introduced to Rangers’ fans. Looks like the people in Texas weren't quite as forgiving as their former star pitcher.
A Hall of Fame Day
You might not realize it, but there were four future Hall of Fame players at that game.
In addition to Nolan Ryan, Frank Thomas was available to play, though he didn't end up in the game that day. Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were also in the game.
All four have since been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Ventura's Big Season
You might think that getting put into a headlock by a 46-year-old pitched would have put a dent in Ventura's year, but after the brawl game, Robin Ventura went on to have a stellar season.
In the 52 games after the fight, Ventura hit .283 and 31 RBI as well as 5 home runs.
Looks like getting punched by a man 20 years his elder put some pep in his step for the remainder of the season!
The Rangers went 32-23 for the rest of the year, and the White Sox went 35-21. There must have been something in the water in Texas that night!
Before the game began, the two had been battling it out for first place in the AL West. Chicago entered the game in first place, with a record of 59-46. The Rangers were a few games behind them, in third place. Their record was 53-53.
That game was notable for Nolan Ryan for a couple of reasons. First off, it was the seventh-to-last game that the future Hall of Famer ever pitched. Second, it was the ONLY time that Ryan hit a batter with a pitch that season.
Ryan never got the chance to pitch against the White Sox again that season. The two teams actually played again later, this time in Chicago. However, the Rangers decided to avoid another confrontation.
They shifted around their rotation in the games leading up to the rematch, so that Nolan Ryan would not have to face the White Sox.
Interestingly, Ryan probably wouldn't have faced them either way. He hurt the ligament in his elbow in September of that year, before the series took place. So, it's most likely that he wouldn't have been able to pitch against Ventura and the White Sox.
The Phantom Crowd
Because of the wild nature of the brawl, and the fact that it was between two all-stars, it was immediately a memorable event for those in attendance.
When you add in all the footage from local and national sports reports, the brawl became the stuff of legend.
These days, with the footage all over YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet, the fight is one of the most well known in sports history.
So, it's not surprising that, like with many memorable sporting events, there are a lot of people claiming to have been there.
In one interview, Ventura joked that there must have been 500,000 people in attendance, based on how many people had told him they were there for the infamous brawl.
The U.S. Junior Olympic Team
Another fun story from this game involves the U.S. Junior Olympic Baseball team.
The team was comprised of the best and brightest young baseball players from around the country. They were all either about to enter their senior year of high school or had recently finished school and had been drafted into the Major Leagues.
They had been practicing in Tyler, Texas, which is only two hours away from Arlington Stadium, where the Rangers play.
So, they decided to take a bus ride to Arlington, to check out the Rangers taking on the White Sox.
They arrived early and were able to watch batting practice. Afterwards, they were brought to the area just outside the visiting team's dugout.
Robin Ventura noticed them and came over to say hi. He had been on Team USA in his younger days, so he recognized them in their uniforms.
The team got to chat with Ventura, who talked to them about the virtues of sportsmanship. Which is pretty wild, considering he was about to get into a bench-clearing brawl about an hour later.
At least he was able to laugh about it years later when he recalled the story.
The Konerko Connection
Another interesting tidbit is that one of those players was none other than future Major League Player, Paul Konerko.
Konerko has a distinct memory of meeting Ventura before the game. He also remembers Ventura talking to him about sportsmanship.
So, he was certainly surprised when he watched Ventura charge the mound to fight Nolan Ryan during the game.
Konerko idolized Ventura, especially because he admired Ventura's wholesome character. Konerko said it didn't make him think less of Ventura. In fact, it made Ventura seem like he was a man with a lot of guts.
Which makes sense, when you consider that at the beginning of the brawl, it was basically Ventura squaring off against the entire field of Rangers players.
Almost instantly Ventura was being held back by not only Ryan, but two other Rangers players as well.
Paul Konerko went on to play in the Major Leagues for 15 years. Oddly enough, most of his career was spent in Chicago playing for the White Sox.
He has also said that Ventura's actions on that day were a good example of the grit and loyalty that he tried to have in the dugout. He noted that Ventura basically stood up for his teammate by fighting Ryan, which is the attitude he tried to have during his long career.
The history of Nolan Ryan and the infamous Robin Ventura fight is a complex, but fun one. It's also full of weird coincidences, such as the Grebeck pinch running story, and the fact that Paul Konerko happened to be in the crowd that night.
Thanks to sites like YouTube, as well as the ESPN highlight reels, the game and the brawl have had a long shelf life. It'll likely be shown for years and years as an example of a wild Major League Baseball brawl.
At Power Sports Memorabilia, we pride ourselves in being a part of keeping alive the history and grandeur of professional baseball. We are a leader in baseball sports memorabilia. Not only because we run an efficient and honest business, but also because we are true fans of the sport.
If you want to see a great collection of sports memorabilia, or you want to talk about the famous Nolan Ryan brawl with Robin Ventura, shoot us an email. If you tell us you were actually at the game, we might believe you!
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