Tuesday is the 22nd anniversary of Nolan Ryan's famous beatdown of Robin Ventura, a moment in baseball history that further cemented the mythical stature of the Ryan Express.
The Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox had exchanged terse words and beanballs over the course of several seasons, and things boiled over on Aug. 4, 1993. Ryan, pitching for the Rangers in his 27th and final major league season at age 46, was a living legend. Ventura was a 26-year-old Gold Glove third baseman for the White Sox.
Ventura, batting fourth for Chicago, had singled to left in the first inning to drive in Joey Cora for the first run of the game. Ryan plunked the left-handed Ventura on the right triceps with the first pitch the next time he came to bat. Ventura took a few steps toward first base before suddenly charging the mound. Ryan got Ventura in a headlock and delivered several shots to Ventura's head before both benches cleared and enveloped the two primary combatants in a wave of chaos.
"It was just self-preservation," Ryan said after the game. "I didn't expect that to happen. I was just trying to pitch him inside. You don't have time to think, you just react. I'm not a big believer in fights, but we'll do what it takes to win. ... I have nothing against Robin Ventura. The next time I face him, it won't even cross my mind."
Ventura claimed Ryan hit him deliberately. "If you don't think he did it on purpose, you don't know the game," Ventura said at the time. "I'm all right. He gave me a couple of noogies, but that was about it."
White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell, who didn't play that day, nearly tangled with Ryan during the brawl. "The whole world stops when that guy pitches," McDowell told the Chicago Sun-Times at the time. "It's like he's a god or something. He's been throwing at batters forever, and people are gutless to do anything about it."
Said Ryan: "[McDowell] was mouthing off and I got tired of it. I don't like to hear from someone who has three or four other people protecting him."
Here are 13 other things you should know about the Ryan-Ventura fight:
Ryan was not ejected from the game.
Ventura and White Sox manager Gene Lamont were ejected, and Craig Grebeck entered the game to replace Ventura. Ryan earned the victory, allowing three hits in seven innings. "Boy, I tell ya what, that's the maddest we've seen Gene Lamont since he's been in a Sox uniform," White Sox play-by-play man Ken Harrelson said on the television broadcast.
Umpire Richie Garcia worked first base in the Ventura game and said Ryan was fully entitled to defend himself. Ryan was ejected just once in his career, by Garcia in a 1992 game against the Oakland Athletics.
Ventura is the only batter Ryan hit in 13 games that season.
Ryan made 800 pitching appearances (766 starts) prior to the Ventura game and six appearances (all starts) afterward. He won his next two starts for the final victories of his Hall of Fame career.
Ryan, at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, had a slight size advantage over Ventura, who was 6-1, 198.
Rangers coach Mickey Hatcher appeared to get the worst of the skirmish, suffering a gash above his right eye.
The Rangers won the game 5-2 to draw within 5½ games of the first-place White Sox in the AL West. The White Sox went on to win the division but lose to the eventual World Series champions, the Toronto Blue Jays, in the AL Championship Series. Texas finished the season in second place, eight games behind Chicago.
Ryan was seven years older than his manager at the time, Kevin Kennedy.
Aside from Ryan, the oldest players in that game were Texas relievers Craig Lefferts and Tom Henke, who were both 35.
Other players of note who appeared in the game include Tim Raines, Bo Jackson, Ozzie Guillen, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez. Future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas had the day off.
Matt Merullo, Chicago's designated hitter in that game, celebrated his 28th birthday the same day. He batted third and went 1-for-3, singling off Ryan and scoring in the first inning.
Ryan and Ventura reunited with no hard feelings at a game in 2012. By that time, Ryan was CEO of the Rangers, and Ventura was a rookie manager of the White Sox. Ryan is now an executive adviser for the Houston Astros, and Ventura remains manager of the White Sox.