Thirty years ago, one of the most memorable happenings in Major League Baseball took place when 46-year-old Nolan Ryan pummeled 26-year-old Robin Ventura.
By the time of the fight the legend status of Nolan Ryan was already cemented. He held, and still holds, the Major League Baseball record for career strikeouts, strikeouts in a season, career no-hitters, no hitters in a season, and most seasons played. Ryan was also respected for his extremely hard work ethic which was dominated by hours of daily workouts. More so, he was honored for his strength of character, that runs as deep as American and Texas pride, on and off the field.
In 1993, Ryan was 46 years old, playing for the Texas Rangers, and had announced that was his final season. That year was an exciting baseball season, but it was also a nostalgic one. Ryan had announced his retirement as did future Hall of Famers George Brett and Robin Yount. Future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk was released by the Chicago White Sox after being treated poorly and used by ownership in order to draw tickets. The great Dale Murphy, who should be in the Hall of Fame if anything for his character matching the strength of his play, had to retire instead of being released.
The year 1993 saw Ryan riddled with injuries but he pushed hard. Being undefeated the previous month, Nolan took the mound on August 4 against the Rangers division rivals, the Chicago White Sox. There had been a lot of bad blood already between the Rangers and White Sox with beanings and ejections in previous games.
In the third inning, Nolan hit White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura in the back with his hard fastball.
Ventura, half-heartedly, charged the mound where Ryan grabbed him like a Texas steer in a headlock and began pounding away on him. Nolan landed six punches on his opponent, five on Ventura’s head and the last one in his face before both were lost in an avalanche of players.
Ventura was ejected. Ryan stayed in the game. The Texas fans loved it. The Chicago manager berated the umpire’s decision. The manager was then ejected. Texas fans loved it even more. Ryan continued to pitch and it was, coupled with an appearance that year against his old California Angels, his best start of the year. The fight made the front pages of many papers in Texas and many sports pages across the nation with headlines such as “Respect Your Elders.” ESPN did a tale of the tape between Ryan and Ventura if it were a boxing match with Ryan’s advanced age compared to Ventura’s youth as the most noticeable difference. Nolan retired at the end of the season.
America has changed a great deal since those days. George W. Bush moved on from ownership of the Texas Rangers, became Governor of that State and later President. For years the Ryan-Ventura fight would be played at what was then known as the Ballpark in Arlington and now has been through several corporate naming changes. The fight is no longer played.
Media that once gloated over the fight as good ratings, and a tale of morality, have been reduced to videos of the event requiring age consent sign on to see the fight as it might be deemed “offensive.” Baseball pitchers are ejected for throwing brushback pitches or defending themselves against players trying to pummel them, much the same way schoolchildren who defend themselves against bullies are punished.
The year 1993 was one of the last truly great baseball seasons. Five legends retired that year: Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk along with the great, and underappreciated, Dale Murphy. These men taught us the value of old school hard work, competitiveness, and a team centered approach.
The next year season the baseball strike whose pain was only partially rescinded by the Steroid Era. The fallout of that Era and the strike, along with interleague play and unbalanced schedules have messed up the game worse than Astroturf did and the designated hitter still does.
The year 1993 was another time but history cannot be erased. Nor can clean, hard work. As the sun sets, always we will we remember the baseball legends of 1993 who gave America an example. Always we will remember the great Nolan Ryan.