White Sox

White Sox

This story was originally published on CSNChicago.com on March 2, 2012. Today marks the 22-year anniversary of the Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan fight.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Aug. 4, 1993, might have been just one day on the calendar, but for Robin Ventura, it's a date he wont be able to escape for the rest of his life.

It was on this fateful evening that a 26-year-old Ventura charged the mound in Arlington, Texas against 46-year-old Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan, who proceeded to hammer Ventura with an embarrassing array of noogie shots to his head. Even if Ventura had gone on to hit the game-winning home run in a World Series, he might not have been able to top the visuals of this chaotic and surreal melee, easily one of the greatest in baseball history.

"I think there might have been 500,000 people in the stadium when that happened, because everyone says they were at that game," Ventura said about the play that has been replayed so many times, it probably belongs in the Hall of Fame along with Nolan Ryan himself.

That summer, the U.S. Junior Olympic baseball team spent two weeks training in Tyler, Texas. It was a squad comprised of players either going into their senior years in high school or recent draftees who had just graduated.

The day of the game, the team made the two-hour bus ride to Arlington to watch the Rangers play the White Sox. They arrived early to watch batting practice. Afterwards, they were led into the tunnel near the visiting clubhouse where they were introduced to the one and only Robin Ventura.

 

"We all had our USA garb on, and lo and behold Robin comes out because he was an ex-USA baseball player," remembers a certain player on that team. "He gave us a little pep talk and said hello."

This young ballplayer hoped to follow in Ventura's footsteps. He didnt just want to make it to the major leagues, he wanted to excel at the sport and play the game right. Ventura was a perfect example of this type of ballplayer; a model citizen who probably drank milk and called his mother every day — or at least that was the image of Ventura at the time.

Well, that was until the game started.

It was just a brief meeting, but Robin made an impression on the team, and specifically on that one player who would eventually fulfill his dream of baseball, later becoming one of the game's biggest stars.

Who was he?

None other than Paul Konerko.

It was a chance meeting that Konerko remembers vividly. Ventura...not so much.

"I don't remember it all," Ventura said. "Apparently, I was talking to a U.S. team, an amateur team about sportsmanship. Things went a little haywire in the game."

Did they ever.

"They probably just grabbed him and he didn't even know what it was, and he came out said hello, said hi, good luck guys, and that kind of stuff," said Konerko. "Two hours later, there's a riot on the field that he caused."

The White Sox and Rangers hadn't been getting along at the time. Alex Fernandez plunked Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez the inning before. If Ryan wanted to retaliate (as he often did), Ventura was the logical target because his single in the first inning gave the Sox a 1-0 lead. But even before the game began (right around the time he met with the young Olympians about sportsmanship), Ventura told his teammates that if he got hit, he was going to charge the mound no matter who was out there.

Watching the brawl unfold from the left field bleachers was a stunned Konerko.

Did seeing Ventura go after one of the best, most respected players in the game change his opinion of him?

Nope. The opposite.

"That made me think nothing less of him, only more because anybody who's going to charge Nolan Ryan, you gotta have..."

Konerko paused for a few seconds, trying to find the right word he can use on family television. Then one popped in his head.

"You gotta have some guts, let's just put it that way."

Ventura fighting Ryan, as crazy as it was, made him a hero to his White Sox teammates. Now a 14-year veteran himself, its an attitude Konerko loves to see in a clubhouse.

"That gives you ultimate respect in this game if you say, 'Hey this guy throws at me a lot or he throws at our team a lot, if he hits me, I'm gone. Be ready.' That's ultimate respect in the fact that he followed up on his word," Konerko said.

 

Ventura was ejected, but Ryan, for some inexplicable reason, was able to stay in the game.

"And I remember for every inning after that, the whole place was chanting 'Nolan' for what seemed like an hour long," Konerko said. "It was an electric-type atmosphere after that happened."

When the Olympic coaches thought of taking their players to a baseball game, this was not exactly the kind of experience they probably had in mind. So what kind of effect did the fight have on those young, impressionable minds?

"Obviously, one guy became a major-leaguer so it must have been pretty good," Ventura said, laughing.

And now as fate would have it, where does Ventura make his White Sox managing debut on Opening Day? Texas. And who's the president of the Rangers? Nolan Ryan.

Somewhere out there, the person who makes out the MLB schedule is giggling profusely.

"They'll get all hopped up on it, but I'm not playing," Ventura said about what the fan reaction will likely be. "It's not going to affect me as far as winning or losing the game. I'm more concerned about how we do in the game than about getting booed or somebody yelling at you. I mean, that's been happening for years."

It follows Ventura wherever he goes.

"He makes a joke out of it," Konerko said. "Whenever he's in a public setting, they have a pool going. How long is it going to take for the Ventura-Ryan fight to get brought up? He just knows that people are always going to say, What about Nolan Ryan?"

While Ventura says that 500,000 fans claim they were in attendance that night, the official number is 32,312. Paul Konerko will always be able to say that he was one of them.

"There have been a million fights in the game and all that, but with Nolan Ryan, it's just a legendary moment in the game that will always be," Konerko said, "so I'm happy and proud to say that I was there for it."