White Sox

The Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan fight story you haven't heard

robin-ventura-nolan-ryan-fight-slide.png

The Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan fight story you haven't heard

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."

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

0622-lucas-giolito.jpg
USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

0622-avisail-garcia.jpg
USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.