25 years ago Nolan Ryan headlocked Robin Ventura during infamous MLB brawl

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

A quarter century ago, life forever changed for Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura. For on Aug. 4, 1993, Ryan, the 46-year-old future Hall of Famer, subdued Ventura, the hard-charging 26-year-old All-Star, with a headlock and a series of noogie punches that reshaped the legacy of both players in a way that few other baseball brawls have.

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During a career spanning 27 seasons, Ryan won 324 games and struck out an all-time best 5,714 batters. Yet some modern fans might know him best for that one moment. Though he only spent the final five seasons of his career with the Texas Rangers, many modern fans will only remember him wearing their uniform. Not because he earned his 300th career victory or pitched the final two of his seven career no-hitters with Texas. They remember it because every time they see the video of him headlocking and pummeling Ventura, that’s the uniform he was wearing.

It’s amazing. In a career that brilliant. One that earned Ryan enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 and inspired generations of pitchers, this brawl serves as an enduring image and perhaps even the defining moment of his career.

The same can be said for Ventura, though obviously history has been much less kind to him. Despite a 16-year MLB career with a pair of All-Star selections, multiple Gold Gloves and an unforgettable walk-off grand slam turned single during the 1999 NLCS, he too is remembered most for one moment. That moment being when he became Nolan Ryan’s punching bag.

It’s a tough moment to live down. We’re not helping matters either by bringing it up one more time, but it’s impossible not to look back at what may stand the test of time as MLB’s most infamous brawl.

What ignited the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura brawl?

According to those involved, the bad blood actually dated back to spring training in 1990 and didn’t initially involve Ventura. The story goes that Ryan allowed a home run to Craig Grebeck, a typically light-hitting infielder, during a Grapefruit League game and did not appreciate how long Grebeck admired it. That began a back and forth battle of hit batters and brush-back pitches over the next three seasons, which ultimately came to a head in August of 1993.

The brawl itself stemmed from Ryan hitting Ventura in the shoulder with a pitch. Ventura had delivered an RBI single his first time up, so Ryan busted him inside the second time around. When the one pitch got too far inside and plunked him, Ventura decided to charge Ryan and the rest became history.

On Aug. 4, 1993, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan grabbed a headlock on the charging Robin Ventura during one of MLB’s most infamous brawls. (AP)
On Aug. 4, 1993, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan grabbed a headlock on the charging Robin Ventura during one of MLB’s most infamous brawls. (AP)

What was the immediate aftermath of the brawl?

Would you believe Ryan was not ejected for his role? The umpiring crew led by Richie Garcia determined Ryan had the right to defend himself after Ventura charged the mound. It’s difficult to imagine that happening in today’s game. If punches are thrown, an ejection almost certainly will follow.

Ventura, of course, was ejected from the game for charging the mound and inciting the brawl. No other players were ejected. White Sox manager Gene Lamont was tossed too, likely for arguing that Ryan deserved to be ejected.

Not only did Ryan remain in the game, he would be the winning pitcher after allowing two earned runs over seven innings. It was the third to last of his 324 career wins in the seventh to last of his 773 career starts.

Ventura was ultimately suspended two games and fined $1,500. Ryan received no punishment.

How did the 1993 season finish?

Much better for Ventura and the White Sox. In the 52 games after the brawl, Ventura hit .283/.394/.439 with five home runs and 31 RBI. The White Sox would go on the win their division, but eventually fell to the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.

Ryan’s season and career ended on Sept. 22, 1993, when he tore a ligament in his elbow. At the time, the Rangers still had a series left with the White Sox. It’s unknown if the Rangers would have allowed for a rematch with Ventura.

Are Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura on good terms now?

They absolutely are. The two officially buried the hatchet in 2012 and no longer harbor any ill-will against each other.

The late Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas chronicled their meeting before the White Sox and Rangers season opener. Ventura was making his managerial debut for the White Sox that day. Ryan was serving as the Rangers CEO.

“He was a very good player and very successful player,” Ryan said of the meeting. “It was just a reaction or response to the moment. He and I had no personal interaction prior to that night. There was nothing that precipitated it from something previously.”

As is often the case, the images have long outlasted the grudge. But because of those images, the grudge that existed in that moment will last forever.

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