The Much Anticipated(?) Meeting Between Robin Ventura and Nolan Ryan

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How the Robin VenturaNolan Ryan scrap from 19 years ago gained such cult status is understandable when you consider the ages of the participants at the time (Ventura was 26; Ryan 46) and that everyone has seen it as a highlight reel staple for nearly two decades.

Ryan, for all the worship he’s engendered over the years, was an ornery cuss on the mound with a reputation for throwing at hitters for the slightest transgression. Ventura, as a young player, had presumably heard the stories and when Ryan drilled him he knew it was done on purpose. The previous inning, Rangers’ outfielder Juan Gonzalez had been hit by White Sox’ pitcher Alex Fernandez, so it was obviously Ryan pulling old-school retaliation of “you hit my young star, I’ll hit your young star.”

It would’ve been interesting if Frank Thomas or Bo Jackson had come up to the plate instead of Ventura. Would Ryan have thrown at one of them?

Ventura charged the mound, Ryan got him in a headlock and hit him on the head with a few punches; several skirmishes broke out; then everything calmed down. Then it started up again.

You can watch the clip below.

The two had never crossed paths since the incident and it grew into something more than what it was—a run of the mill baseball fight.

But it’s not something that should be remembered along the lines of John Roseboro being clobbered on the head by Juan Marichal’s swinging bat; nor is it on a level with “The Punch” when NBA player Kermit Washington nailed Rudy Tomjanovich and knocked him to the hardwood floor with such force that Tomjanovich hit his head and nearly died.

Roseboro and Marichal eventually made their peace and that was a big deal.

Washington and Tomjanovich also made their peace and that was a bigger deal.

In the context of legitimately dangerous fistfights in the heat of competition, the Ventura-Ryan fight was a diversion that’s gotten far more attention than it deserved and that’s continued to this day. Maybe now it can stop.

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Know What You’re Walking Into with the Marlins

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I had thought that the Marlins truly intended to alter their hardline, organizationally advantageous strategies now that they finally have a new ballpark, but the revelation that the biggest holdup in a deal with Mark Buehrle and presumably other “name” free agents is that the team is steadfastly refusing to give out no-trade clauses, I’m not sure.

Are the conspiracy theorists and naysayers right as they scoff at the Marlins’ excessive display in hosting Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols? Were the welcoming committees and promises little more than a publicity stunt in the hopes that the markets for those players would crash and allow the Marlins to acquire them for team-friendly terms without a no-trade clause?

In a separate issue, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the aforementioned new ballpark and its financing. You can read about that here in the Miami Herald.

All of this is lending credence to the possibility that any major payroll increase is going to be accompanied by a “wait-and-see” approach. Sans the new park, the situation is eerily similar to former owner Wayne Huizenga’s spending spree in 1996-1997. During that off-season, the Marlins signed Bobby Bonilla, Alex Fernandez, Moises Alou and manager Jim Leyland; during the 1997 season, they were right in the middle of the pennant race when attendance figures weren’t what Huizenga expected; with no new ballpark on the horizon, he decided to sell the team.

Following their World Series win in that year, they dumped all their big contracts in trades and lost 100 games in 1998.

Even with the new ballpark opening, the foundation is there to repeat that strategy.

What happens if the Marlins sign or acquire 2-3 more recognizable players to join Heath Bell (with whom the Marlins agreed on a contract yesterday), they’re in contention and the fans still don’t show up? Will Jeffrey Loria use the star players to have another clearance and reference floating and questionable “facts” as to his finances and employ verbal sleight-of-hand to justify it?

This is not an organization with a history of telling the truth. They’re ruthless and self-interested and have been successful under a strict and limited payroll mandated by ownership. Everyone from Loria to team president David Samson on down through the baseball department with Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings toes to the company line and closes ranks when necessary.

If the business will continue to be run like a glossy sweatshop with the brutal and greedy owner calling the shots, Reyes and others had better be aware that if they don’t get that no-trade clause they might sign with the Marlins, play in Florida for a year and find themselves traded to Oakland, Seattle or some other far off West Coast team that they specifically avoided because they wanted to stay in the warmer weather, closer to the East or were hoping the absence of a state income tax in Florida would allow them to bring home more of their paychecks.

All those who are considering doing business with the Marlins—especially Reyes—had better walk into the situation with their eyes open. Obviously he’d be leaving a dysfunctional and cloudy mess with the Mets, but if it’s between the the Marlins and Mets, isn’t it better to be with the devil you know instead of the one you don’t?

Knowing.

That’s the key word.

Anyone preparing to do business with the Marlins had better know the possibilities before thinking they’ve found a home in Miami.

It might be for a shorter than expected stay. Much shorter.

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The Marlins Plan A Spending Spree

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In the winter of 1996-97, then Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga gave GM Dave Dombrowski permission to spend money and sign/trade for veteran players to augment a solid core of talent Edgar Renteria, Robb Nen, Charles Johnson, Devon White, Jeff Conine, Al Leiter and Kevin Brown.

Back then it was an annual undertaking for the club to try and gain public financing for a new ballpark; in this case, winning was seen as the cure. They hired Jim Leyland to manage; signed Bobby Bonilla, Alex Fernandez, Dennis Cook and Moises Alou.

The 1997 Marlins won the Wild Card, upset the Braves in the NLCS and beat the Indians in a 7-game World Series.

Then they dismantled the team when they couldn’t get a new ballpark and were sold.

Now the Marlins have a new ballpark on the way; a talented group of young players; and money to spend.

Apparently they’re intent on spending it.

The circumstances mirror each other.

They’re going to hire a name manager (most likely Ozzie Guillen).

They have a foundation of players upon which to build (Logan Morrison, Mike Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez).

They need a third baseman and Aramis Ramirez is being mentioned; they need pitching and C.J. Wilson is available; they have a first baseman in Gaby Sanchez, but he’d be trade bait if they made a move on Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder; Jose Reyes would allow them to shift Hanley Ramirez to third base; Jonathan Papelbon would fill the void at closer.

Many players are from warm climates and would prefer that type of venue; or they’re attracted to the absence of a state income tax in Florida.

Players will want to play for the Marlins.

But will that bring in fans?

Will a contending team and a new, retractable roof ballpark attract the notoriously fickle and easily distracted, football-preferring masses to support the Marlins for the entire season rather than when they’re in the World Series?

We’re going to find out.

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