How the Robin Ventura–Nolan 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.”
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.