Nolan Ryan was ready to put the wraps on his career, and if anyone deserved a rest, it was Nolan Ryan in 1993. Since September of 1966, Nolan Ryan had been retiring batters, and the time had arrived for him to finally retire himself. He would be leaving baseball having pitched seven no-hitters and having struck out more batters (5,714 would be his career total) than any pitcher in the history of the game.
But Nolan Ryan had one more moment left.
On this date in 1993 in the Texas heat, the forty-six-year-old Ranger pitcher tagged Chicago White Sox third-baseman Robin Ventura in the ribs with a pitch that would have sent Ventura to first base had he not decided to visit the pitcher’s mound on his way. What ensued was perhaps the most one-sided brawl in baseball history; it was over pretty quickly, really. Ventura, twenty years younger than Ryan, charged the mound in retaliation for the pitch. Ryan put Ventura in a headlock, and then rained a rapid half-dozen punches into Ventura before Ryan’s catcher, Ivan Rodriguez, pulled the two men apart.
Because Ventura started the altercation, he was ejected from the game.
One witness to the game, the then-current owner of the Texas Rangers, George W. Bush, said in his 2000 campaign memoir, A Charge to Keep, “I remember when Robin Ventura charged the mound, and Nolan gave him what the sportswriters called a ‘Texas whuppin.’ He looked like a beast protecting his lair. Ventura must have been irrational to charge someone as big and tough as Nolan. After the bench-clearing brawl, Ryan went on to pitch seven innings, allowing only one earned run. . . . The Ventura incident cemented the legend of Nolan Ryan.”
Nolan Ryan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in July, 1999. This portrait of Nolan Ryan, by artist Ruth Munson, is on view at the National Portrait Gallery in the “Champions” exhibition on the third floor mezzanine.
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery