The most famous image of birthday boy Nolan Ryan and the White Sox is Ryan delivering what he called “noogies” to Robin Ventura in an Aug. 4, 1993 brawl in Texas.
There was one time, though, where Ryan was nowhere to be found when he was the epicenter of a White Sox-Rangers donnybrook. In fact, in the aftermath of that fracas, Hawk Harrelson was frantically calling out Ryan on the air.
It was this sequence of events that changed my perception of Ryan from a tough-talkin’ Texan to a classic bully.
The date was Aug. 17, 1990 and the Sox and Rangers were playing a doubleheader in Texas.
The fact that the American League West rivals were even involved in a twinbill was a source of contention.
The two-for-one was necessitated by a rainout IN CHICAGO the previous Sunday at Comiskey Park. On the Rangers last trip into Chicago, the teams waited a grueling eight hours while the rain fell before the game was called.
According to reports of the day, the White Sox wanted Texas to return to Comiskey Park the following Thursday on an off day for both clubs. The Rangers refused and so the tense standoff began.
By the time the game, scheduled to start at 1:35 p.m., was finally postponed in the early evening only 200 or so of the 30,000 expected were still on hand as a long rainy weekend came to a merciful end.
That rain delay/rain out, purported to be the longest in big league history, came on the heels of a White Sox cuffing of Ryan.
On one of the final rollicking Saturday nights at the old park, the Sox defeated Ryan and the Rangers 5-1 in Game 2 to finish off a doubleheader sweep.
Adding to the sweetness of the win was that Craig Grebeck and Ozzie Guillen, who together probably didn’t weigh as much as Ryan, hit back-to-back home runs off the future Hall of Famer in a four-run second inning which sent Comiskey Park into a frenzy.
The home run was the first of Grebeck’s career and the back-to-back dingers were the last at Comiskey Park.
That was the backdrop as the Sox and the Rangers met in Arlington, Texas for a twi-night doubleheader on Aug. 17.
Ryan started Game 1 and it was sunny so picking up Ryan’s 100 mph heater in the late afternoon brightness had to be a challenge.
While he was striking out Sox batters left and right, Ryan drilled Grebeck in the second inning.
I recall the outrage I felt watching that, thinking that the big bad Ryan had picked on the Sox smallest player. That outrage grew when there was some talk that (I don’t recall if it was on the broadcast or in the wake of it all) Ryan was peeved that a Sox player – I think it was Scott Fletcher — asked the umpire to check the ball after a Ryan pitch.
What a baby. Fletcher, Guillen and Grebeck had gotten under Ryan’s skin. Good thing Nolan didn’t have an issue with the Comiskey Park resin bag that season or the bat boy would have been in a world of hurt.
Three innings later, with two outs and no one on, Sox starter Greg Hibbard drilled Steve Buechele igniting a brouhaha.
Buechele charged the mound and the benches cleared. As far as baseball bouts go, this was a good one most likely because of the acrimony that had accrued over the prior few weeks.
As I recall when the players were unpiled and started to retreat to their dugouts, Ryan strolled onto the field.
And Hawk went nuts.
Since this was 1990 and his first year back with the Sox in his second tenure as a broadcaster, this may have been the first the now-famous Hawk rave outs which have most recently been directed at Jay Mariotti and Joe West.
I am paraphrasing but Hawk yelled as Ryan sauntered out of the dugout, “OH, HERE’S RYAN! HAVE SOME CLASS, RYAN! HAVE SOME CLASS!”
It was great.
Of course, Ryan was insane that day, which added to my frustration with him. He fanned 15 in 10 innings proving there was no need to pick on Grebeck and Fletcher but he got no decision in a 1-0 Texas win.
Here are some other times the White Sox got Ryan’s goat:
May 11, 1973: Mike Andrews’ two-run double in the first inning KO’d Ryan in the White Sox 7-4 win over the Angels in Anaheim. Ryan gave up five runs on four hits with one walk while retiring just one batter for the second-shortest start of his career to that point.
June 20, 1973: Luis Alvarado’s single broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh as the White Sox topped the Angels and Ryan 8-3 before 19,142 at Comiskey Park. Pat Kelly launched a two-run homer to put the Sox up 5-2 and, after an out and a walk, Ryan, who gave up 10 hits, was sent to the showers.
May 17, 1978: The White Sox battered Ryan for 10 hits, including two-run homers from Bill Nahorodny and Jorge Orta, in a 9-6 win over the Angels before 13,676 at Comiskey Park. Eric Soderholm had two RBIs as Steve Stone pitched eight innings for his second win.
Sept. 28, 1978: The White Sox KO’d Ryan in the first inning after the gave up four runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning in Anaheim. Soderholm’s two-run homer finished Ryan’s night. The Angels took Ryan off the hook with a five run first of their own and ultimately won the game.
Sept. 11, 1979: The Sox knocked out Ryan, who retired just one batter, in the first inning with five runs in an 8-7 win over the Angels before 6,859 at Comiskey Park. Ryan left after surrendering a homer to Jim Morrison. Chet Lemon and Claudell Washington also had RBIs while the other run scored on a Ryan wild pitch. The Angels took Ryan off the hook with five in the third but the Sox regained the lead in their third on an RBI by Mike Colbern. The Angels tied the game again in the sixth but the Sox took the lead for good (finally!) in the sixth on Alan Bannister’s single. Ed Farmer restored order on the mound with 3.2 shutout innings of relief to get the win.
June 8, 1989: Harold Baines hit two homers and Ivan Calderon and Ron Kittle each went deep once off Ryan in the White Sox 11-7 loss at Texas. The four homers were the most Ryan would surrender in a game in his Hall of Fame career.