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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Merely a Charge, or Act of Sin?

August 08, 1993|ROSS NEWHAN

When Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox made his run at Nolan Ryan in Texas last Wednesday night, some viewed it as sacrilege.

Pitcher Kevin Wickander of the Cincinnati Reds watched the replays and said: "How can you charge Nolan Ryan? It's like charging Elvis."

During a 26-year career in which Ryan has always subscribed to the philosophy of an eye for an eye, he has hit 158 batters, been ejected for it only once and been charged only three times. It's almost as if the hit batsmen believe they would be defacing the Pieta.

"The whole world stops when that guy pitches," Jack McDowell, the White Sox ace, told reporters in Texas the other night.

"It's like he's God or something. He's been throwing at batters forever, and people are gutless to do anything about it. I was glad Robin went out. Someone had to do it. He's pulled that stuff wherever he goes."

Ryan had been charged previously by Willie McCovey and Dave Winfield, when Winfield was still with the San Diego Padres in 1980. Ryan did not face Winfield again until the 1985 All-Star game, at which time he flattened him with a high fastball.

That wasn't a surprise, nor should it have been a surprise when Ryan hit Ventura with a pitch after teammate Dean Palmer had been hit twice by Chicago pitchers Monday night, after Ventura tried to steal second base with the White Sox holding a five-run lead in the ninth inning Tuesday night, and after White Sox starter Alex Fernandez hit Juan Gonzalez in the second inning Wednesday night, the inning before Ryan nailed Ventura in the back.

In his book, "Kings of the Hill," Ryan said the whole issue of intimidation, retaliation, knocking hitters down and brushing them back "comes under the heading of job protection, of union rules." He wrote: "If a pitcher feels he must win through intimidation, I would tell him to do what he thinks he has to do."

Ryan did what he believed he had to do in protecting his own hitters by hitting Ventura, and did what he believed he had to do when he grabbed Ventura around the head as if he were bulldogging a calf on his ranch and hit him six times on the top of his head--"noogies," Ventura said, dismissing the damage.

"After Winfield came out (13 years ago), I told myself that if anybody came out again, I was going to do everything I could to defend myself," Ryan said. "You can call it self-preservation."

Ryan, who also exchanged words with McDowell and attempted to get at him, needed only four pitches--in addition to the six punches--to survive an inning that set a tone for what followed. He retired 12 of the next 13 as the Rangers rallied for a 5-2 victory.

Texas won again Thursday, 7-1--the White Sox scored only one run in the 15 2/3 innings after the fight--to move within 4 1/2 games of Chicago in the American League West.

"I don't believe in fighting, but we'll do what we have to do to win," said Ryan, 46, who appeared to be an angry and determined 16 during the melee.

Said Texas coach Jackie Moore: "I tell these kids not to fool around with an old mule. They'll kick you in the head every time."

ORIOLES' SALE

It was late in the bankruptcy auction for the Baltimore Orioles, as the bidding soared past $160 million on its way to a record $173 million, that Judge Cornelius Blackshear shook his head at the staggering sums and said, "They are in fourth place, aren't they?"

They are, indeed. The Orioles are a close fourth in the American League East, but they are even closer to the Toronto Blue Jays in the financial standings. The Orioles are believed to have grossed $30 million to $40 million in their first year at Camden Yards, and should do the same this season.

They have a sweetheart lease, ticket sales of more than 3 million and 72 private suites that sell on a three-year lease for between $55,000 and $95,000 per year.

Baltimore attorney Peter Angelos, majority partner in the group that won the bidding, has maintained a refreshing posture, acknowledging that despite paying more than he expected, the success of the franchise makes it a profitable investment.

Asked about the industry's expected loss of $7 million per club in national TV revenue next year, and the likelihood that the small-market Orioles will be asked to share some of their revenue, Angelos said he will do what is needed to help maintain competitive balance, adding:

"The (TV) reduction obviously gives us concern, but even with that, the team can do very well."

Angelos said the cash flow is such that the Orioles will be in position to pursue a high-priced free agent when the need is critical, but he would prefer to develop talent within the organization as a means to maintain franchise stability.

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