With a single swing, Rougned Odor rivaled George Teague, Derian Hatcher and surpassed The Man himself — Nolan Ryan — as the best “fighter” in our distinguished deep-fried sports history.
There are but few punches, tackles or shoves that approach the significance of what the Rangers’ second baseman did to Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista on Sunday. The most famous was Nolan’s takedown of the White Sox’s Robin Ventura, while the most important was Cowboys safety Teague’s intolerance of that giant rat, Terrell Owens.
But of Nolan and Robin first.
In the immediate afterglow of the billions of replays of Odor’s now T-shirt-worthy punch, the immediate comparisons were drawn to Nolan’s skull pounding of Ventura.
Nolan is in Cooperstown, but Odor’s dalliance with Joey Bats is a Hall of Fame moment.
Take it from a player who was there.
“I was watching [Odor’s punch] and I said, ‘This is bigger than Nolan,’ ” said former Rangers outfielder Donald Harris, who started in center field when the Rangers played the White Sox in Arlington on Aug. 4, 1993. “You gotta remember — all of this started back in the playoffs. The significance of what happened [with Odor and Bautista], there is a history there between those teams.”
Harris now lives in San Antonio where he is a high school baseball coach.
“The significance of Nolan’s was that you had a Hall of Famer and a young guy was charging at him,” Harris said. “I was standing there [in center field that night in ’93] and was like, ‘Wow — he’s really doing this.’ ”
Nolan was 46 and in the final season of his 27-year big league career. He had more than 300 wins and 5,000 strikeouts.
Ventura was 26 and in the fifth season of his 16-year big league career. He had an All-Star Game appearance and two Gold Gloves. And he was sick of Nolan’s insistence on pitching inside.
After singling off Ryan in the first inning, Ventura was plunked in the third. That’s when Ventura decided bull rushing God in his living room was a good idea.
Like every other player at Arlington Stadium that night, Harris rushed to join the mass of humanity around the mound. Just as he arrived, he saw a large White Sox outfielder nearing the pile.
“It was Bo Jackson,” Harris said.
The best athlete of his generation was the one who picked up Nolan from the bottom of the bodies that included Tim Raines, Ozzie Guillen, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez.
“When I saw [Ryan hitting Ventura], I was like, ‘Wow — he’s taking it,’ ” Harris said. “It was a one-time deal — you are charging the mound and you are messing with the wrong person.”
In the stands that night was future U.S. President George W. Bush, who was the Rangers’ club president at the time. He told Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves, “I thought about [joining the fight], but then I saw Bo Jackson out there and decided to stay right where I was.”
Ryan was not tossed out of the game, and instead allowed one earned run in seven innings for the win. The whole “scene” took about 15 minutes, but it is all captured in the iconic picture of Ryan head-locking Ventura, which is now a collectible.
If it had not been Nolan on the mound, the moment would have been another basebrawl. Unlike these Rangers and these Blue Jays, who have a history, there was no such animosity between those Rangers and those White Sox.
Nothing like there was on September 24, 2000, when the San Francisco 49ers visited the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. The teams of the ’90s were no more, but the 49ers were still decent whereas the Cowboys were terrible.
Long before his delusional paranoia split the Cowboys’ locker room, T.O. was a cornerback-killing receiver for the Niners.
After Owens scored a second-quarter touchdown on that overcast afternoon, he sprinted to the star at midfield and opened his arms, which prompted a cascade of boos.
The emotions popped when T.O. scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to make the score 40-17. He again sprinted to the star, only he did not see Cowboys safety George Teague in pursuit. As Owens put down the ball, Teague tackled him. Only his momentum prevented a clean shot.
After he was ejected from the game, Teague was walking toward the player’s tunnel when he stopped, looked skyward and made a defiant “X” with his arms — à la Dez Bryant.
“The truth is I don’t know why I did it,” Teague said in an interview for the (outstanding) book I wrote on Texas Stadium. “I kinda blacked out when he started running toward the middle of the field. ... I remember the crowd noise and the unbelievable amount of cheers for that.”
Teague was greeted in the locker room by safety Darren Woodson, who had been ejected in the third quarter.
“What the hell happened to you?” Woodson asked.
“I got tossed,” Teague said. “I ran Owens.”
Woodson said: “It’s about time somebody did something.”
It’s a fair assumption that the Rangers, and all of Rangers Nation, felt the same way about Rougned Odor’s decision to turn Jose Bautista’s face into a speed bag.
Odor has taken, and will take, far more important swings in his career, but he may never again connect the way he did Sunday afternoon.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.
Our fair city has had some other memorable dust-ups. They include:
1. In April 1999, bruising Dallas Stars defenseman Derian Hatcher broke the jaw of Phoenix Coyotes forward Jeremy Roenick in retaliation for a hit on Stars center Mike Modano. Hatcher’s hit was so deliberate, and brutal, he was suspended the first five games of the NHL playoffs, the longest in the league since 1955.
2. Entering the ’98 postseason, the Stars were the best team in the NHL. Then, San Jose Sharks defenseman Bryan Marchment ran Stars center Joe Nieuwendyk into the boards with a dirty hit in Game 1. Nieuwendyk was knocked out of the playoffs with a torn ACL and MCL. Marchment deliberately avoided Hatcher in the coming years because he was smart enough to know he would lose. Eventually the two fought at Reunion Arena with both players landing quality punches.
3. The Dallas Mavericks have not had many of these, but one came during their memorable seven-game Western Conference semifinal series against the rival San Antonio Spurs in 2006. In the final seconds of Game 5, Mavs guard Jason Terry and Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Michael Finley were contesting for the ball on the floor. While on his back, Terry punched at Finley’s man-parts area. Terry was suspended for Game 6, but the Mavs won Game 7 in San Antonio en route to their first appearance in the NBA Finals.