Available at Toy Stores Everywhere is a battery-powered game called Nolan Ryan's Strike Zone Baseball, in which you throw a soft baseball at a cardboard catcher squatting next to a cardboard batter and the voice of a computer-chip announcer tells you the result of your pitch: ball, strike, single, double play, home run. The game is fairly realistic, except for the part that calls for you to hit one of the fictional batters. "Knox is hit by the pitch," says the voice. "He takes his base."
Now if Cap Toys Inc., the manufacturers of Nolan Ryan baseball, wanted to make its game more like the actual one, it would have Knox charge the mound so that you could pretend to fight him. After all, that's what happened on Aug. 4, when the real Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers hit the batter, in this case, Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox. Ventura started to walk to first, changed his mind and charged Ryan, the 46-year-old alltime strikeout and no-hitter leader, who proceeded to take matters—and Ventura's head—into his own hands by socking the Sock six times before the two were engulfed by teammates.
That fight between Statman and Robin was hardly out of the norm for the last two weeks or for the season. Since July 28 baseball has had no fewer than seven bench-clearing incidents, all of which have had to do with inside pitches or hit batsmen. Says Oakland A's pitching coach Dave Duncan, "There have always been incidents, but now they're on a daily basis." Colorado Rocky third base coach Don Zimmer, now in his 44th year in pro ball, has a more conservative estimate: "It seems like every fourth day, somebody's at it."
"We've only had three significant altercations this year," says lame duck American League president Bobby Brown, who seems to be counting his days left in office more carefully than he's counting his significant altercations. Starting with a March 5 preseason game in which a pitch by Mike Jackson of the San Francisco Giants broke the left hand of Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs and brought out players from both dugouts, baseball has had 18 such confrontations in 1993, eight in the American League, eight in the National League and two in friendly spring training exhibitions. "It's getting out of hand," says St. Louis Cardinal centerfielder Ray Lankford. "This is baseball, not boxing."
Indeed, in a season in which John Olerud is hitting close to .400, in which the Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies have made amazing turnarounds, in which Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez are knocking down the fences, these are some of the brawls and strikes that will linger:
•On June 6, after Baltimore Oriole pitcher Mike Mussina hit Seattle Mariner catcher Bill Haselman with a pitch, Haselman charged the mound, and a vicious, 20-minute BCI—bench-clearing incident—ensued. "There were some real licks," said home plate umpire Durwood Merrill. "I just kept telling the guys, 'Hey, fellas, Jesus Christ wouldn't do this.' That didn't seem to work very well." Seven players and Seattle Mariner manager Lou Piniella were ejected and fined and/or suspended. More significant, Seattle pitcher Chris Bosio injured his collarbone, and Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken hurt his right knee so badly in the melee that he actually considered not playing the next day.
•On June 15 in Colorado, the Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers fought a doubleheader. After Rocky Andres Galarraga slid hard into second and kicked Dodger Jody Reed, L.A. hurler Ramon Martinez hit Charlie Hayes in the back with the next pitch. Hayes then charged the mound and started a BCI. In the eighth, Rocky pitcher Keith Shepherd, a former amateur boxer who fought as the Apache Kid, threw behind Cory Snyder, grazing his back, and shouted, "Come on, come on." Several Dodgers took him up on the offer, causing BCI II, from which Shepherd emerged in need of a cut man.
•On July 29, one day after Ranger manager Kevin Kennedy had threatened Kansas City Royal manager Hal McRae with retaliation for K.C.'s plunking of first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, Ranger pitcher Bob Patterson nailed Royal centerfielder Brian McRae, who is Hal's son. Ignoring custom, Brian charged not Patterson but Kennedy, who was in the Texas dugout. "I actually admired Brian's courage," said Andy Van Slyke of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, like many, watched a tape of the charge on ESPN. "He was like the first guy out of the foxhole. However, the first guy out of the foxhole is usually dead." McRae, however, was uninjured.
•On Aug. 2, one day after they were involved in two BCIs against the Phillies, the Pirates found themselves in one against the Cubs. Following his home runs in the first and fifth, Pittsburgh's Carlos Garcia was hit by Chicago pitcher Bob Scanlan in the sixth. In the bottom of the inning Pittsburgh reliever Blas Minor buzzed Chicago's Mark Grace twice. After the second pitch Cub outfielder Sammy Sosa charged out of the dugout, and a melee ensued. Minor, Scanlan and Pirate outfielder Al Martin were thrown out. But the ill will lingered as Chicago pitcher Jose Bautista made another Pirate, Lonnie Smith, walk the plunk. On participating in back-to-back brawls, Pittsburgh third base coach Rich Donnelly said, "I spent more time in fair territory in those two days than I did in my whole career as a player."
•On Aug. 4, Ryan quite literally punched out Ventura. First, though, he hit him with a pitch. Ryan ended up at the bottom of the pileup that followed, but protecting him, according to some sources, was none other than Chicago White Sox DH (and fellow Nike spokesman) Bo Jackson.