- 3B, 1B, SS, DH, 2B, P
- July 14, 1967
- 6' 1"
- 185 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-12-1989 with CHA
- Allstar Selections:
- 1991 GG, 1992 GG, 1993 GG, 1996 GG, 1998 GG, 1999 GG
Robin Ventura was arguably the best third baseman of the 1990s, known for his excellent fielding, grand slam home runs, and clubhouse leadership.
After attending Righetti High School in Orcutt, California, Ventura was a 3-time All-American at Oklahoma State University. He led the nation in runs (107), RBI (96) and total bases (204) in 69 games as a freshman in 1986. In 1987, he had a NCAA-record 58-game hitting streak, breaking the previous record of 47; he also led Division I in RBIs two years in a row. His hitting streak remains the Division I record, though his mark was surpassed by Damian Costantino of Division III Salve Regina University in 2003. Ventura helped OSU reach the finals of the 1987 College World Series, although they lost the championship game to a Stanford University team that included future teammate Jack McDowell. Ventura collected four hits – including a pair of doubles – in the final game and batted .364 for the series. In 1988 he earned a spot on the gold medal-winning Olympic baseball team, batting .409 during the tournament. He won both the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy for outstanding collegiate play, concluding his 3-year OSU career with a .428 batting average, a .792 slugging percentage, and 302 RBIs. On July 4, 2006, Ventura was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural class.
Chicago White Sox
After being picked tenth in the 1988 Major League Baseball Draft by the White Sox, Ventura spent much of 1989 at AA Birmingham before joining the Sox that September. While in Birmingham, he earned a spot in the Southern League All-Star Game and was voted the league's top defensive third baseman. He was named to the 1990 Topps All-Star Rookie Roster and earned the starting third base role with the White Sox the next spring. While his 1990 rookie year was marred by an 0-for-41 slump and 25 errors, his 123 hits were the most by a White Sox rookie since Ozzie Guillén in 1985; he also led AL rookies with 150 games played. The next year he won his first Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence, set a team record for RBIs at third base, and led the AL in putouts. In 1992, Ventura won another Gold Glove and earned a spot on the All-Star team. Following the season, Ventura's half-sister perished in an apartment fire near his home in California; Ventura missed the first three weeks of spring training to be with his family.
1993 saw his batting average drop 20 points to .262, though both his slugging and on-base percentages rose slightly. Ventura also collected his 500th hit that May and won his third straight Gold Glove, while becoming the first AL third baseman with three consecutive 90-RBI campaigns since Graig Nettles (1975–78). The White Sox appeared in the ALCS that year, Ventura's only playoff trip while in Chicago, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays.
In 1994, the strike that year likely prevented him from reaching 90 RBI for the only time between 1991 and 1996. When play resumed in 1995, Ventura had ten errors in the first ten games. He spent some time at first base that year amid trade rumors, but ended the year with a career-high .295 average, and on September 4 hit two grand slams in one game, the eighth player in history to do so and the first since Frank Robinson in 1970. The next season he won his fourth Gold Glove, reached new highs in fielding percentage, homers and RBIs, and set team records in career homers by a third baseman (142) and grand slams (9).
When spring training began in 1997 the White Sox were picked by many[who?] to win their division. In a spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium, Ventura slid into home plate and caught his foot in the mud, suffering a broken and dislocated right ankle. The initial prognosis was that he would be lost for the season. However, Ventura returned on July 24, more than a week ahead of the most optimistic predictions. He collected the game-winning hit that night, and homered in his first at-bat the next evening. The White Sox did not make the playoffs, in part due to the “White Flag Trade”.
In 1998, Ventura's final season with the Sox, he won his fifth Gold Glove, but only hit .263. His homer and RBI totals were close to his career averages, but the Sox attempted repeatedly to trade him and declined to renew his contract, with owner Jerry Reinsdorf claiming that he was “deteriorating”.
Incident with Nolan Ryan
In an enduring image from 1993, Ventura was hit by a pitch in the ribs by pitcher Nolan Ryan, the hardthrowing Texas Rangers legend. Ventura charged the mound, and Ryan seized him in a headlock with his left arm and landed six blows to the head and face of the younger player before Rangers catcher Iván Rodríguez separated the two players. Ventura and White Sox manager Gene Lamont were then ejected from the game. Ventura was suspended for two games and criticized by commentators. He would be booed in Texas for the remainder of his career. Video of the incident is still shown before every home game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and is invariably cheered.
Ryan and Ventura have since made up and have even done appearances and card shows together, signing pictures of their famous tangle.
Move to New York
New York Mets
Ventura departed Chicago in December 1998 when the New York Mets signed him to a four-year deal. In his first year in New York, Ventura hit .301 with 32 homers, 120 RBIs and made only nine errors. On May 20 he became the first player ever to hit a grand slam in each game of a doubleheader. He and fellow infielders Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordóñez and John Olerud were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the “Best Infield Ever”; However, he injured his left knee in August; when the problem finally came to light, just before the postseason, it had worsened to torn cartilage. He took the phrase "Mojo Risin" from The Doors' "L.A. Woman" and made it the rally cry for the Mets that year, meeting Doors lead singer Jim Morrison's widow Patricia Kennealy Morrison when the Mets invited her to a game just before the playoffs.
Despite his injury, Ventura provided the game-winning, bases-loaded, two-out single in the eleventh inning against the Pirates on the final weekend of the regular season to propel the Mets back into the wild card chase. In Game 5 of the NLCS, with the Atlanta Braves up 3-2 in the fifteenth inning, a bases-loaded walk to Todd Pratt forced in the tying run and brought Ventura to the plate. Ventura hit a home run into right-center field. Pratt, however, did not see the ball leave the park and ran back to first base, hoisting Ventura into the air and lugging him off the field before he could round the bases. The hit was officially scored an RBI single, commonly referred to as the "Grand Slam Single". The Mets eventually lost the series. He won his first NL Gold Glove that fall, bringing his career total to six.
In 2000, still recovering from off-season surgery on both his knee and right shoulder, he only hit .232 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs. He spent part of July on the disabled list with inflammation in his repaired shoulder, and was plagued with errors; but rebounded to hit .320 with three homers and 13 RBIs in the last two weeks of the season. When the Mets reached the World Series, he hit his only World Series home run against the Yankees' Orlando Hernández. In 2001, he batted .237 with 21 homers and only 61 RBIs.
New York Yankees
At the end of the season, the Mets traded him to the Yankees for David Justice. In 2002, Ventura batted .247 with 27 homers and 93 RBIs, the eighth time he topped 90 RBI. He was selected to his second and final All-Star team, along with all other members of the Yankees infield. In that year Ventura had the lowest fielding percentage of all third basemen in the major leagues at .941. The Yankees lost the Division Series that October, where Ventura hit .286 with four RBIs. In 2003, he was platooned at third base with Todd Zeile, another former Met. Ventura struggled through the first few months of the year; by late July he had only nine homers and 42 RBIs. He tied Shea Hillenbrand for the major league lead in errors by a third baseman, with 23.
Close of career
Los Angeles Dodgers
On July 31, 2003, Ventura was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor. On August 3, he hit an inside-the-park home run in Atlanta for his first home run as a member of the Dodgers. He spent most of the remainder of the season on the bench.
Re-signed by LA in December, Ventura entered 2004 with a chance to be the Dodgers' starting first baseman, but that changed during the last week of spring training when new general manager Paul DePodesta traded for Cleveland outfielder Milton Bradley. This set off a domino effect that ended in Ventura being relegated to a bench role as a backup infielder and pinch hitter. He had a game-winning RBI in the second game of the season against the San Diego Padres. He only hit five home runs in the season. Two of them were pinch-hit game-winning home runs: on July 17, against the Arizona Diamondbacks and on August 1, against the San Diego Padres. He also hit his 17th career grand slam on August 29, against the New York Mets and his 18th career grand slam on September 7, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ventura made his pitching debut on June 25 during a blowout loss against the Anaheim Angels, allowing a single amid three fly ball outs. The Dodgers made it to the NLDS but lost in four games. The Dodgers went a perfect 10-0 in games that he hit a home run. Ventura retired after the season due to arthritis in his right ankle.
Ventura's 1997 ankle injury - a compound fracture and dislocation - also affected his leg muscles, which began to atrophy following the accident. Full strength in his leg never returned, and the daily pain from his ankle and leg contributed to Ventura's decision to retire from baseball. After retirement, Ventura limped badly and was forced to walk with a cane regularly. On November 18, 2005, Ventura underwent an ankle allograft. Following the surgery and rehabilitation, he now walks without pain and without a limp. He also sometimes appears on ESPNU as an anchor.
Ventura returned to Shea Stadium for the final game on September 28, 2008 for the closing ceremonies, with ex-teammates Edgardo Alfonzo, John Franco, Todd Zeile, and Mike Piazza.
Golden Spikes Award (nation's best amateur player) (1988)
2-time All-Star (1992, 2002)
6-time Gold Glove winner at third base (1991–93, 1996, 1998–99)
Hit two grand slams in one game (September 4, 1995)
Only player to hit one grand slam during each end of a double-header (May 20, 1999)
Hit 18 career grand slams, placing him in a tie with Willie McCovey for 5th on the all-time list, behind Lou Gehrig (23), Alex Rodriguez (22), Manny Ramírez (21), and Eddie Murray (19). 6.1% of his career home runs were grand slams, the highest ratio of any player with at least 250 career home runs.
Hit a "Grand Slam Single" in the 1999 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves (see walk-off home run)
Named American League Player of the Month, July 1991
Was one of the first class of inductees into the College Baseball Hall of Fame on July 4, 2006
Inducted into Oklahoma State University Athletic Hall of Fame on October 17, 2009, along with Barry Sanders, and Garth Brooks.
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- Robin Ventura