There is a price to pay for fame. If you don't believe me, just ask New York Yankees third baseman Robin Ventura who, for the past nine years, has been trying to live down one regrettable incident.
On August 4, 1993, in a game against the Texas Rangers, the na´ve California native made a heat-of-the-moment decision that will haunt him the rest of his life. After being plunked with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball, an incensed Ventura decided to charge the mound. In that instant, I'm sure it didn't occur to him that it was Nolan Ryan he was about to take on.
In a scene that was captured by TV cameras and replayed to millions, when Ventura reached the 46-year-old Ryan (20 years his senior), the Hall of Famer put him in a headlock and started to pound on him mercilessly. It was a spectacle that would enhance Ryan's legend, and forever make Ventura "the man who Nolan Ryan beat up."
I've always felt for Ventura. People tend to forget that, beyond their inflated wallets, professional athletes are human beings - and in Ventura's case, a good human being.
As fans, we spend so much time wishing we could trade places with professional athletes that we don't appreciate the things that we, in our regular lives, don't have to endure. For example, if I decided to punch someone at one of my slo-pitch games, only about 20 people would notice. Highlights would not be shown on TV. Photos would not show up on the internet. And it's unlikely that my reputation would be permanently scarred. Ventura, on the other hand, paid a steep price for his actions. He forfeited something worth more than money: he lost part of his identity.
In our society, it's an unfortunate reality that famous people are what we perceive them to be. And in today's world, we have less time to form this perception. There's a dangerous tendency for us to catch a ten-second clip of incidents like this and make assumptions about the people involved. We like to simplify things in our minds - a practice that often leads to false conclusions.
To Texas Rangers fans, Ventura is still the thug who challenged their baseball hero and got his butt kicked. To the average fan, he is simply "the man Nolan Ryan beat up." Either way, it's a shame.
This is a man who organizes a bowling tournament each year to raise money for charity, a respected teammate, and, from everything I've heard, a good family man. I'm sure that, as a father of four children, one of the toughest things he has to do is explain the Ryan incident to his kids.
Along with being constantly reminded of this event, Ventura has also overcome one of the longest hitless streaks in major league history (an 0 for 47 slump in 1990) and an ankle injury so gruesome that most television networks ran a "Viewer Discretion" warning before showing the highlight. His six Gold Gloves, two all-star appearances, and more than 270 career homeruns are a testament to his tenacity and determination. In my view, this man should be admired, not reviled.
The obvious lesson from this incident is to think before you do something. But there's another lesson here that is just as important - a rule of thumb that we conveniently forget when it comes to famous people. It's that everyone makes mistakes. I'm sure Ventura wishes could he take back what he did that game, but he can't. And sadly, we won't let him forget it.