Up until a few years ago when things got a bit icy between Nolan Ryan and the current ownership group, heading out to a Rangers game almost certainly included a video montage on the big screen pre-game. Oftentimes, even if you weren't paying attention, you knew exactly what was going on by the roar of the crowd. The clip of Nolan Ryan holding Robin Ventura in a headlock and punching him relentlessly was surely playing.
And for years, that was the defining moment for the Texas Rangers. Not Kenny Rogers throwing a perfect game. Not the division titles that came even in the years before the Rangers managed to go the World Series. A 46-year old pitcher taking on a 26-year old "kid", and not only living tell of it, but making an iconic moment out of it.
It's Ryan, who pitched but five of his 27 big league seasons in a Texas uniform, who has the statue in Arlington. Sure, part of that may be due to him throwing two no-hitters during his Rangers tenure, but make no mistake: The fight is the real reason that fans long remembered Ryan as a Rangers icon".
And occasionally, when the Rangers would substitute "Texas Legends" in for the dot race, there he was. A caricature of Nolan Ryan -- named the "Ryan Express" -- was there racing alongside such historic figures as Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston.
Now it appears that, only a day after Rougned Odor bobblehead day at the ballpark, the Rangers just might need to think about turning Odor into a plush caricature with which to rile up the crowd at home games. If Nolan Ryan going to town on Ventura's face was big in the 90's, just imagine how long Odor taking on Jose Bautista -- and Josh Donaldson, for that matter -- will stick around in the age of social media and viral content.
First things first: I don't care about a bat flip. No, I wasn't a huge fan of Jose Bautista's bat flip in the 2015 ALDS-clinching game. That's not my personal preference, but if it had been "my guy" doing the bat-flipping, I'd have probably loved every second of it.
So going into this season, I wasn't much a fan of any sort of "revenge". Especially after Robinson Chirinos took a ball to the forearm that knocked him out for half the season, beaning guys just for revenge seemed, at best, a risky proposition.
Bush, just over six months removed from prison, is still adjusting to life on the outside. I say this with the disclaimer that the following isn't simply wild speculation. It's something I have on pretty good authority from someone I trust. Beyond an ongoing fight with alcohol addiction, Bush spent over three years in an entirely different world. One where you're expected to step up and have the backs of your "people", or else. It's never pretty, and it's not something we often like to acknowledge. Nonetheless, it's assuredly still in his mind, and he felt like it was something he needed to do. Consider his post-game comments, when asked if he knew of the Bautista's bat-flip in 2015:
“Yeah, I mean, it was a memorable game. I was really hoping we could pull it off. Rooting for the Rangers the whole way. I really wish we could have won that game, but it’s just amazing to be a part of this team and to be able to go out there and beat Toronto.”
Bush, of course, wasn't even on the team in 2015. He wasn't on any team in 2015. And yet, there he stood, talking like a guy who loves being a part of an organization that gave him a second chance. Was he suggested to do so by a member of the bullpen? Probably. But I'd also say it isn't out of the realm of possibilities that, given all of the above, he simply decided to take matters into his own hands. In either scenario, I'm not sure he needed too much convincing to throw at Bautista.
And again, I don't necessarily like it. In the situation, I definitely didn't like it. It put the tying run on base late in a close game. That said, through all of the intentional/unintentional talk, the fact that Bush placed the pitch exactly where you'd ideally want a "payback pitch" at least lends credence to the idea that the ball didn't just slip out of his hand. When asked if it was a purpose pitch?
“I don’t have any comment on that.”
And now we come to the tough part of the discussion. The legal/illegal slide issue is one Toronto has been wrapped up in on numerous occasions in 2016, and for his part, Rougned Odor has been involved in his fair share of questionable slides. That he was upset at Bautista's deep slide on a double play ball was no surprise.
In fact, that's the kind of player Odor is. That's who Bautista is. The unstoppable force and immovable object paradox. Something had to give. And when two fiery players get heated with one another, things have a tendency to boil over. In this case, it involved both guys going at each other, both cocking their fists in anticipation, and Odor beating Bautista to the punch, literally.
And while I may not like all of the strategy that went into it, as a Rangers fan, it's hard not to love the results. It's no state secret that Jose Bautista rubs some guys in the game the wrong way. It isn't simply the demonstrative nature or fiery passion. It's his petulant attitude when baseball doesn't go his way, a tendency to throw a tantrum when a plate appearance doesn't result in him being on base. He's long been noted as a diva and someone that makes himself easy to hate. Those things, more than just a simple bat flip, end up adding up and rubbing guys the wrong way. So in that sense, Odor was merely doing what 98% of the rest of baseball have wanted to see happen; finally give the man a reason to back up those tantrums, that fake tough guy persona, and "playing the game the right way with a fiery passion."
If you're a Blue Jays fan calling it a suckerpunch, I'm sorry, but that's not right either. As Brandon McCarthy so eloquently put it on Twitter: Are we to believe that Bautista was cocking his fists and winding up to tickle Odor? It just so happens that the younger, smaller player was able to strike first. It tends to happen in a fight.
The fact is, until MLB actually puts some sort of rule in place about retaliation, these things will continue to happen. And given the kind of buzz Sunday's game surely generated for baseball, it's not something they'll likely be in any hurry to "fix" anytime soon. Is it a good look? Probably not. But they'll save face publicly by issuing suspensions where needed -- even as they sensationalize the entire thing on their own online media platform -- and that will be that as far as the national "outrage" is concerned.
For Texas, however, Rougned Odor just morphed himself into something more than a 22-year old second baseman for the Texas Rangers. In the eyes of many, he'll end up going down as a Texas legend, and it wouldn't surprise me too terribly to see his solid right hook as part of a video montage at the ballpark in the coming years.