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Robin Ventura

Robin Mark Ventura (born July 14, 1967 in Santa Maria, California) is a former third baseman in Major League Baseball who played primarily for the Chicago White Sox. He batted left-handed and threw right-handed. An outstanding performer on both offense and defense, he became only the fifth third baseman – joining Ken Boyer, Ron Santo, Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt – to hit at least 250 home runs and win at least five Gold Glove Awards. He ranks 14th in major league history with 1887 games at third base, and his six career Gold Gloves place him behind only Robinson (16) and Schmidt (10) at his position. Baseball statistician and historian Bill James, in the 2001 revision of his Historical Baseball Abstract, chose Ventura as the greatest third baseman of the 1990s.
Ventura was selected by the White Sox in the 1988 amateur draft and made his debut the following year. After spending ten seasons with the Sox (1989-1998), he played for the New York Mets (1999-2001) and New York Yankees (2002-03) before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers late in the 2003 season. A patient hitter with a smooth stroke, Ventura was capable of reaching the fences from left-center to the right-field line. Despite a declining batting average late in his career, he continued to contribute with solid glovework, lefthanded power and plenty of walks. As a fielder, Ventura was among the premier players at his position, leading the American League four times each in double plays and total chances, three times in putouts and twice in assists; he also led the National League in assists, total chances and fielding percentage once each. Few were better at charging and fielding bunts bare-handed. At the conclusion of the 2004 National League Division Series, with the Dodgers eliminated from contention, Ventura announced his retirement from baseball. He finished his 16-year career with a .267 batting average, 294 home runs and 1182 RBI in 2079 games. Ventura also wore knee high socks much of his career, and many will remember him as the opposing player Nolan Ryan put in a head lock.
With the Yankees struggling to stay in first place, owner George Steinbrenner began looking for a scapegoat - and, as the Mets had eighteen months before, he found a handy target in the classy infielder. On July 31, 2003, Ventura was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor. LA's manager, Jim Tracy, wanted little part of the new acquisition: he was a lefty hitter on a team already heavy with left-handed bats; they already had a third baseman, the underachieving Adrian Beltre; and Ventura's average was unimpressive, only .251 at the time. Despite hitting an inside-the-park home run on August 3 and providing not only smooth defense at first base (where he was shunted to) but also key RBIs and a professional air to the Dodgers' clubhouse, by mid-September Ventura was unwittingly caught in a power struggle. Tracy had been feuding with the team's GM, ex-Sox man Dan Evans, for weeks before Evans acquired Ventura — what better way to show displeasure with Evans than to essentially bench his latest find? For 16 straight games, Ventura's contributions were limited to an occasional at-bat or ninth-inning defensive cameo. Once news of the feud leaked out thanks to reporter Bob Nightengale, he was given more playing time, but the damage was done.
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 troubled Cleveland outfielder Milton Bradley, setting off a domino effect that ended in Ventura being relegated to a bench role, that of occasional backup infielder and pinch hitter. He had a game-winning RBI in the second game of the season, but it took over two months for him to hit his first homer, and he only had five the entire year, two of which were pinch game-winners. His best moments came on August 29 and September 7, when he hit his seventeenth and eighteenth grand slams, becoming the third-best grand slam hitter ever; another “highlight” was his pitching debut on June 25, during a blowout loss, only allowing a single amid three fly ball outs. The Dodgers made it to the NLDS but lost in four games, and by that time, severe arthritis in Ventura's right ankle had made retirement the only option. He quietly called it quits on October 10, after going 0-for-1 in the final game of the Division Series.
Perhaps the feature his fans most admired about Ventura is his character: even in difficult times, even in his last season as age took its toll, he always kept an even keel and was an exemplary figure for his teammates. With an unassuming demeanor and a workmanlike sensibility on the field, he gained the reputation as a leader on every team he played for; reporters used words like “sagacious” and “savvy” to describe his intelligent perspective on baseball and life, and even those who hadn’t directly covered him in years wrote glowingly of him upon learning of his retirement. Fans loved him for his quick wit and integrity; managers loved him for his determination, and teammates loved him for his ability to inspire them to greatness and his delightful sense of humor. He may eventually earn serious consideration as a Hall of Fame candidate, although the Hall's voters have a long-established reputation for overlooking third basemen; but to many baseball experts, Ventura was nonetheless a consistent winner.

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