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A HOLLYWOOD HOMER
Lisa Twyman Bessone
May 21, 1990
It wasn't quite a scene out of The Natural. The ballpark's lights didn't explode, nor did the heavens open. But when Robin Ventura, the White Sox's highly touted rookie third baseman, homered off Kansas City's Steve Farr in the eighth inning last Friday night at Comiskey Park, he laid his 0-for-41 slump to rest in cinematic fashion.
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May 21, 1990

A Hollywood Homer

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It wasn't quite a scene out of The Natural. The ballpark's lights didn't explode, nor did the heavens open. But when Robin Ventura, the White Sox's highly touted rookie third baseman, homered off Kansas City's Steve Farr in the eighth inning last Friday night at Comiskey Park, he laid his 0-for-41 slump to rest in cinematic fashion.

True, he had already snapped his hitless streak with a bunt single in the fifth, but Ventura said later, "I wanted to swing and get a real hit. That would relieve the pressure." So with the count at 1 and 1, and the Royals ahead 4-1, Farr delivered an off-speed pitch, and Ventura swung for the fences.

"It felt hard enough to hit the wall," he said. "But the way my luck was going, I didn't want to watch it." His solo home run ignited a five-run rally that gave the white-hot White Sox a 6-4 win. After completing a three-game sweep of K.C. on Sunday, Chicago had moved to within four games of division-leading Oakland.

When the season opened, the White Sox had expected great things from Ventura's bat. After all, he had been a three-time All-America at Oklahoma State, the 1988 winner of the Golden Spikes Award as the outstanding player in college baseball and a star on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in Seoul. His most memorable achievement came in 1987 when he set an NCAA record by going on a 58-game hitting streak.

However, after homering off Boston's Roger Clemens on April 18, Ventura began his other streak, which would lower his average to a dismal .117 going into Friday's game. All that could be said for him was that he was in good company. Mike Schmidt, perhaps the best third baseman ever, batted .196 as a rookie, and second baseman Ryne Sandberg went 1 for 32 in his debut as a Cub. The longest recorded hitless streak belongs to former Cub and Braves pitcher Bob Buhl, who went 0 for 88 between 1961 and '63.

In another baseball screen classic, Major League, slugger Pedro Cerrano offered burning incense, rum and Colonel Sanders's chicken to Jo-Bu, the bat god, to keep his bat from going to sleep and to help him hit the curveball. Any of that go on in the White Sox clubhouse? "Nope," said Ventura. "People suggested that I rub my batting helmet or shave my head. But I kept coming to the park at the same time, taking the same amount of batting practice. You'd think I was batting .500. All during the slump, I was seeing the ball fine, feeling good at the plate. It's just that some guy was always right where I was hitting the ball. I figured that if I stayed with what I always did, things would work out."

On May 8, Ventura did switch his number from 21 to 23, which is also worn by another notable Chicago athlete. Ventura laughs. "Yeah, I'm basically borrowing Michael Jordan's number," he says. "Actually, I've always wanted it, but I got stuck with 21 in college. I knew it would look odd to switch in the middle of the slump. People would think, Man, he's trying everything. But the team gave it to me and I took it."

Though Ventura pooh-poohed voodoo, his teammates were less circumspect. They tried rally caps, visor tweaks, the laying on of hands—anything to break Ventura's curse. "I almost felt like holding a seance to humor them," he said.

Then pitcher Greg Hibbard and utilityman Steve Lyons tried a not-so-subliminal message. On Friday, they scribbled GET A KNOCK on socks that they wore as headbands. Said Hibbard, "We just wanted him to know that we were behind him at every at bat."

In the next two games, Ventura went 4 for 7. "I don't feel any different," he said. "And it's not like it's over because this could all start again. But I'll just keep going. I know now that I'll never quit."

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