- General Editor
- Joined ESPN in 2006
- Massachusetts native, Northwestern graduate
On this date in 1993, Nolan Ryan hit Robin Ventura with a pitch in a game between the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox. Ventura paused briefly after the hit, as if to consider his course of action, then charged the mound, where Ryan — 20 years older than him — put him in a headlock and punched him several times in the head before the whole thing was broken up by the usual basebrawl scrum.
Three things about this fight are certain: One, Ryan was very clearly the victor. Two, it became a staple of sports highlight shows and will likely remain so as long as sports highlight shows exist. And three — had Twitter existed back in 1993, this moment would have dominated the feeds.
You can easily imagine the pattern, which we’ve all seen happen numerous times since the social media service launched in 2006. The initial reaction tweets. The scramble as everyone not watching tried to figure out what was going on. The first person to grab a video garnering tens of thousands of retweets in minutes. Big-name athletes and celebrities latching on to the moment. The memes. The memes about the memes. The inevitable point when everyone gets sick of the memes.
With the anniversary of the fight prompting everyone to remember it across social media, we came up with a short list of moments before Twitter existed that most certainly would have been the only thing anyone talked about on the site — at least for a day or two.
Bo Jackson runs up a wall
It’s tough to narrow down Jackson’s best career highlight — really, this list could just be his career highlights. Jackson defying gravity by running up a wall after a catch, however, would probably provoke the most reaction, if for no other reason than it was unique.
Vince Carter jumps over Frederic Weis
Carter is another player whose best highlights could have peppered this list without any objections. His legendary dunk over center Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics, however, would have had an immediate impact on proto-Twitter. Jumping over a 7-foot human being while playing for Team USA in the Olympics? So many people would have been tweeting about it at once.
Read more: An oral history of Carter’s iconic dunk
Brandi Chastain wins it for the USWNT
This one has it all — the entire world watching the two best teams in women’s soccer facing off in a penalty kick shootout in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, with Chastain hitting the winning penalty kick and immediately creating an iconic moment by ripping off her shirt in sheer jubilation.
Mike Tyson bites Evander Holyfield
Two of the greatest boxers in the world fighting in a rematch in Las Vegas, and one of them bites part of the other’s ear off? Twitter might have had a thing or two to say about the ordeal.
Kerri Strug makes her final vault
For pure drama, this one is tough to beat. The buildup to Strug’s vault, in which she clinched gold for Team USA in the 1996 Olympic women’s gymnastics team competition, would have practically ensured that everyone was watching, with the moment she stuck the landing resulting in online pandemonium.
Christian Laettner hits “The Shot”
Duke. Kentucky. A trip to the Final Four on the line. A shot so clutch that it’s simply known as “The Shot.” Basketball Twitter would have just pounded its keyboards for about ten minutes afterward.
Michael Jordan switches hands in midair
The magic of the best sports Twitter moments is in the a brief period of time when everyone questions what exactly they just saw, whether it’s because of the absurdity of the moment or the outrageous skill involved. This play had a little bit of both. Jordan didn’t have to switch hands in the middle of this layup against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals. But he did, and among so many other things, that’s what made him great.
Roger Clemens throws his bat at Mike Piazza
It’s not often that a broken bat comes right back at the pitcher. It’s also not often that the pitcher throws it back at the batter. Add in the fact that Roger Clemens had beaned Mike Piazza earlier in this same series and this all happened in Game 2 of the World Series, and you can bet it would have gone viral.
Venus and Serena dominate the US Open
The Williams sisters were already stars at this point, but their dominance at the 2001 Open, where Venus didn’t lose a single set en route to defending her title against Serena, was unreal. The hype leading up to their faceoff in the championship round would have been the talk of Twitter.
The Tuck Rule
Was it a fumble? The referees said no. What would the Twitterverse have to say? Given the stakes of this game — how the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders took very different paths at its conclusion — and the fact that instant replay in the NFL was a relatively new phenomenon, plus the fact that it could have gone either way, and Twitter might have melted from the sheer volume of hot takes.
Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary
A last-second heave by the eventual Heisman Trophy winner in a nationally televised game between Boston College and Miami? After a desperate scramble? College football Twitter would have erupted.
The Bartman Game
In at least one way, Steve Bartman was lucky — his moment of infamy came in the 2003 NLDS, before the widespread adoption of social media. As it was, Bartman caught more than enough hell from fans and pundits alike. Fortunately, his story has something of a happy ending, as the Chicago Cubs gave him a World Series ring from their 2016 victory.
Watch: “Catching Hell,” about the moment and its aftermath
Bill Buckner’s error
Unfortunately, bad plays trend just as much as good ones — maybe even more. This is another example of someone being lucky their worst moment came before the social media era. Twitter users might have been ruthless — but maybe it would have been more sympathetic than we might expect.
Wilt Chamberlain scores 100
It seems almost impossible to believe, but there is no footage of Wilt Chamberlain’s record-setting 100-point game. Many think of the iconic photo above when considering it.
But if it was broadcast and Twitter existed at the time?
Wilt had 23 points at the end of the first quarter, 41 at halftime, and if all of proto-NBA Twitter wasn’t watching at that point, we’d be shocked.
Babe Ruth sold to the Red Sox
OK, this one would have required a little more than just Twitter — personal computers and the internet just for starters. Can you imagine, though, the reaction from shocked Boston Red Sox fans as their team sold Babe Ruth of all people to the New York Yankees? Their rivals? And all they got back was cash considerations? #CurseoftheBambino would have trended immediately.
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