Duane Ward turns 53 today. How come his birthday makes me feel old.
Duane is number 2 on the Blue Jays all time saves list. He likely has a couple of years before Roberto Osuna catches him up. Ward has 121 saves, Osuna sits 6th on our list at 65 (10 more catches him up to B.J. Ryan).
Duane Ward was born May 18, 1964 in Park View, New Mexico. He was drafted in the first round of the 1982 amateur draft, 9th overall, by the Atlanta Braves, out of high school. Dwight Gooden was picked 4 spots before him. A big (6'4") right-hander Ward struggled as starting prospect in the Braves system, having big time control issues walking 5 per 9 innings without getting the strikeouts the way he would later. On July 6, 1986 the Jays traded Doyle Alexander to the Braves for Ward. Doyle was a pretty good starter but is safe to say we won that one.
After a couple of cups of coffee in the majors in 1986 and 1987, Duane started the 1988 season in the Jay's bullpen and quickly became setup man for Tom Henke. He was terrific, going 9-3 with 15 saves and a 3.30 over 111.2 innings in 64 games. With 60 walks and 91 strikeouts, part of his effectiveness was his wildness. It seems like such a short time again, but it’s a whole different world. No way could a setup man pitch 111 innings these days.
For the next four seasons Ward was the setup man for Henke and they were great together. Duane improved in the role each year having ERAs of 3.77, .3.45, 2.77 and 1.95. He wasn't used like setup men are used now; he would pitch multiple innings and he got to double figures in saves each season, with a high of 23 in 1991. He had a very high strikeout rate getting up to 11/ 9 innings in 1991 and he lowered his walk rate. He in 9th in Cy Young voting in 1991.
After the 1992 season Tom Henke left the team thru free agency and Duane was given the closer job. He was great, saving league leading 45 games, striking out 97 in 71.2 innings with a 2.13 ERA. The 45 saves are still the most saves in a single season in Jay's history. When you strike out 12.2 per 9 innings and just give up a .182 batting average you know you are doing good. He also made the All-Star team, was 5th in Cy Young voting and received MVP votes.
Ward was a big part of our two World Series wins. In 1992 he pitched in 3 games of our ALCS wins over Oakland and had 1 win and in that year's Series win over Atlanta he pitched in 4 games, got 2 wins, gave up no runs and struck out 6 in 3.1 innings. In 1993 he made 4 appearances, with 2 saves in our ALCS win over the White Sox and 4 more appearances with a win and a save in our win over the Phillies.
Duane missed the whole of the 1994 with a torn rotator cuff. He tried to come back in 1995 but after 4 appearances his career was over at 31 (a large vote against having relievers throw 100 + innings a season). He was a great pitcher for 6 seasons but he threw a lot of 95 mph fastballs and hard sliders over those years. He wasn't used a one inning pitcher and he would pitch 80 games a year.
Rob Neyer rated him our second best reliever in team history. He runs the "Duane Ward Baseball Clinic" and does motivational speeches. He also traveled with the Jays baseball clinic. My youngest son went to those clinics a couple of times. Duane was good with the kids.
Happy Birthday Duane. Hope you have a good one.