Tom Henke turns 64 today.
The Blue Jays got Henke as compensation for the Rangers’ signing of Jays’ free-agent Cliff Johnson. Back then, teams that signed another free agent gave up a player to the original club. A team would protect some players, and the team that lost the free agent would choose someone. It turned the free agency into a trade. Generally, the trades worked better for the team signing the free agent. In this case, it worked out very badly for the Rangers. The Jays got the better player, and a few months later, the Jay’s traded a few players, who would never amount to anything, to get Cliff Johnson back. The Rangers traded Tom Henke for 82 games worth of Cliff.
Henke got the call up to the major league team at the end of July of 1985. In the last couple of months of the season, Tom got into 28 games and earned 13 saves and had a 2.03 ERA in 40 innings pitched, one heck of a start to a career. Still, it seems strange that Henke would receive MVP votes and some votes for Rookie of the Year, including one first-place vote. How does anyone figure that a guy that pitches 40 innings could be MVP or Rookie of the Year?
In 1986, Henke had his first full season as our closer, and he was terrific, setting a new team record with 27 saves, winning another 9 with a 3.35 ERA in 91.1 innings in 63 games. He and Mark Eichhorn made a great pairing to end games for the Jays. With Eichhorn throwing slow junk with a submarine delivery, Henke following, throwing heat, he looked that much faster. Henke broke his mark for saves the following season with 34, pitching 94 innings in 72 games, with 128 strikeouts and 62 hits. No closer throws 94 innings these days. He earned MVP votes again, but teammate George Bell won the award. He also made the All-Star team that year and pitched 2.2 shutout innings in the AL’s 13 inning loss. If a team’s closer threw 2.2 innings in an All-Star game now, there would be screams from that player’s team. This was when we blew the division lead at the end of the season against Detroit. Henke wasn’t blameless, blowing a save against them, but then he pitched 2.2 innings in that game and only gave up one run.
In 1988 he dropped to 52 games and 25 saves, with newly acquired Duane Ward getting 15 saves and doing a terrific job as the setup man. Henke also fell under a strikeout per inning, striking out 66 in 68 innings. In 1989 Henke had his best ERA as a Jay at 1.92. He had an 8-3 record in 64 games and 20 saves. Ward had 15 saves. They must be the best pair of relievers the Jays ever had. We won the AL East again that season but lost out to the Oakland A’s in the ALCS in 5 games. Henke pitched in 3 of the games had 2.2 perfect innings.
In 1990 Henke got the lion’s share of the saves getting 32, while Ward got 11. Tom had another terrific season, finishing with a 2.17 ERA in 74.2 innings in 61 games, striking out 75. In 1991 Henke spent some time on the DL in April, and he finished with 32 saves while Ward had 23. Ward showed that he was in line to take over the closer job. Henke had a 2.32 ERA in 49 games. The Jays won the AL East again but lost out to the Twins in 5 games in the ALCS. Henke pitched 2.2 perfect innings in two appearances.
!992 was Henke’s last with the team, and that was the year we won our first World Series. Henke was a big part of it, matching his franchise high of 34 saves during the season with a 2.26 ERA. He saved 5 more games in the playoffs, 3 in the ALCS against the A’s, 2 more in the World Series against the Braves. He did have a blown save in the last game, giving up a run to allow the Braves to tie the game in the 9th, but we won the game in the 13th.
After the season, Henke was allowed to leave as a free agent. He signed with the Texas Rangers. Tom was 35, and we had Duane Ward take over his role on the team. He played two seasons with the Rangers saving 40 games in 1993, and then finished his career with St. Louis in 1995, saving another 36 games and getting MVP votes again. He finished his career with 311 saves, making him 25th all-time in saves.
Henke was the first real closer the Jays had and lived up to his name, The Terminator. A big guy, 6’5”, imposing-looking (even with glasses) and of course, the hard fastball, forkball, and slider he threw added to the scare he put into batters. In perspective, Henke’s career strikeouts per 9 innings of 10.29 was better than Nolan Ryan’s 9.55.
He played at the end of the era of closers who would average more than an inning per appearance. I’d love to see that come back. I don’t know why we shouldn’t have the best arm in the pen go a couple of innings when needed.
Tom is still our career leader in saves, 217. Duane Ward is second at 121. Has record is safe for many years to come (Jordan Romano is our active leader in saves at 25).
Henke really should be up on our ‘Level of Excellence.’ There are few guys I liked watching more.
Anyway, Happy Birthday, Terminator! I hope it is a great one.