Roy Duane Ward | RP | 1986-1995
Duane Ward was born May 18, 1964, in Park View, New Mexico (he and Ken Giles are the only Jays born in New Mexico). The Braves grabbed him in the first round of the 1982 draft, number nine overall. Dwight Gooden went four 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 Blue Jays traded Doyle Alexander to the Braves for Ward. Doyle was a pretty good starter but it 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 Jays’ bullpen and quickly became the 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.
Ward was the setup man for Henke for the next four seasons, and man were they great together. Duane improved each year’s role, having ERAs of 3.77, .3.45, 2.77, and 1.95. We didn’t use him like setup men of today. 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 11/9innings in 1991, and he lowered his walk rate. He was a heck of a pitcher and came in 9th in Cy Young voting in 1991.
After the 1992 season, Henke left the team through free agency, and Duane got 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 in a single season in Jay’s history. When you strike out 12.2 per 9 innings and 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 win over Oakland and had one win. In the series win over Atlanta, Duane pitched in 4 games, got two wins, gave up no runs, and struck out 6 in 3.1 innings. In 1993 he made four appearances, with two saves in our ALCS win over the White Sox. And four more appearances with a win and a save in our victory over the Phillies.
Duane missed the 1994 season with a torn rotator cuff. He tried to come back in 1995, but after four appearances, his career was over at 31. He was a great pitcher for six seasons, but he threw a ton of 95 mph fastballs and hard sliders over those years. He wasn’t a one-inning pitcher, and he would pitch 80 games a year.
As a Blue Jay, Ward was 32-36, with 121 saves and a 3.18 ERA. He also have 67 holds.
Rob Neyer rated him our second-best reliever in team history. He has done some work for Sportsnet radio, he helped with the Blue Jays baseball camps and worked as a motivational speaker. And he was a 2020 inductee to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Duane Ward’s place among Jay pitching leaders:
ERA (>500 IP): 2nd, 3.18
Wins: 27th, 32
Hits Allowed/9 innings (>500): 2nd, 7.32
Strikeouts/9 innings (>500): 3rd, 9.28
Games: 2nd, 452
Saves: 2nd, 121
Innings Pitched: 21st, 650.2
Strikeouts: 10th, 671
Wild Pitches: 4th, 51