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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Jays: #21 David Wells

Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago White Sox Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

David Lee Wells | RP, SP | 1987-1992, 1999-2000

David’ Boomer’ Wells was born May 20, 1963, in Torrance, California, though I doubt he was nicknamed Boomer until later. Or maybe not, I see a story saying that his mother was a ‘biker chick’, had five children from four different men, and that a Hell’s Angel member raised him.

The Blue Jays drafted him in the 2nd round of the 1982 amateur draft. Nine picks later, the Pirates took Barry Bonds, and later in the same round, Bo Jackson and Barry Larkin.

David Wells was a big, left-handed pitcher, 6’4”, and he got bigger as the years went on. He was never a fan of working out, but he is a big fan of beer (my kind of guy). It is refreshing after doing a profile of Roger Clemens, where steroids were at the center of the discussion, doing one on Wells, who quite clearly didn’t use steroids. I always felt that his lack of fitness would shorten his career, but he was still pitching in the majors at 44.

His trip up the minor league ladder was slowed by Tommy John surgery (apparently just the third pitcher to have the surgery).

In 1987 Wells was called up to the Jays from Syracuse at the end of June, made two terrible starts, and then was sent back down. They brought back to Toronto as a September call-up and pitched well as a reliever. He earned a spot in the Jays’ bullpen out of spring training in 1988, and made 41 appearances, saved 4 games with a 4.62 ERA. He was sent down to Syracuse in early July and then recalled late in the season.

1989 was David’s first full season with the Jays, and he had a heck of a year, pitching in 54 games, all in relief and finishing 7-4 with a 2.40 ERA. He started the season as a long reliever going three or more innings several times, but he was used more as a setup man as the season went on. After the All-Star break, he was 5-0 with a 0.90 ERA. He had one appearance in our ALCS loss to Oakland.

In 1990 Wells started in the bullpen but moved to the rotation in late May, after Mike Flanagan was released. And Wells stayed there the rest of the season. He made 25 starts and 18 relief appearances; he was 7th in ERA at 3.14, going 11-6.

Boomer started 1991 in the rotation but moved to the pen in September, after a bad stretch of 5 starts, all losses. He had an 8.89 ERA in those games. The Jays went to a four-man rotation down the stretch. He had an excellent season going 15-10 with a 3.72 ERA in 28 starts and 12 relief appearances. He also led the league in picking runners off first, 13, a total that was higher than seven different teams. In our five-game loss to the Twins in the ALCS, Wells had four relief appearances and a 2.45 ERA.

In our first World Series season, 1992, Wells started the rotation and made two starts, but Stieb returned from injury, and Boomer went back to the pen. He returned to the rotation to make 12 starts from the end of July to the end of August when Todd Stottlemyre went down with an injury and then went back to the pen again when the Jays picked up David Cone. Wells didn’t have a great season going 7-9 with a 5.40 ERA, though his ERA was ruined from a game on August 20 when Cito Gaston left him in the game to allow 13 earned runs to save the bullpen. He pitched in 4 games of our World Series win over Atlanta, giving us 4.1 shutout innings.

During spring training of 1993, the Jays released Boomer. Why? Well, because Cito didn’t like him (not that there weren’t many reasons not to like him). I can see that as a reason to trade a player, but to release him? He had to have some trade value. Cito, for all his good points, did tend to take dislikes to some players and allow that dislike to cloud his evaluation of the player. The pair had some arguments on and of the field.

The Detroit Tigers quickly signed him and made him a full-time starter. From Detroit, he went to the Reds, then the Orioles, and then to the Yankees. He had two good seasons with the Yankees going 34-14 with them, winning a World Series ring. He also became the 15th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game.

After the 1998 season, the Yankees traded Wells, Homer Bush, and Graeme Lloyd to the Jays for Roger Clemens. At the time, I wasn’t too happy about it, as even though Wells had pitched well in two of seasons before the trade, but not at the level Clemens had. Add in that Wells was 36, and since he didn’t take care of himself, I thought he wouldn’t age well. But Boomer was terrific for us, and Roger wasn’t as fantastic for the Yankees.

In 1999 Wells went 17-10 for us with a 4.82 ERA while setting career highs for innings pitched with 231.2, leading the league, and strikeouts with 169, a club record at the time for a lefty. He also led the league in complete games with 7, as well as hits allowed. But with his excellent control, he could allow a lot of hits and still be an effective pitcher, and in 1999 he only allowed 2.41 walks/9 innings.

2000 was even a better season for David, finishing 20-8 in 35 starts, with a 4.11 ERA. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, and he started the All-Star game, pitching two shutout innings. He also received MVP votes. He tied with Tim Hudson for the league in wins, was 6th in ERA, second in innings pitched, 1st in complete games and shutouts, and walk rate, only walking 1.21 batters per 9 innings. He was also the first Jay lefty to win 20 games.

After the season, Gord Ash, showing why he shouldn’t have been GM, traded Wells and Matt DeWitt to the White Sox for Mike Sirotka, Kevin Beirne, Brian Simmons, and Mike Williams. Sirotka was injured and never again pitched in the majors, Ash didn’t make the trade contingent on a medical examination, and MLB ruled against the Jays and upheld the trade. The Jays soon fired Ash.

After pitching a season for the White Sox, Boomer continued his tour of major league teams, taking a second tour with the Yankees, then playing for the Padres, Red Sox, Padres, and finally, Dodgers. A fellow whose idea of working is a series of 12-ounce curls, he had a long career pitching 21 seasons and pitching in the majors till age 44. He made it to post-season play with six different teams. Baseball is a great game

He finished with a 239-157 record, in 660 games, 489 of them starts. The Jays started his career as a reliever, which is an excellent way to get a pitcher into the big leagues and learn to pitch in low leverage spots, but the Jays couldn’t seem to put David into the starting rotation and leave him there. Partly because Cito didn’t like him, and likely some of Cito’s dislike was because he didn’t feel the need to keep himself in shape.

He was a big pitcher with great control, a great curve, an above-average fastball early in his career, not so above average later, a slider, and a changeup. Since he pitched into his 40s, it is hard to say he would have had a better career if he kept himself in better shape. But then he has been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, so there are other reasons to stay in shape.

Wells has an ‘autobiography’ called ‘Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer.’ Among other things, it said he pitched his perfect game with a hangover. He later said he was misquoted in the book, a strange claim for an autobiography.

Boomer is married and has two sons. He is a cult hero for middle-aged fat guys. He seems the sort of guy you’d like to sit have a beer or two (though, looking at his Twitter feed, there are subjects I’d want to avoid). It is kind of cool that fat guys can be athletes too (and not just offensive linemen).

Wells is married, has two sons. He has done some commentary on the YES network and on TBS. He does charity work for diabetes research.

David Wells place among Jay pitching leaders:

bWAR: 9th, 15.1

ERA (>500 innings): 17th, 4.06

Wins: 6th, 84

Win-Loss %: 4th, .604

Walks/9IP (>500 innings): 6th, 2.30

Games: 13th, 306

Innings: 7th, 1148.2

Strikeouts: 7th, 784

Games Started: 9th, 138

Complete games: 11th, 18

Wild Pitchers: 6th, 46