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Happy Birthday Duane Ward

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Duane Ward turns 58 today.

Duane is number 2 on the Blue Jays all-time saves list. Jordan Romano is ninth on the list, at 40. He’d likely need three seasons to catch up to Ward’s 120.

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. 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 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 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 different world. No way could a setup man pitch 111 innings these days. Now, if relievers pitch 70 innings, we say they are over-worked

Ward was the setup man for Henke for the next four seasons, 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, which got up to 11/9 innings in 1991 and lowered his walk rate. He came 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 in a single season in Jay’s history. You know you are doing good when you strike out 12.2 per 9 innings and give up a .182 batting average. 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. Then he added 4 more appearances with a win and a save in our World Series win over the Phillies.

Duane missed the whole of 1994 with a torn rotator cuff. He tried to come back in 1995, but after 4 appearances, his career was over at 31 (a significant vote against having relievers throw 100 + innings a season). He was a great pitcher for six seasons, but he threw a lot of 95 mph fastballs and hard sliders. He wasn’t used as 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 travelled 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. I hope you have a good one.

Also having birthdays:

  • Tilson Brito turns 50. He was a utility infielder in 1996 and 1996 before being traded to the A’s. Played in 75 games for the Jays. Hitting .228/.306/.291.
  • Mike Maksudian turns 56. He had 3 at bats with the team in 1992. He’d go on to have a few at-bats with the Twins and White Sox.
  • Ryota Igarashi turns 43. He pitched 1 inning for the Jays in 2012. He spent two seasons with the Mets and got into a couple of games with the Yankees.