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Happy Birthday Duane Ward

Bluejays at A’’s

Duane Ward turns 59 today.

Duane is number 2 on the Blue Jays’ all-time saves list. Jordan Romano is seventh on the list at 72. He’d need to play a couple more full seasons as our closer to catch him.

Ward was born May 18, 1964, in Park View, New Mexico. He was drafted out of high school in the first round of the 1982 amateur draft, 9th overall, by the Atlanta Braves. A big (6’4”) right-hander Ward struggled as starting prospect in the Braves system, having 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 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. 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 now; he would pitch multiple innings, and he got to double figures in saves each season, with a high of 23 in 1991. Duane 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 became the closer. He was great, saving a 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 one 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 Ward made four appearances, with 2 saves in our ALCS win over the White Sox. Then he added four 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 four appearances, his career was over at 31 (a significant vote against having relievers throw 100 + innings a season). Ward was a great pitcher for six seasons, but he threw a lot of 95 mph fastballs and hard sliders. Relievers were expected to throw more than one inning at a time, 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 51. Before being traded to the A’s, he was a utility infielder in 1996 and 1996. He played in 75 games for the Jays. Hitting .228/.306/.291.
  • Mike Maksudian turns 57. He had three 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 44. He pitched one inning for the Jays in 2012. He spent two seasons with the Mets and played several games with the Yankees.