February 22 – Happy Birthday Ryne Duren
The consensus was that Ryne Duren was the best reliever in all of baseball in 1958. This near-sighted monster on the mound used to throw 100 mph warm-up pitches five feet off the plate to unnerve on-deck hitters. The Yankees got him in the same 1957 trade with Kansas City that ended Billy Martin’s pinstriped playing career. GM George Weiss then sent the wild right-hander to New York’s Denver farm club to work on his control for the rest of that season. The move worked. Duren went 13-2 in the Mile High City and more importantly lowered his bases on balls from more than one per inning to less than one every three innings. He joined the parent club in 1958 and absolutely dominated opposing teams in the late innings of Yankee ball games, leading the league in saves and striking out 87 batters in the 75 innings he pitched that year. He also won and saved a game in the 1958 World Series, helping New York avenge their 1957 Fall Classic defeat to the Braves. While Duren may have learned how to control his fastball, he couldn’t figure out how to control his drinking and the guy was a mean drunk. In the end, alcohol dependency destroyed his career but his eventual ability to overcome it created another one for him as a substance abuse counselor. He is credited with helping many active and ex big league ballplayers kick the habit. Duren was born in Cazanovia, Washington in 1929.