|Ryne Duren warmed up under the stands at Yankee Stadium. (Associated Press/File 1959)|
LAKE WALES, Fla. — Ryne Duren, an All-Star pitcher known for a 100-mile-per-hour fastball, occasional wildness, and Coke-bottle glasses that created a most intimidating presence on the mound, died Thursday at his winter home in Florida. He was 81.
An All-Star in three seasons, Mr. Duren helped the
Mr. Duren’s blazing heater — and 20/200 vision in his left eye, 20/70 in his right — always attracted attention. The look was very Ricky Vaughn from the movie “Major League.’’
Mr. Duren was known for coming out of the bullpen and throwing at least one of his warmup pitches to the backstop on the fly. He later kidded that he sometimes did it on purpose. Either way, opposing batters took notice, and Mr. Duren’s reputation grew.
“Ryne could throw the heck out of the ball,’’ Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra said yesterday. “He threw fear in some hitters. I remember he had several pair of glasses, but it didn’t seem like he saw good in any of them.
“He added a lot of life to the Yankees, and it was sad his drinking shortened his career,’’ Berra said.
Mr. Duren wrote about his alcohol problems in his books “I Can See Clearly Now’’ and “The Comeback.’’ He spent many years working with ballplayers, helping them with their addictions, and was honored by the Yankees for his efforts.
Mr. Duren played for seven teams during a big league career from 1954-65. He went 27-44 with a 3.83 ERA in 311 appearances, all but 32 in relief. The right-hander struck out 630 and walked 392 in 589 1/3 innings, and threw 38 wild pitches.
“Everybody knew Ryne,’’ former Yankees teammate Bobby Richardson said by phone. “He was a legend.’’
“It got to be a thing at the Old-Timers’ games. He’d come in and throw one into the stands. It was a lot of fun. But I can tell you, it was no fun to hit against him. Everyone was afraid he was going to hit them.’’
Richardson recalled being on second base in a game when Mr. Duren was pitching for the
Richardson noticed the catcher was tossing the ball back to Mr. Duren softly, so he started running and stole third without a throw.
“Ryne took it as a slight and came over and told me that the next time he faced me, he was going to throw one right at me,’’ Richardson said.
That’s when one of Mr. Duren’s old carousing buddies, Yankees star Mickey Mantle, stepped in.
“Mickey took him out drinking that night and calmed him down,’’ Richardson said. “I saw Mickey later and he said, ‘You’re all right, he’s not going to hit you now.’ ’’
Richardson, the 1960 World Series MVP, praised Mr. Duren’s efforts off the field.
“He helped so many former ballplayers, counseling them and doing follow-up work,’’ he said. “He really made a difference in so many lives.’’
Rinold George Duren was born in Cazenovia, Wis., and was a prep star. His fastball was so overpowering that his youth coaches often had him play the infield, rather than risk having him hurt someone with his pitches.
He made his major league debut with Baltimore in 1954. He led the American League with 20 saves for the Yankees in 1958. That fall, he won Game 6 of the World Series with 4 2/3 impressive innings against the Milwaukee Braves, his favorite team as a boy. The Yankees then won Game 7 at Milwaukee for the championship.
Mr. Duren was 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA in five World Series games. He was with the Yankees from 1958-61 and played for Baltimore, the Kansas City Athletics, Angels, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Washington.