Top 100 Yankees of All-Time...#99, Ryne Duren

Ryne Duren was both blessed and cursed. And for two years, 1958 and 1959, he was the dominant reliever in the AL. For that reason he earns our nod as Greatest Yankee #99. Born in Cazenovia, Wisconsin on February, 22 1929, in his playing days he was known as "Blind Ryne" for the coke bottle glasses he wore to help correct his 20/200 vision. He would squint at his catcher, and uncork a 95 MPH heater that may or may not have been headed for home plate. He was intimidating to say the least.

He fit in very well with Casey Stengel's Yankees of the late 1950's. He had even pleaded with Casey to rescue him from the minors, so that he could pitch in the majors before he was too blind to pitch. Casey had even quipped, "if he hits you in the head, you might be in the past tense."

In 1958, Ryne put up numbers that would rival any reliever of this time. He led the AL with 20 saves and averaged well over a strikeout an inning. But a dark presence also settled over Ryne: the demon of alcohol. While his wild man reputation might have even added to his myth, booze was rapidly sidetracking a promising baseball career.

Duren wasn't the only one of his Yankees plagued by this menace. He estimated that 13 of his 25 Yankee team mates at the time were alcoholics. "Some of the most wonderful players were downing a fifth of Scotch a day", he once said.

But as is so often true of baseball, or sports in general, if you win, nobody really cares about the incidentals. Ryne pitched very well in the 1958 World Series against Milwaukee. He posted a 1-1 record with a 1.93 ERA and also added a save. Duren became further addicted and more eccentric. In 1959, the Yankees failed to win the AL pennant, but Ryne had another fine season. He racked up 14 more saves and went a stretch of 18 games (36 innings) without allowing a run. No one could argue about his dominance in 1958 and 1959. In 151 innings of work over those two seasons, he allowed only 89 hits while striking out a robust 183 batters.

Year

Team

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

1958

Yankees

6-4

20

75.2

40

43

87

2.02

1959

Yankees

3-6

14

76.2

49

43

96

1.88

1960

Yankees

3-4

9

49

27

49

67

4.96

1961

Yankees

0-1

0

5

2

4

7

5.40



Then the slide came, and it came fast. In 1960, the Yanks again were on top of the baseball world, eventually falling to the far less talented Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Duren's 1960 ended with a record of 3-4 and his ERA ballooned to 4.96 from 1.88 the year before. 1960 would be his final full season in pinstripes.

On May 8, 1961, with his career in further decline, Duren was traded to the California Angels along with Johnny James and Lee Thomas. The Yanks received Bob Cerv and Tex Clevenger in return.

Despite his drinking problem, Duren did have his moments with the Angels. Almost immediately after being traded by the Yankees, on May 18, 1961, Duren fanned four batters in an inning. And on June 8th, he fanned seven consecutive Red Sox, 11 total in a 5-1 Angels win.

But the partying and the antics continued. Angels Manager Biil Rigney had to rescue him from a Polynesian restaurant one night, when Ryne was found to be frolicking in the waters of a fountain. There were also times of great depression for Duren. His drinking polarized his problems as well, and he attempted suicide on several occasions. In fact, in his final season in the majors, 1965, while a member of the Washington Senators, Manager Gil Hodges had to talk him down from a bridge from which he was about to jump.

The depression and the road to personal destruction continued after his playing days were over. He fell asleep and burned his house down, and attempted suicide again in San Antonio, when he parked his car on some train tracks.

Fortunately for Duren, his life took a turn for the better…After falling off the wagon on numerous occasions, he finally got his life in order. He made peace with himself and stopped drinking entirely in 1968. He then went on to help others with similar problems and he founded the organization SMART (Stop Marketing Alcohol on Radio and Television). He went to work in Stoughton Community Hospital in his native Wisconsin and there's no telling how many careers, as well as lives, he might have saved through his efforts. This is another reason he is worthy of our Greatest Yankee #99 designation.

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