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Former Angels pitcher Ryne Duren dies at 81

Ryne 
Ryne Duren, an All-Star pitcher known for a 100-mph fastball, occasional wildness and Coke-bottle glasses that created a most intimidating presence on the mound, died Thursday at his winter home in Florida, his family said. He was 81.

An All-Star in three seasons, Duren helped the New York Yankees reach the World Series in 1958 and 1960. He joined the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961 and pitched two seasons here, becoming the first Angels pitcher to strike out four batters in an inning.

Duren's unique first name lives on in baseball history. Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg's plaque in Cooperstown includes this note: "Named after former Yankees pitcher Ryne Duren." They are the only major leaguers named Ryne, according to baseballreference.com.

But it was Duren's blazing heater — and 20/200 vision in his left eye, 20/70 in his right — that always attracted attention. The look was very Ricky Vaughn from the movie "Major League."

Duren was known for coming out of the bullpen and throwing at least one of his warm-up pitches to the backstop on the fly. He later kidded that he sometimes did it on purpose. Either way, opposing batters took notice, and Duren's reputation grew.

"Ryne could throw the heck out of the ball. 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," Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra said Friday.

"He added a lot of life to the Yankees and it was sad his drinking shortened his career," he said.

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.

Duren played for seven teams during a big league career from 1954 to 1965. 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 told the Associated Press by telephone. "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 Duren was pitching for the Angels. Richardson noticed the catcher was softly tossing the ball back to Duren, 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 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 who later worked for the Baseball Assistance Team and Baseball Chapel, praised Duren's efforts off the field.

"He helped so many former ballplayers, counseling them and doing follow-up work. He really made a difference in so many lives," he said.

In 1986, Duren testified in New York at a state Assembly hearing that was considering a bill requiring an alcohol-free zone at sporting events with 250 or more spectators.

Rinold George Duren was born Feb. 22, 1929, in Cazenovia, Wis., and was a prep star. His fastball was so overpowering, his youth coaches often had him play the infield, rather than risk having him hurt someone with his pitches.

Duren once recalled he frequently played at second base as a kid. He could simply underhand the ball over to first and besides, he couldn't see well enough to play the outfield.

He made his major league debut with Baltimore in 1954. He led the AL 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.

Duren was 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA in five World Series games. He was with the Yankees from 1958 to 1961 and played for Baltimore, the Kansas City Athletics, the Angels, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Ryne Duren in 1958, when he was with the New York Yankees. Credit: Associated Press

 
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when i was a kid, i went to the coliseum to see the dodgers play the yankees in an exhibition game to honor roy campanella. campy was paralyzed in a car accident in the off season, and the o'malley's honored him that night. and ryne duren pitched for the yanks. totally blind, and throwing rockets, duren hit carl furillo with a pitch, and you could hear the "thunk!", halfway up the stadium where i was sitting. it was a record crowd for baseball that night, i remember it vividly. always will. rest in peace, ryne.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Duren pitch for the Angels against the Yankees in 1961 in the old LA Wrigley Field.

Speaking of unique names, a teammate of Mr. Duren's on that 1961 Angels team was pitcher Eli Gurba.

Ryne was a family friend and experienced an incredible life. My Mom spoke with him recently and he sounded great - full of life. His book 'I Can See Clearly Now' traces his life through all of the good and really bad times - but he came through it and was an inspiration to many. We went to many of his games and he was a frequent visitor at our home when I was a teenager. He would bring my brother and I into the dug-out. The good old days! RIP Ryne Duran

How do you strike out 4 batters in one inning?

For Bubba: On one of the strikeouts, the strike-3 ball gets away from the catcher and the batter reaches first base. The pitcher is credited with a strikeout even though the batter is safe. Thus, if he strikes out three other batters in the inning, he's credited with four strikeouts.

I remember Eli Grba! He wore aviator glasses just like Ryne's!

Note: You strike out four batters in an inning when one batter reaches first on a passed ball third strike.

Ryne was one of my favorites. Everybody loves a hard throwing reliever.

Ryne was a good friend of mine. I would go with him to celebrity golf outings and he would introduce me to sports personalities that were my heroes. It's been a while since I talked to him so I was very sad when I heard that he had passed on. RIP Mr. Duren

Honored glory to Ryne Duren, who pitched a great game, scored for the sport of baseball and slid into home plate with skill and professionalism. Rest in peace and enjoy that Jesus Christ-blessed home run in Heaven.


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