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