Together with Dick “The Monster” Radatz, Ryne and his fellow fireman redefined the relief pitcher. Before Duren came along, firemen were essentially fellows that couldn’t make the rotation or didn’t have the arm strength for a starting assignment. But Ryne had arm strength in spades, as he shaped the closer into a power pitcher’s role where strikeouts were tallied at record rates. He was essentially the forerunner to such amazing strikeout artists as Wagner, Nen and Francisco Rodriguez. Had Duren enjoyed a longer Major League career, there is little doubt that he’d be a Hall of Famer.
Duren was first called up to the Majors in 1954 by the Orioles. Unable to stick, Ryne received his next callup with the Kansas City A’s in 1957 and posted an 0-3 record with an alarming total of walks issued. Giving up the free pass was something Ryne was notorious for, but he would oftentimes strand runners by fanning the next batter or two. Kansas City didn’t hold onto Duren, instead they made one of their many ill-fated deals with the Yankees when they sent him to the Bronx for Billy Martin. In New York, Ryne became a star.
In Duren’s breakout year of 1958, he led the American League in saves, made the first of three All-Star squads and finished as the runner-up in Rookie of the Years voting. It was in this ’58 season that Ryne established himself as one of the first great strikeout artists in baseball history. He fanned 87 batters in just 76 innings of work. Before Duren, it was uncommon for any pitcher to average a strikeout per inning, but he showed it could be done. On a pennant winner for the first time, Ryne saved and won a game in the World Series. But as good as Ryne was in 1958, he was even better in ’59.
Duren trimmed his ERA from 2.02 to 1.88 in 1959 while he made his second All-Star Team. He struck out 96 batters in 76 innings. This figure was so unusual that he was the only pitcher in the Major Leagues to average over one strikeout per inning of work. With his electric stuff, Ryne closed out games for the Yankees in a manner no one had ever seen before. Batters were helpless at the plate against Ryne. They averaged just 0.636 hits per inning against him–far superior to Hall of Fame fireman Hoyt Wilhelm’s 0.788 mark. But, had Duren kept this pace up, there is no doubt he’d be in the Hall of Fame. However, his accuracy went south in 1960 which swelled his ERA up close to 5.00. That year he walked 49 batters in as many innings but still showcased his amazing strikeout abilities by whiffing 67 batters.
Expansion started in baseball in 1961 when the Angels joined the American League. The Halos selected power-hitter Bob Cerv in the draft and used him as trade bait to land Duren from the Yankees. The Angels experimented with Ryne as a starter as he made 14 starts and tossed a career high 104 innings. Despite the stretching out of his arm, he still managed to average over a strikeout per inning by fanning 115 batters. He also made his final All-Star appearance that season. It was back to the bullpen for Duren in ’62 where he fanned 74 batters in 71 innings, but his inability to find the strike zone at times–he issued 57 walks–led to his sale to the Phillies in 1963. That year Ryne had a 6-2 record but for the first time since his trial with the A’s, he failed to average a strikeout per inning of work.
He caught on with the Reds in 1964 and showed, for the first time in his career, decent accuracy. Although he was still racking up an impressive total of strikeouts, they no longer were exceeding his innings pitched. His last season in the Majors was 1965, which he split between the Phillies and Senators. Although Duren only pitched ten seasons–the base for Hall of Fame consideration–he left behind a power-pitching resume that few have equalled.
W 27/L 44/PCT .380/ERA 3.83/SV 57/G 311/IP 589/H 443/BB 392/SO 630