MLB history: Forgotten stars of the current AL East teams

Mar 21, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Scott Kazmir (16) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a Spring Training game at Camelback Ranch, Glendale. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 21, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Scott Kazmir (16) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a Spring Training game at Camelback Ranch, Glendale. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports /
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TORONTO, ON – AUGUST 11: Former player Duane Ward #31 of the Toronto Blue Jays acknowledges the fans during pre-game ceremonies honoring the club’s back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993 before the start of MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on August 11, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – AUGUST 11: Former player Duane Ward #31 of the Toronto Blue Jays acknowledges the fans during pre-game ceremonies honoring the club’s back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993 before the start of MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on August 11, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Duane Ward, Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays of 1992 and ’93 were so loaded with greatly talented offensive players that their forgotten star, reliever Duane Ward, has truly flown under the radar in terms of fan memories outside of Toronto, and perhaps even there for some.

Part of this may result from the fact that Ward’s career was cut short by injury almost immediately after the Jays’ back-to-back World Series titles. However, for a seeming moment or two, Ward was one of the most effective relief pitchers in MLB history.

Ward came into the 1992 season with a decent track record as a reliever but no especially flashy numbers, aside from his MLB-leading 81 appearances and 2.77 ERA in ’91. He had been something of a workhorse, and had accumulated an average of 16 saves for four straight years, largely as a set-up man for Tom Henke.

He threw hard, consistently in the low to mid-nineties, with “good, heavy life.” The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder, however, had been a 9th overall pick a decade earlier, and one has to wonder if he was satisfied with his overall performance.

In the year of the Jays’ first world championship, he once again set up Henke, but surely opened some eyes with his sterling 1.95 ERA. His FIP figure suggested he got some help defensively, but was still a very good 2.58. He won 7 games in the regular season and saved 12.

The following year, however, he took over as the Jays closer from Henke, and truly dominated his opposition, leading the AL with 45 saves while booking a 2.13 ERA. That season the FIP figure (2.09) suggested he was slightly better than his fielders. He was an All-Star and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting.

Ward was at his best in the World Series as well, first against the Braves, the team that had originally drafted him, and then against the Phillies. In eight appearances in the two Fall Classics, he posted a 3-0 record and 1.13 ERA, striking out 13 in eight innings. He also saved two games.

However, after the 1993 World Series the right-hander never saved another game, a result of biceps tendinitis. He retired after appearing in just four games for Toronto in 1995.

Next. Breaking down the 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. dark

Nonetheless, Duane Ward will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this coming June, having been elected in 2020. Thus, weirdly, his proper place in MLB history was affected by COVID decades after he had retired.