Former major league reliever Ryne Duren dies at 81

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LAKE WALES, FLA. (AP) - 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, has died at his winter home in Florida. He was 81.

Duren died Thursday, stepson Mark Jackson said Friday.

An All-Star in three seasons, Duren helped the New York Yankees reach the World Series in 1958 and 1960.

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 warmup 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 1954-65. 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 Los Angeles 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.

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