Wisconsin native Ryne Duren, one of Major League Baseball's premier relief pitchers during the 1950s and a familiar face in recent years at Madison Mallards games, died Thursday at his winter home in Lake Wales, Fla. He was 81.
Duren, who lived most of his life in Cazenovia near Richland Center, was a key member of New York Yankees teams that won the American League Championship in 1958 and 1960. He also helped the Yankees defeat his homestate Milwaukee Braves in the 1958 World Series.
A hard-throwing right-hander whose pitches were clocked at more than 100 mph, Duren was also known for the thick glasses he wore to correct his 20/200 vision. He was signed by the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) as a free agent before the 1949 season and made his major league debut with the Orioles in 1954 when the first batter to face him was his boyhood idol, Phil Cavaretta.
Duren was traded from Kansas City to the Yankees in 1957 and assigned to the Denver Bears, the Yankees' farm team. He threw a no-hitter in his first start for the Bears and became a fan favorite and instant drawing card among Denver baseball fans, delaying his promotion to the Yankees.
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Duren played for seven MLB teams during his career -- the last the Washington Senators in 1965. He was a three-time All-Star -- allowing one hit (to Henry Aaron) in three innings in the 1959 mid-summer classic while striking out four batters, including Willie Mays and Eddie Matthews -- and finished his career 27-44 with 57 saves and a 3.83 ERA.
Throughout his career, Duren was plagued by alcohol addiction that cut short his career. In 1983, Duren received the Yankees Family Award for conquering alcoholism and for his service as an alcohol abuse educator.
Duren continued to be a baseball icon in retirement, making countless appearances at Warner Park on behalf of the Mallards and serving as an honorary manager in the team's annual alumni games.
But Duren will always be remembered for his legendary pitching ability growing up in Cazenovia. He played for the 1948 Sauk County Home Talent League champion Cazenovia Reds, averaging 22 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He was so overpowering on the amateur baseball diamonds that his high school coach wouldn't let him take the mound during the prep season for fear he'd hurt somebody.