Yanks mourn ‘family’ loss
The Yankees lost two members of their extended family in recent days, one of whom was truly a tragic case. It was a shock to discover that the 9-year-old girl who was among those gunned down in the attack in Tucson, Ariz., was Christina Taylor Green, the granddaughter of former Yankees manager Dallas Green and daughter of John Green, who had pitched in the Yankees’ minor-league system in 1989 and ’90 and is now the Dodgers’ supervisor of East Coast amateur scouts.
Young Christina had recently been elected to the student council at her school and because of her newfound interest in politics was brought to the town meeting to get an up-close look at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was mortally wounded by an assailant who killed six people in a shooting barrage. Her grandfather managed the Yankees for most of the 1989 season and later managed the Mets in the early 1990s. In 1980, he guided the Phillies to their first World Series championship.
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner issued a statement saying, “The Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization join the entire nation in mourning Christina and send our deepest condolences to Dallas Green and his family as they deal with this tremendous loss. This is a tragedy that is beyond words and our thoughts and prayers are with the Green family, as well as all of the affected families.”
Last Thursday, one of the Yankees’ most faithful alumni, Ryne Duren, passed away. The former relief pitcher fought a long battle with alcoholism that shortened his career, but he eventually sobered up to live a productive life that took him to age 81.
Unlike baseball’s current era in which closing relievers are revered (where would the Yankees have been the past 15 seasons without Mariano Rivera?) not to mention well paid, Duren pitched at a time when those who inhabited the bullpen did so primarily because they weren’t consistent enough to be trusted as starters. Duren’s problem was lack of control.
The righthander found a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen and became a favorite weapon of Casey Stengel. Yankees fans of a certain age surely remember the terror Duren inflicted on opposing batters with a fastball that came close to 100 miles per hour.
An imposing figure at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Duren also wore thick glasses and went looking toward the plate seemed to have trouble locating it. Not too many batters dug in hard against Duren, who on occasion would throw a warmup pitch to the backstop.
His old catcher, Yogi Berra, said the other day, “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.”
“Everyone agreed that it was a dangerous combination: a guy wearing glasses that thick and throwing a pitch that fast,” Duren wrote in his 1978 memoir, The Comeback. “But what everyone didn’t know was that there was another dimension that made me even more dangerous than they thought I was. I had a drinking problem.”
Duren had great impact on Yankees’ World Series teams of that late 1950s. The save did not become an official statistic until 1969. Had it been kept earlier, Duren’s 20 saves would have led the league in 1958 when he had 87 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. The next year, Duren fanned 96 batters in 76 2/3 innings, and in 1960 had 67 strikeouts in 49 innings.
He was traded in 1961 to the expansion Los Angeles Angels in a deal that brought outfielder Bob Cerv back to the Bronx. Duren’s career went on a downward path as he moved on to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Washington and finished with a career record of 27-44. His drinking became so severe that Senators manager Gil Hodges had to talk him down from a bridge in the middle of the night after a game in which Duren was pounded by the Yankees.
Several years after his 1965 retirement as a player, Duren responded positively to treatment and got off the bottle. He devoted the rest of his life to drug and alcohol counseling to athletes and was a regular visitor to Yankee Stadium on Old Timers Day.
He never made it to the Hall of Fame, of course, but his name did. Duren was one of only two players in major league history with the surname Ryne. The other is Ryne Sandberg, who was born in 1959. Sandberg’s father was a Yankees fan and named his son after Duren. Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005 with Wade Boggs.
The Phillies executive who originally signed Sandberg to a pro contract later became the general manager of the Cubs and traded for him. That executive was Dallas Green.