Dangit. I just heard of Ryne Duren’s passing yesterday at age 81. I am supposed to be working on a biography of him for the SABR Bioproject, but he hadn’t answered my recent letter. I was going to try to track down a more recent phone number for him, but now I won’t get that chance.
The reason I took the Duren assignment for the Bioproject, honestly, is because I was hoping to have another great chat with Ryne like the one we had back in 2003 when I was working on The 50 Greatest Yankees Games. He winters in Florida like many people, and so I met him one February when I went down for pitchers and catchers. On that trip I interviewed a lot of former Yankees, including Tom Tresh (who also sadly passed as well) and Phil Linz (still kickin’). Ryne wanted to know if I could meet him at a greasy spoon near Lakeland. This wasn’t that near either his home nor where I was, but I readily agreed.
When I got there I found out why he wanted to meet there–because of the proximity to several large pawn shops. In his dotage, Ryne had become something of a junk connoisseur, and apparently it’s more fun to hunt for junk with company that without. I happily went with him to pick through piles of used lawnmowers, lamps, stereo equipment, etc. We found no gems, but it was fun, and then we settled into the little diner nearby to have a bite to eat and talk baseball.
At the time I was working on The 50 Greatest Yankee Games, so I had a bunch of questions about Duren’s teammates to ask him (he played with the Yankees from 1958-1961) but sometimes you never know what you’re going to find if you just let a fellow talk. And Duren was a talker, that’s for sure.
In our conversation he told me stories about how Lefty O’Doul helped him with his pitching control, how alcoholism probably hurt his control, meeting Marilyn Monroe, getting batting tips from Joe DiMaggio, how having an infected heart as a child turned him into a baseball fan, Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, and much more. What follows is pretty much a verbatim transcript of that afternoon:
Ryne Duren: Did you know I just wrote a book, too?
Cecilia Tan: No, I had no idea.
RD: I’ll get you a copy. [goes out and gets one from the car] I’m going to go down and autograph copies at the museum in St. Pete [where the "Baseball as America" Hall of Fame exhibit was showing at the time]. I don’t know how much research you did about me but I’m known for two things, I have real bad eyes and I had terrible alcohol problem. Anyway, this is kind of a play off of both. [The title of the book is "I Can See Clearly Now."]
CT: Did you really hit a guy in the on deck circle in the minors?
RD: Oh no. That’s a myth. But what I did do was (more…)