Forever known in Toronto Blue Jays lore as the team’s first Cy Young Award winner, Pat Hentgen by his accomplishments on the mound has been anointed as one of the best pitchers in Blue Jays history. Standing at 6-feet-2 and 210 pounds, Hentgen was a high-command fastball/curveball pitcher who had a stretch of being one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League during the mid-1990s.1 His repertoire evolved over the years to include a cut fastball and a changeup, turning him into a four-pitch starter.2 He is a member of the elite company of Blue Jays pitchers to win 100 games throughout their careers and as of 2022 sat fifth all-time on the organization’s wins list and ranked in the top five in games started (238), innings pitched (1,636), strikeouts (1,028), and shutouts (9).
Patrick George Hentgen was born on November 13, 1968, to Patrick William and Marcia Hentgen in Detroit. He played shortstop and pitched for Fraser High School in the Detroit metro area, and was captain of the baseball team. He also played high-school football for two years.
“Fraser was a great place to grow up,” Hentgen said in an April 2022 interview. “My dad was in construction. He did it all. He would bid jobs. He would install insulation. He was in insulation and he got mesothelioma. Installing asbestos. That’s how he died [in January 2015.] That was one of those ugly 50-year cancers. He got it when he was 25. It’s a long cancer. It gets in the lungs and it can take 50 years, but he had a good quality of life, active up until probably the last year and a half.
“I had an older sister, Kelly. She just recently retired after 35-plus years as a schoolteacher. She taught eighth-, ninth-, and 10th-grade math and science. Our mom – she had the most important job. She was great. She was a stay-at-home mom the whole time until I left, until me and my sister were both out of the house. Then she worked doing administrative stuff in a tool and die place in Detroit for about 15 years but it was only after I graduated from high school.”3
Pat received early attention from scouts when his coach, Mario Borrocci, informed other schools of the talented Hentgen, who he believed could pitch for Division I schools.4 Many scouts took interest in Hentgen as up to a dozen radar guns could be seen with regularity during his senior-season high-school games. This led to a scholarship offer from Western Michigan University, which Hentgen eventually passed up in hopes of joining the major leagues.5 Hentgen was the first player to be drafted out of Fraser High School and the first to make it to the major leagues.
At just 17 years old, the Detroit native was drafted by the Blue Jays in the fifth round (133rd overall) of the June 1986 amateur draft. His signing is credited to Don Welke. This was a star-studded class that included Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, Bo Jackson, Joe Girardi, and Hentgen’s future Blue Jays teammates Paul Quantrill and John Olerud.6 Just after being drafted, Hentgen was assigned to the St. Catharines Blue Jays of the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League.
In an interview reflecting on his first stint in the minors, Hentgen said, “I was young [he was 17], and had never been on an airplane until the Jays drafted me actually, and had never been in a taxicab. … I remember my first game, and when the game ended I remember leaving the locker room and thought how do I get back to the nursing dorm they housed us in? I remember Willie Blair and Bob Cavanaugh taking me under their wing, and saying, ‘Are you okay kid?’ I didn’t have a car, and then I called my mom and dad and said, ‘Do you think it’s possible you can bring my vehicle here?’ And then I was everybody’s best friend because I was one of only four guys who had a car. So I was driving everyone around St. Catharines.”7 Despite St. Catharines’ 1986 season ultimately ending in a league championship, Hentgen’s first season in the system was relatively lackluster: a 0-4 record alongside a 6.08 ERA as a starter.8
The next season, Hentgen was moved up to the Myrtle Beach Blue Jays of the low Class-A South Atlantic League, where as an 18-year old starter he posted an 11-5 record with a 2.35 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 188 innings pitched with two shutouts. This performance earned him a promotion to the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays in 1988, where he spent the next two minor-league seasons. Due to poor run support, Hentgen’s initial season with Dunedin was not that impressive on the stats sheets – a 3-12 record in 30 starts (151⅓ innings pitched) with a 3.45 ERA. He was the starter in a May 10 no-hitter against Osceola, combined with Willie Blair and Enrique Burgos. He bounced back in his 1989 Dunedin season, with a 9-8 record in 28 starts (151⅓ innings pitched) and an improved ERA of 2.68. He also posted more strikeouts (148 – ranking second in the league), fewer home runs allowed (5), and fewer hits (123) in the same number of innings as his 1988 season.
After this improvement, Hentgen moved up to Knoxville Blue Jays of the Double-A Southern League for the 1990 season. He replicated much of the success he had in high-A Dunedin, going 9-5 in 26 starts and two relief appearances with a 3.05 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 153⅓ innings. Opponents hit just .218 against him. In 1991 he was promoted to the Syracuse Chiefs of the Triple-A International League. In 28 starts (and three relief appearances), Hentgen was 8-9 with a 4.47 ERA in 171 innings pitched. He led the league in strikeouts with 155, good enough to get him promoted to three games in the majors. He made his debut on September 3, 1991, at SkyDome, pitching the final innings in a game won by Baltimore, 8-4. Hentgen allowed one hit in two innings. He pitched in two more games, for a total of 7⅓ innings and a 2.45 ERA.
With his first few innings in the majors notched, Hentgen made the team in 1992 and started in the Toronto bullpen; he was sent back to Syracuse a few times when other roster spots were prioritized. After August 12 he spent most of the rest of the season on the disabled list, which caused him to miss Toronto’s memorable postseason run that resulted in the first World Series championship in franchise history. Overall, Hentgen had two starts and relieved in 26 games, going 5-2 with a 5.36 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 50⅓ innings pitched.
The 1993 season was Hentgen’s first full season in a Toronto uniform. Again he started the season in the bullpen but ended up joining the starting rotation due to injury.9 He started 32 games, posting an impressive 19-9 record (second in the American League in wins) with a 3.87 ERA. Hentgen earned his first All-Star Game appearance with Blue Jays skipper Cito Gaston managing the team (although Hentgen was not used in the game).10 He was sixth in the Cy Young Award voting.
Hentgen was a key piece of Toronto’s starting rotation going into the 1993 postseason. He pitched Game Three of the American League Championship Series against the Chicago White Sox in a losing effort, allowing six earned runs in three innings. The Blue Jays won the ALCS in six games. Hentgen threw a Game Three gem in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he allowed one earned run in six strong innings. He was scheduled to be the starting pitcher in Game Seven but Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in Game Six won the Series for the Blue Jays.
The 24-year-old was expectedly nervous about being asked to take the mound for what would have been the close-out game. “As it came down toward the end of the game I thought, ‘Oh gosh, we’re really going to play Game 7’ and I thought, ‘What the heck is Cito thinking, man? I’m 24 years old, my second year in the big leagues and I’m going Game 7? We’ve got (Dave) Stewart and (Jack) Morris and all these other guys,’” said Hentgen.11 His Game Three win was Hentgen’s last playoff appearance for the Blue Jays and his only World Series appearance.
Hentgen’s success carried over to the strike-shortened 1994 season, which ended around 50 games early as the players went on strike after the games of August 11, 1994, leaving the Blue Jays unable to defend their back-to-back World Series championships and attempt the ambitious and difficult “three-peat.” The 25-year-old started 24 games (again just one shy of Juan Guzman for the most on the team), with six complete games and three shutouts, in this shortened season to the tune of a 13-8 record in 174⅔ innings. Hentgen improved upon his ERA (3.40) from 1993 while striking out more batters (147) and posting the highest strikeouts per nine innings of his entire career. These improved numbers came while pitching about 40 fewer innings than in the previous season. Hentgen earned his second consecutive All-Star selection and placed seventh in ERA, fifth in win shares, sixth in innings pitched, and fourth in strikeouts. His most notable start came against the Kansas City Royals on May 3, 1994, when he struck out a then-club-record (and career-high) 14 batters while giving up the fewest hits (two) he ever allowed in a complete-game effort.
The strike led to a late start in 1995, resulting in a schedule reduced to 144 games. It was statistically Hentgen’s worst season as a Blue Jay. He was 10-14 with a 5.11 ERA in 200⅔ innings pitched. He gave up a league-leading 114 earned runs and 236 hits while the Blue Jays finished last in the AL East, missing the postseason for the first time since 1990.
Hentgen returned in 1996 to have the best statistical season of his career. He was 20-10, only the second Blue Jays pitcher at the time to accomplish a 20-win season, with a 3.22 ERA and 177 strikeouts, both vast improvements from his 1995 numbers, in 35 starts. He ended the season leading the league in innings pitched (265⅔), complete games (10), and shutouts (3). He allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings (0.678) and had the lowest slugging average against (.355). Perhaps even more impressively, he posted these career-best and league-leading statistics while facing a league-high 1,100 batters. At season’s end, Hentgen won an extremely close battle for the AL Cy Young Award against New York Yankees ace Andy Pettitte, becoming the first Blue Jay to ever win the league’s top pitching award. He beat Pettitte 110 votes to 104, matching the second-closest vote gap in the AL Cy Young Award’s history.12 Hentgen said, “I feel honoured that my name’s next to that award forever. To be honest, I definitely prepared myself to come in second (behind Pettitte, who was 21-8 that season). I was a little shocked. I think I’m overwhelmed right now.”13 Interestingly, despite being crowned the American League’s best pitcher of the 1996 season, Hentgen was not voted into the All-Star Game; he had a pedestrian 8-6 record at the season’s halfway mark, and subsequently went 12-4 with a 2.58 ERA over the back half of the season.14 Hentgen recalled, “Things just snowballed for me in the second half. … There was just a point where I knew I could go out and pitch a good game.”15
Hentgen followed his Cy Young 1996 campaign with a suitable 1997 season when he started a league-leading 35 games and posted a 15-10 record with a slight uptick in his ERA to 3.68. Although teammate Roger Clemens won the Cy Young Award, this was Hentgen’s second consecutive season leading the league in complete games (9), shutouts (3), innings pitched (264), and batters faced (1,085). He was named to his third All-Star squad, but the Blue Jays once again missed the postseason, finishing last in the AL East.
Hentgen’s final two seasons with the Blue Jays were somewhat underwhelming by comparison. His 1998 season was marked by suffering from severe shoulder tendinitis for most of the season but he chose not to go on the disabled list until early September, when the likelihood of Toronto catching the division rival Boston Red Sox for the fourth seed and a spot in the American League Division Series seemed unlikely. He finished the 1998 season starting 29 games and going 12-11 with a 5.17 ERA in 177⅔ innings pitched with a career-low (in a starting role) 94 strikeouts. Hentgen’s 1999 season was statistically similar: 34 starts, 11-12 with a 4.79 ERA in 199 innings. It was during this season, though, that Hentgen became just the fourth pitcher in Blue Jays history to total 100 wins.16
Just after the 1999 season closed with a New York Yankees World Series championship, Hentgen was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in November along with fellow pitcher Paul Spoljaric for catcher Alberto Castillo and pitchers Matt DeWitt and Lance Painter. Commeting on the trade 15 years later, Hentgen said, “I saw the writing on the wall. I was told at the end of the season that a trade could happen and then was dealt during the GM meetings (that offseason). I wanted to stay a Jay and didn’t want to be traded.”17
In his first (and only) stint in the National League, Hentgen started 33 games for the Cardinals, going 15-12 with a 4.72 ERA in 194⅓ innings pitched. St. Louis won the NL Central Division and swept the Atlanta Braves in three games. They faced the New York Mets in the 2000 National League Championship Series, in which Hentgen got the last postseason start of his career in a series-deciding Game Five loss. He gave up six earned runs, seven hits, and five walks in 3⅔ innings pitched.
After the 2000 season, Hentgen became a free agent and signed with the Blue Jays’ AL East rival Baltimore Orioles. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, he admitted that he was hoping to sign with his hometown Tigers but it was the Orioles who showed interest in signing him.18 Unfortunately for Hentgen, his 2001-2003 seasons in Baltimore were injury-plagued. He pitched a total of 245 innings in the three seasons.19 In 2001 he started just nine games, posting a 2-3 record, before undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. Because of the long healing process, he had only four starts in 2002, going 0-4 with a 7.77 ERA in 22 innings after six rehab starts in the Orioles minor-league system. In his final season with the Orioles (2003), Hentgen produced closer to his consistent career numbers in a combination of starting and relief roles. He started 22 games and pitched six times in relief, going 7-8 with one save, with a 4.09 ERA in 160⅔ innings. It was the first time since his 1997 campaign that he averaged less than one hit per inning.
For the 2004 season, Hentgen returned to the place where it all started, opting to sign with the Blue Jays in free agency. It was an unceremonious return, however; he was 2-9 with a 6.95 ERA in 16 starts (with two relief appearances) and just 33 strikeouts in 80⅓ innings.
After a string of disappointing appearances, Hentgen announced his retirement on July 24. He said, “I always said when I played here that I’d like to retire as a Blue Jay, and lo and behold I did.”
Hentgen finished his career having started 306 games with a record of 131-112 and a 4.32 ERA with 1,290 strikeouts and 34 complete games.20
Hentgen had a keen eye for keeping tabs on baserunners; not many tried to steal against him.21 He said, “I think my biggest legacy [with the Blue Jays] would be that I was a pretty good competitor. I didn’t go on the DL (disabled list) besides my rookie year with the Jays.”22 Hentgen named Cecil Fielder and Wade Boggs among his most feared hitters to face.23 In terms of helping his progression toward a Cy Young Award, Hentgen named Jack Morris, Dave Stieb, and David Cone as the three pitchers who helped him develop early in his career.24 Hentgen himself had a huge impact on future Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay and former Jays prospect and St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter (both future Cy Young Award winners).25
According to Halladay, “To me, Pat Hentgen was the ultimate. He never preached to me. You saw what he did on the field, you saw what he did off the field, and you wanted to emulate him. He was never a mentor, he was never a teacher, he was a teammate. I felt that way the last two years with Toronto. That’s all I wanted to do. Coming here was the same thing. I just wanted to be a good teammate with these guys and continue to do the stuff that I saw these great pitchers do when I came up.”26
Hentgen joined the Blue Jays coaching staff in 2011 under manager John Farrell.27 He served as the Blue Jays bullpen coach for the 2011 and 2013 seasons.28 Due to family reasons, this role was reduced in 2014 but he returned in various special-assistant and scouting positions for eight seasons before his position was eliminated by downsizing because of COVID-19.29 In 2016 Hentgen was selected for membership into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, alongside fellow inductees Dennis Martinez, Wayne Norton, Tony Kubek, William Shuttleworth, and Howard Starkman.30
Outside of baseball, Hentgen and his wife, Darlene, have three daughters – Taylor (b.1995), Hannah (1997), and Madison (2000). “We got married in 1992. We’ve been together since we were 18. She worked as a waitress while we were in the minor leagues and during the offseason, but for the most part she stayed with me once we were serious. She’d come and stay and visit at A ball, Double A, and Triple A. But I didn’t have enough money to pay my own bills at the time.”31
In 2015 Hentgen said he still felt he could pitch out of the bullpen at age 35 but was hoping to spend more time with his family rather than endure another season’s travel.32 Upon retiring, he cited how incredible it was to be able to go to his daughter Taylor’s sporting events.33 He started an initiative called “Hentgen’s Heroes” through which he would buy Blue Jays tickets for children who could not afford them.34 He also hosted an annual hunting camp for two weeks every fall for 22 years, held at his cabin in Ontario.35
Who had helped him the most along the way? “My father was the number-one influence. He went to every game, went to all the spring-training games. He was a baseball junkie. There were two people in the Blue Jays organization who really helped me – Mel Queen and Bobby Mattick. Two guys who ran the minor leagues back when I was playing. I was a kid. I signed at 18 [Actually 17]. They taught me how to become a professional baseball player. They taught me how to be a man.”36
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted baseballalmanac.com and Baseball-Reference-com. Thanks to Mal Allen, Scott Crawford, and Adrian Fung.
1 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, “Pat Hentgen,” https://baseballhalloffame.ca/hall-of-famer/pat-hentgen/, accessed February 5, 2022.
3 Pat Hentgen interview with Bill Nowlin on April 25, 2022, hereafter referred to as Hentgen interview.
4 Vito Chirco, “Q&A: Shelby’s Pat Hentgen Talks MLB, Tigers and More,” Detroit Free Press, June 18, 2015. https://www.freep.com/story/sports/mlb/tigers/2015/06/18/pat-hentgen-mlb-detroit-tigers/28943599/.
6 Neither Quantrill nor Olerud signed after the June draft. Both were drafted again in June 1989 and both signed that year, Quantrill with the Red Sox and Olerud with the Blue Jays. Quantrill arrived in Toronto, via the Phillies, in December 1995.
7 Rod Mawhood, “Did You Know? Pat Hentgen’s Baseball Career Started in St. Catharines as a 17-Year-Old,” Niagara Independent, November 24, 2020. https://niagaraindependent.ca/did-you-know-pat-hentgens-baseball-career-started-in-st-catharines-as-a-17-year-old/.
10 Tom Dakers, “Top 50 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #11 Pat Hentgen,” Blue Jays Banter, March 31, 2021. https://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2021/3/31/22359696/top-60-all-time-greatest-blue-jays-11-pat-hentgen, accessed February 5, 2022.
11 Brendan Kennedy, “Blue Jays: Pat Hentgen Looks Back on 1993 World Series Win,” Toronto Star, March 22, 2013. In his April 2022 interview, Hentgen said, “I was scheduled to pitch Game Seven and Joe hit the home run. Thank God I didn’t have to pitch that. I had pitched Game Three and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we’re going to play 180 games and it’s going to come down to one game and I’m pitching it.’ We charted the game, believe it or not.”
12 Baseball Almanac, “Pat Hentgen Stats.” https://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=hentgpa01.
13 “Hentgen Pulls Cy Surprise,” Tampa Bay Times, November 13, 1996. https://www.tampabay.com/archive/1996/11/13/hentgen-pulls-cy-surprise/.
14 Tom Dakers, “Top 50 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #11 Pat Hentgen.”
15 Ronald Blum, “Blue Jays’ Hentgen Wins AL Cy Young”, Washington Post, November 13, 1996. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/sports/1996/11/13/blue-jays-hentgen-wins-al-cy-young/2faff412-33dd-40c2-b7b6-5f2f239cbb3c/.
16 Tom Dakers, “Top 50 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #11 Pat Hentgen.”
17 Vito Chirco, “Q&A: Shelby’s Pat Hentgen talks MLB, Tigers and More.”
18 Vito Chirco, “Q&A: Shelby’s Pat Hentgen talks MLB, Tigers and More.”
19 Tom Dakers, “Top 50 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #11 Pat Hentgen.”
20 CBC Sports, “Jays’ Pat Hentgen Retires,” July 24, 2004. https://www.cbc.ca/sports/baseball/jays-pat-hentgen-retires-1.473935.
21 Tom Dakers, “Top 50 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #11 Pat Hentgen.”
23 Mawhood, “Did You Know? Pat Hentgen’s Baseball Career Started in St. Catharines as a 17-Year-Old.”
24 Tom Dakers, “Pat Hentgen Interview: Part One,” Blue Bird Banter, October 25, 2010. https://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2010/10/25/1772952/pat-hentgen-interview-part-one, accessed February 5, 2022.
25 Tom Dakers, “Pat Hentgen Interview: Part One”; David Singh, “Hentgen’s Blue Jays Legacy Ranges from Cy Young to Connective Tissue,” Toronto Star, June 12, 2017.
26 Tom Dakers, “Pat Hentgen Interview: Part Two,” Blue Bird Banter, October 27, 2010. https://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2010/10/27/1777413/pat-hentgen-interview-part-two, accessed February 5, 2022.
27 Mark Zwolinski, “Pat Hentgen, the First Blue Jay to Win Cy Young Award,” Toronto Star, March 5, 2015.
28 Shi Davidi, “Blue Jays Cut Positions of Hentgen, Quantrill, Offer Them Part-Time Roles,” Sportsnet.ca, September 24, 2020. https://www.sportsnet.ca/mlb/blue-jays-part-ways-staff-members-hentgen-quantrill-huckaby/#:~:text=Players-,Blue%20Jays%20cut%20positions%20of%20Hentgen%2C%20Quantrill,offer%20them%20part%2Dtime%20roles&text=The%20Toronto%20Blue%20Jays%20parted,according%20to%20Sportsnet’s%20Shi%20Davidi.
30 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
31 Hentgen interview.
32 Richard Griffin, “Ex-Jays Ace Hentgen, Late Dad Bonded Through Baseball: Griffin,” Toronto Star, March 5, 2015.
33 Kevin Lozon, “Hannah Hentgen Feels ‘Very Lucky’ to Have Her Dad by Her side,” MI Prep Zone, May 24, 2014. http://www.miprepzone.com/macomb/results.asp?ID=7319
34 Tom Dakers, “Top 50 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #11 Pat Hentgen.”
35 Todd Zolecki, “The Last Words of Roy Halladay: ‘I’m Sorry. I Should’ve Just Gone with You. Another Wasted Day,’” Toronto Star, May 10, 2020. This changed after the COVID-19 pandemic and Hentgen now has a cabin in his native Michigan.
36 Hentgen interview.