Duane Ward

This article was written by John Kennedy

Known as one of the steadiest setup and capable closers in Blue Jays history, Duane Ward was instrumental in the organization’s back-to-back World Series championships, in the early 1990s. Standing at 6-feet-4 and 210 pounds, he was a powerful right-handed pitcher capable of throwing 95-mph fastballs and hard, sweeping sliders. Ward’s versatility allowed him to be used differently than typical set-up pitchers in today’s game. He regularly appeared in 65 to 80 games a year, often pitching multiple innings.1

Roy Duane Ward was born in Park View, New Mexico, on May 28, 1964, to Tommy and Evelyn Ward. Duane had an older brother, also named Tommy, and two younger brothers, Gary and Mike. All four boys played sports in school, but only Duane played professionally. Both parents worked – Tommy as an oil-field worker for Halliburton for many years and then a few other companies. Evelyn “kept busy, just like all of us did. Over the years, she managed some stores – a Dairy Queen and a couple of restaurants.”2

Duane showed athletic prowess at a young age, playing baseball for the Farmington High School Scorpions, known throughout New Mexico for having a well-established baseball program. On the competitive circuit, he traveled and flourished throughout the American Amateur Baseball Congress leagues and starred in the Connie Mack World Series. (His plaque hangs in the tournament’s Hall of Fame at Ricketts Park in Farmington.3) Ward also led the Scorpions basketball team on a 26-0 run through the 1981-82 basketball season, claiming the New Mexico Activities Association Class 4A State Championship and being named to the District 1AAAA first team as a forward.4 

In high-school baseball, Duane was primarily a pitcher, but when not pitching he filled in at other positions. On weekends, “we always played doubleheaders, back to back against, say, Albuquerque High School, and then the next day we’d travel over to Santa Fe and play a doubleheader there.”5

Ward was selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the June 1982 amateur draft by the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta scout Bob Wadsworth had spotted and followed Ward. Wadsworth was “the one who scouted me and signed me,” Ward said. “He’s the one who came in and saw me and talked. He was in my living room. There’s a photo of me and him in the local paper when I was signing my contract. Bob was a good man – honest and straightforward. Didn’t try to sugarcoat anything. Just told me how it was. I really appreciated that.”6

Ward was drafted just four spots after another notable pitcher, Dwight Gooden.7 He is tied with Jim Kremmel (1971) for the second-highest draft pick of players from New Mexico, behind shortstop Alex Bregman, who was selected with the second pick in the first round of the 2015 draft.8 There was a signing bonus, in line with other first-round bonuses of the day. Duane didn’t have any agent or adviser in those days. “We didn’t have that kind of help when I was coming up,” he said. “I just had some local people in the area who helped me out, read the contract, stuff like that. One of the guys who helped me was a local athlete/star who turned lawyer, Tommy Roberts. I also called and talked to Terry McDermott. He was a high draft pick for the Los Angeles Dodgers [first round 1969]. I called him and just asked a few questions, which helped a little bit. It all came down to, basically, what do I want to do? But they helped as kind of a go-between. Someone to talk to. It was a lot less complicated and not as much glitz and glamour.”9

In his 1982 rookie season, Ward split time between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Braves and the Anderson Braves of the low Class-A South Atlantic League, where he pitched in 13 games (starting 12) and posted a 3-5 record with a 4.80 ERA in 69⅓ innings pitched. The next season he was moved up to the Durham Bulls of the high Class-A Carolina League, for whom he posted an 11-13 record with a 4.29 ERA. In 1984 Ward was promoted to the Greenville Braves in the Double-A Southern League, where he faced a rough adjustment to higher-quality competition and posted a 4-9 record with a 4.99 ERA.

At Greenville in 1985, Ward bounced back and had a brief stay at Triple-A Richmond (International League). Between the two teams, he had an 11-11 record with a 4.46 ERA. 

Ward made the big-league roster and started the 1986 season with Atlanta. He made his major-league debut on April 12, 1986, with a scoreless eighth-inning appearance during a 4-3 road loss to the Houston Astros. Ward recalled the game fondly as an opportunity to pitch against his idol, future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

Of his debut game he said in 2020, “It just so happened that Rick (Mahler) and Nolan (Ryan) were going against each other. I got to see a guy I looked up to pitch live, and I’ll be gosh-danged if I didn’t get into that game later to pitch in the same game that Nolan Ryan did. But the special thing about it was having my mom and dad there to watch; it couldn’t have been a more perfect day.”10

Ward was 0-1 record with a 7.31 ERA in 16 innings pitched before being optioned to Richmond in early June. A month later, on July 6, the 22-year-old Ward was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for right-handed pitcher Doyle Alexander, who was about to turn 36 and had posted back-to-back 17-win seasons for the Blue Jays in 1984 and 1985, and would eventually be dealt to the Tigers for minor-league prospect and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz.

“I always joke about it because three or four months later the Detroit Tigers traded, straight-up, John Smoltz for Alexander. So, every time I run into John I say, ‘You know what, in a roundabout way, I was traded for you.’”11

Ward has a positive take on the traded to the American League East-contending Blue Jays.

“I think it was that (Atlanta) had to clear a roster spot at the big-league level, and I think a trade was in the making,” Ward recalled. “So, they sent me down (to Richmond), and three weeks later, I think it was, I was supposed to start in Tidewater, Virginia, against the Mets. And it’s a bus ride back and forth; you don’t stay overnight because it’s so close to Richmond. My manager, Roy Majtyka, was still in Tidewater, and I was back in Richmond, and he goes, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re not starting tomorrow. I said, ‘Well, what’s going on?’ And he goes, ‘The good news is you just got traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Doyle Alexander. And I’m going to tell you this: Doyle Alexander’s a veteran pitcher, and for you to go straight-up in a trade, that tells me the Blue Jays think a lot of you. This is going to be a great opportunity for you.”12

Ward switched organizations but not leagues. The Blue Jays sent him to their Syracuse Chiefs farm team. He finished the season with a brief stint with the Blue Jays, pitching in two games (starting one, in which he was the losing pitcher). His 1987 season was similar: He spent most of the season with Syracuse as a reliever, starting only three of his 46 games, and picking up 14 saves. He was called up when rosters expanded and earned a victory in relief. He had surgery in October to repair a left knee ligament tear.

At age 24, Ward’s breakout year came in 1988. It was Ward’s first season starting in a major-league bullpen and he rewarded the Blue Jays with highly effective pitching from the set-up position ahead of dominant closer Tom Henke.13He regularly finished games, pitching multiple innings well enough to allow Henke additional rest. In 64 appearances, Ward finished 32 games and recorded 15 saves. He posted a 9-3 record with a 3.30 ERA pitching 111⅔ innings. His performance ensured that the set-up position was Ward’s to lose until the end of the 1992 season and Henke’s departure from the Blue Jays.

Ward’s 1989 season saw a slight regression on the stats sheet from 1988. In 66 appearances, he collected 15 saves, but his 12 blown saves led the league.14 His won-lost record plummeted to 4-10 with a slight uptick in ERA to 3.77 in 114⅔innings pitched. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, however, improved (122/58) and it was his first season of over 100 strikeouts in major-league play.

Ward also got his first taste of postseason play, appearing in two games in the American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics, in which he pitched ineffectively (3⅔ innings, 7.36 ERA) as the Blue Jays were eliminated in five games.


The 1990 season played similarly to the year before with a slight uptick in appearances (73) and innings pitched (127⅔) and 11 saves. The Blue Jays were unable to recapture the success of the previous season, finishing two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and missing the postseason.

The 1991 season saw Ward lead all American League pitchers with 81 appearances and a career-best 132 strikeouts in 107⅓ innings. He finished 46 games and recorded 23 saves, the most in his set-up relief role. He posted a 7-6 record with a 2.77 ERA along with the best strikeout-to-walk (4.00) and highest strikeouts-per-nine innings (11.1) rate of his career. His performance led to a ninth-place finish in the AL Cy Young Award balloting, which is highly impressive for any relief pitcher, let alone one, like Ward, in a predominantly set-up role.15 The Blue Jays once again finished atop the AL East, and they played the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS. In two appearances, Ward went 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in 4⅓ innings, while recording a save and six strikeouts to only one walk. The Blue Jays fell to the Twins, four victories to one.

Ward’s success on the mound continued into the 1992 season. He registered a career-best 1.95 ERA in 79 appearances. He posted a 7-4 record with 103 strikeouts in 101⅓ innings of work, striking out over 100 batters for the fourth consecutive season. From 1988 through 1992, Ward was the only pitcher to have pitched more than 100 innings in relief in all five seasons. The Blue Jays, on the strength of a 96-win season, topped the AL East for the second year in a row. Ward pitched in three games in the ALCS against Oakland. His first postseason win came in Game Four after the Blue Jays rallied against Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley and won in 11 innings. Ward pitched the ninth and 10th innings, allowing one hit.

The Blue Jays won the ALCS four games to two and advanced to the World Series, taking on the Atlanta Braves. Ward pitched in four games and was the winner in two of them, giving up no runs and just one hit while striking out six batters over 3⅓ innings. Ward won Game Two by pitching a flawless eighth inning before a blown save by Braves pitcher Jeff Reardon. He won Game Three, entering after an effective eight-inning effort from starting pitcher Juan Guzmán, allowing one hit and striking out two in the ninth inning. Winning the Series in six games, the Blue Jays got their first World Series banner to hang from the rafters of SkyDome.

In the five-year period from 1988 to 1992, Ward established himself as a hard-throwing right-hander and one of the game’s top set-up men, combining with closer Tom Henke to form “the most overpowering and beloved bullpen tandem in franchise history.”16 Much to the surprise of the Blue Jays organization and their fan base, Henke departed via free agency after the 1992 season, returning to the Texas Rangers, where he had started his career in 1982.17 With Henke’s departure, Ward assumed the Blue Jays closer role and posted the best season of his career.

He topped the AL (along with Kansas City Royals reliever Jeff Montgomery) with 45 saves and 70 games finished during the 1993 season, both Blue Jays single-season records that still stood as of 2022.18 In a total of 71 appearances, he posted a 2-3 record with a 2.13 ERA, striking out 97 batters in 71⅔ innings pitched, while also posting the highest strikeouts-per-nine innings (12.2) and the lowest walks-plus-hits-per-innings pitched (1.033 WHIP) of his professional career. His performance earned Ward his first All-Star Game appearance and he finished fifth for the AL Cy Young Award and 22nd in AL MVP voting.

The Blue Jays had another 95-win season in 1993, the best in the AL East, and faced the Chicago White Sox in their third consecutive ALCS appearance. Ward pitched in four ALCS games, finishing each, and recording two saves, including one in the clinching Game Six. Against the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, Ward finished four games, and got two saves andthe Series-clinching win in Game Six, the famous “Touch ’em all, Joe!” game, which ended on a walk-off home run by Joe Carter.

But Ward was not able to help the Blue Jays attempt the three-peat; a combination of biceps tendinitis and a torn rotator cuff forced him to miss the entire 1994 season, which was cut short by the players strike.19 With the 1994 season officially canceled on September 14, the Blue Jays were not able to defend their World Series crown.

Ward’s 1995 season began with rehab appearances, three for Dunedin of the Florida State League and six for Syracuse. Once called up, he appeared in four games for Toronto in May and June, giving up 10 runs (8 earned) in 2⅔ innings before being shut down. This stint marked the end of Ward’s tenure with the Blue Jays, who allowed him to become a free agent after the season.

Ward signed with the Chicago Cubs, making total appearances for a total of seven innings pitched for Double-A Orlando and Class-A Daytona Cubs. In a full-circle moment, Ward pitched his last major-league game on June 22, 1995, against the Milwaukee Brewers, whom he had defeated for his first major-league win on September 7, 1987. He faced six batters, walking two and giving up three hits.

Myriad injuries, including the severely torn rotator cuff and bicep tendinitis, ultimately forced Ward’s retirement at the age of 31. Despite having surgery to repair his rotator cuff, Ward said, “[M]y arm just never felt the same. It never came back to where it felt 100 percent. I could still throw the ball pretty well, but it wasn’t … just wasn’t the same Duane Ward that everybody was used to seeing.”20 In 2022 he reflected, “Just a series of recurring injuries. The arm just didn’t respond the way I wanted it to. I just wasn’t going to get back to where I was.”21

In nine seasons with the Blue Jays, Ward appeared in 452 games, the second most by a Toronto pitcher, and is second all-time in both saves (121) and games finished (266) behind Tom Henke. He had a 32-37 won-loss record with a 3.28 ERA and 67 holds. He saved his best performances for when it mattered most, going 3-0, collecting two saves, with a 1.13 ERA and 13 strikeouts in eight innings in World Series appearances. Sportswriter Rob Neyer rated Ward the second-best reliever in team history.22

Since his retirement, Ward has become an active alumni member for the Blue Jays organization, participating in many charity efforts. He is one of the lead instructors at baseball clinics for the Toronto Blue Jays Academy and the Jays Care Foundation.23

As a driving force in getting the Blue Jays to hold baseball camps across the country, Ward has been eager to educate young players about the sport.24 “I basically started up the Honda Super Camps back in 2010. We’ve been doing them up until 2020; they had to shut down because of COVID.”25 He was a true ambassador for the Blue Jays. “A lot of promotions there inside the Dome, and doing it all across Canada. Each summer, we’d travel to 10 different provinces. A lot of my teammates, some of the other guys, I got them involved. I got them all doing camps with us. They all like giving back to the sport that we love. Giving back to the kids of Canada.”

Ward said that if he had the entire process, highs and lows, to repeat, he unquestionably would. “If I was 100 percent healthy and not in my mid-50s,” he laughed, “I’d love to be playing still today. Being around all the guys that love the game as much as you do. The thing about it is we get old, we have a few injuries, but I wouldn’t trade anything about how my career went. Wish I wouldn’t have gotten hurt, but I (played) to the best of my ability. And what you can do is pass those experiences on to the next generation.”26

He has also been a regular contributor to Sportsnet, a Canadian national cable sports television station, providing his insight into the Toronto Blue Jays and current baseball topics.27 “I did some fill-in broadcasting for a couple, three years there. I think one year I did 15 or 20 games, in the radio booth with Jerry Howarth. Giving my perspective about the team, the pitching side of it, the bullpen. I really enjoyed doing it.”28 The network constructed a Blue Jays Top 40 list and placed Ward at number 21 all-time (much to the chagrin of many analysts who believed he should have been higher).29

Living in Nevada, Ward has otherwise intentionally kept a very low profile, with no social media presence and wanting to “keep personal stuff personal.”

Most recently, Ward was elected as part of the 2020 inductee class to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame alongside Jacques Doucet, Justin Morneau, and former teammate John Olerud. Reflecting on Ward’s time with the Blue Jays during the Hall of Fame announcement, Olerud stated that “he was just dominant. …With ‘Wardo’ coming, you knew you were going to have an easy inning. There rarely was a rough inning when Wardo took the field. He just had great stuff, and the ball didn’t get put in play a whole lot.”30

In an interview after the announcement, Ward reflected on his time on the mound: “It’s something that really makes you reflect back on everybody that was a part of your amateur career, of your professional career and your big-league career. … To be honored this way – at the top with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame – it’s really something. You reflect back on almost everybody that had something to do with your success – and help you when you fail to teach you how to get out of a rut or things that come your way. But one thing you learn is that you don’t do it by yourself.”31



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted baseballalmanac.com and Baseball-Reference.com.



1 Tom Dakers, “Top 60 All-Time Blue Jays #30 Duane Ward,” Blue Bird Banter, February 24, 2021.https://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2021/2/24/22298673/top-60-all-time-blue-jays-30-duane-ward, accessed February 5, 2022.

2 Duane Ward interview with Bill Nowlin on May 2, 2022, hereafter cited as Ward interview.  

3 Joel Priest, “Four Corners Great Duane Ward Into Canadian Hall of Fame,” Durango (Colorado) Herald, June 26, 2020. https://www.durangoherald.com/articles/four-corners-great-duane-ward-into-canadian-hall-of-fame, accessed February 5, 2022.

4 Wayne Leupold, “Champions to Hit the Court Again,” Farmington (New Mexico) Daily Times, March 28, 1982: 9B.

5 Ward interview.

6 Ward interview.

7 “Duane Ward,” Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhalloffame.ca/hall-of-famer/duane-ward/, accessed February 5, 2022.

8 Kevin Hendricks, “Bregman Can Make NM History,” Albuquerque Journal, June 7, 2015. https://www.abqjournal.com/595581/bregman-can-make-nm-history.html.

9 Ward interview.

10 Priest, “Four Corners Great Duane Ward Into Canadian Hall of Fame.”

11 Priest.

12 Priest.

13 Dakers, “Top 60 All-Time Blue Jays #30 Duane Ward.”

14 1992 Toronto Blue Jays Media Guide.

15 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

16 Dakers.

17 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

18 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

19 Priest.

20 “Ward Goes Into Hall with 3 Titles,” Albuquerque Journal, February 24, 2010. https://www.abqjournal.com/231426/ward-goes-into-hall-with-3-titles.html.

21 Ward interview. In all, Ward has had two shoulder surgeries, one on his hand, and – over time – seven knee surgeries, “fixing things here and there after I got done playing.”

22 Dakers.

23 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

24 Leith Dunick, “Ward’s Way,” TBnewswatch.com, June 30, 2012. https://www.tbnewswatch.com/local-sports/wards-way-391582. Accessed February 28, 2022.

25 Ward interview. The Toronto Star ran a feature article in March 2012 providing the schedule for that year’s camps, and said, “Duane Ward … leads the three-day camps which will include different instructors along the way. Among them: recent Hall of Fame inductee Roberto Alomar and his father Sandy, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield, Jose Cruz, Jr., and Darrin Fletcher, among others.” See Brendan Kennedy, “Jays to Hold Clinics Across Canada,” Toronto Star, March 31, 2010: U12. The 14 dates for 2012 ranged from July 2 through August 30, each camp typically for three days, with locations in Edmonton; Calgary; Kelowna, British Columbia; Vancouver; Montreal; Ottawa; London Ontario; Halifax; Charlottetown; Moncton; St. John’s, Newfoundland; Saskatoon; Winnipeg; and a final weekend at Rogers Centre, Toronto.

26 Priest.

27 Dakers.

28 Ward interview.

29 “Blue Jays Top 40: How’s Duane Ward Not in Your Top 10?,” sportsnet.ca, August 17, 2017. https://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/blue-jays-top-40-hows-duane-ward-not-top-10/. Accessed February 28, 2022.

30 Priest.

31 Priest.

Full Name

Roy Duane Ward


May 28, 1964 at Park View, NM (USA)

If you can help us improve this player’s biography, contact us.