David Wells was one of his generation’s winningest and most durable pitchers, and he was never afraid to give his opinion on any issue, which has often led to controversy. After his impressive MLB career, he has found a calling coaching high school baseball.
Born in Torrance, California in 1963, Wells came up through the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization, a second round choice in the 1982 amateur draft. When he made it to the majors in 1987, Wells was used mainly as a reliever, and in fact it was not until he joined the Tigers in 1993 that he was made a full-time starter. With Toronto he had been 47-37, pitching in relief and making most of his starts after his first three years with the club. Possessing an average fastball but a very good curve and changeup, David Wells had great control from the beginning of his long stint in the majors, never walking more than 53 men in a single season, and less than 700 in well over 3,000 inning of work during his career.
From Detroit, Wells went to the Orioles where he had a less than spectacular 1996, going 11-14 with an earned run average over 5.00. The Yankees picked up David as a free-agent in 1997 and something about wearing the pinstripes agreed with Wells. Although he was 34 at the time and had never won more than 16 games in a season, Wells became one of New York’s most reliable starting hurlers. He went 16-10 in 1997 and then followed that up with a phenomenal 18-4 mark in 1998. He walked just 29 men that year as opposed to 163 strikeouts, and finished third in the Cy Young voting behind Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.
On May 17th, 1998, David Wells became the second Yankee to throw a perfect game. Eerily, the only other that had done so up to that point was Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series, and Wells had attended the same San Diego high school that Larsen had gone to; and both had reputations for partying and enjoying the night life. On that day against the Minnesota Twins, Wells was in command throughout, striking out eleven men and winning 4-0, getting Pat Meares to pop out to right fielder Paul O’Neill for the final out. The Yankees rushed the mound and had all they could do to carry the portly Wells off the field. Listed at 250 pounds, but weighing considerably more, Wells has looked more like a professional wrestler than a major league pitcher his entire career, but he has always had a rubber arm.
Here’s a video of his last out and perfect game celebration:
Trades and New Teams
To get Roger Clemens away from the Blue Jays in the winter following his fine 1998 campaign, New York traded Wells to Toronto. He went 37-18 the two years he was back there, including his only twenty win season in 2000 at the age of 37. Toronto turned around and dealt the outspoken Wells to the White Sox, where he looked to be finished after experiencing back problems and throwing just 100 innings in 2001. But New York took another chance on Wells in 2002, and he responded with one of his best years, going 19-7. He was 15-7 in 2003 before signing with the Padres as a free agent, where he was a respectable 12-8 in 2004. The Red Sox inked him to a contract in 2005 and he went 15-7, and then was out for most of the 2006 season with various aliments before returning to go a combined 3-5 for Boston and the Padres.
Wells has pitched well in the post-season, particularly with the Yankees, where in four regular seasons he put up a sterling 68-28 record. As a member of the Bronx Bombers, David is 7-2 in the playoffs, and overall he is 10-5 in 27 post-season appearances, the first nine of those in relief with Toronto. His 3.17 earned run average in these contests is almost a full run lower than his 4.07 career standard. Wells’ mouth has gotten him into trouble frequently, as he has clashed with everyone in the game from Yankees’ skipper Joe Torre to baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig. Wells has given his opinion on the steroids issue in no uncertain terms, not afraid to call out players he thinks are juiced, and has written a book that so incensed the Yankee brass that he was fined $100,000 by the club for some of his comments in it.
Overall a Great Career
Wells is probably not a serious Hall of Fame candidate despite his 230 wins. His earned run average is much too high to be considered for such an honor, and he has given up more hits than innings pitched over his career. But few pitchers have done more with less than have David Wells, who is one of just 17 men to have ever pitched a perfect game, and will always be remembered for coming up big in the games that mattered the most.