One Tough Lefty

David Wells debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 20, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate David Wells (NBHOF Library)

David Wells’ career – on and off the diamond – was one of a kind.

Today, Wells stands on the verge of the one-and-only Mecca of baseball: The Hall of Fame.

Wells is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Wells is making his debut on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born May 20, 1963 in Torrance, Calif., Wells pitched for nine teams in 21 big league seasons on the strength of one of the most durable left arms of his generation. But his career path – which included a childhood spent with motorcycle gangs in San Diego and several scrapes with authorities while he was an active player – was anything but typical.

Wells was a second-round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 1982, and by 1987 the burly 6-foot-3 Wells had worked his way into the Jays’ bullpen. After two full seasons as a long reliever, Wells became Toronto’s swing starter from 1990-92, winning 33 games over three seasons and helping the Jays advance to the ALCS in 1991 and win the World Series in 1992.

“He’s a character, a typical left-hander,” said Blue Jays closer Tom Henke.

The Blue Jays, however, released Wells at the end of Spring Training in 1993. He quickly hooked on with the Tigers, where he won 11 games in 1993 and five more the following year before being traded to the Reds in a stretch-drive deal in 1995. That season, Wells finished with a 16-8 record and 3.29 earned-run average while helping Cincinnati advance to the NLCS.

“Sparky Anderson was the best manager I ever played for,” said Wells of his time with the Tigers. “He turned my life around. He gave me the opportunity to pitch, believed in me and taught me a lot.”

Wells won 11 games for Baltimore in 1996, then signed as a free agent with the Yankees. Over the next two seasons in the Bronx, Wells won 34 games – including an 18-4 record in 1998 when he finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting and led the Yankees to 114 regular-season wins and the World Series title. On May 17th of that year, Wells pitched the 13th perfect game in big league history when he shut down the Twins 4-0 at Yankee Stadium.

“In a clubhouse like this, you want to come to the ballpark every day,” Wells said. “We’re all here together and we’re all trying to do the same thing.”

But following the season, Wells was sent back to the Blue Jays in exchange for Roger Clemens. This time, firmly entrenched as a starter, Wells won 37 games over two seasons, leading the AL in innings pitched in 1999 (231.2) and wins in 2000 (20). In 2000, Wells again finished third in the Cy Young Award voting.

The Blue Jays traded Wells to the White Sox prior to the 2001 season, but he struggled to a 5-7 record that year. But prior to the 2002 season, Wells again signed a free agent deal with the Yankees, with whom he won 34 more games from 2002-03. He finished up his career with the Padres, Red Sox and Dodgers, retiring following the 2007 season.

Wells’ final record: 239-157, with two World Series titles and three All-Star Game appearances. He is the only pitcher in big league history with at least 200 wins, a .600 winning percentage (.604) and an ERA of over 4.00 (4.13).

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum