Blue Jays Flashback: Pat Hentgen

Kevin Glew waxes lyrical about another Toronto legend in this episode of Blue Jays Flashback. If there’s one player that truly bleeds Blue Jays’ blue, it’s Pat Hentgen.

Blue Jays Flashback: Pat Hentgen

After pitching 15 seasons in the organization from 1986 to 1999 and then again in 2004, Hentgen has served in various roles with the club, including spring training instructor, bullpen coach, scout and as a special assistant to player development.


And Blue Jays fans are glad he’s still around. When they wage debates about the top pitchers in franchise history, Hentgen’s name always enters the conversation, and rightfully so. In 1996, Hentgen became the first Blue Jay to win the American League Cy Young Award.

But “Blue Jays legend” isn’t a title Hentgen could’ve dreamed of for himself as a child. Born in Detroit in 1968, he was a standout pitcher and shortstop in high school when he was selected by the Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 1986 MLB draft.

He signed and started his pro career with the Short-Season Class-A St. Catharines Blue Jays before putting up ace-like numbers (11-5 with a 2.35 ERA in 33 games) with low-A Myrtle Beach in 1987.

Over the next two years, the 6-foot-2 righty continued his ascent up the minor league ranks, and after collecting an International League-leading 155 strikeouts with the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in 1991, he received his first big league call-up.

In his major league debut on September 3, 1991, he tossed two scoreless innings in relief in the Blue Jays’ 8-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Hentgen appeared in two more games that September prior to cracking the Blue Jays’ Opening Day roster as their long reliever in 1992.

“I didn’t pitch unless Jack Morris or Jimmy Key got bombed,” recalled Hentgen during a Zoom call with the Hanlan’s Point SABR chapter on January 31. “I remember once I went 14 days without pitching.”

He also didn’t pitch in the 1992 postseason, but he did receive a ring after the Blue Jays beat the Atlanta Braves in six games for their first World Series title.

After beginning the 1993 season in the bullpen, Hentgen joined the starting rotation on April 17 and ended up leading the team with 19 wins and was selected to his first All-Star Game.

He also hurled a gem in Game 3 of the World Series, limiting the Philadelphia Phillies to one run in six innings to earn the win.

Hentgen was scheduled to start Game 7 and was charting pitches in the dugout when Joe Carter walked to the plate in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6 with the Blue Jays up in the series 3-2 but trailing in the game 6-5.

“When Joe first hit it, I thought it was going foul,” recalled Hentgen of Carter’s walk-off, World Series-winning, three-run homer. “All I thought was, ‘Stay fair! Stay fair! Stay fair!’. Then I just remember throwing the clipboard and going for a run. It was great.”

Hentgen was an All-Star again in 1994 when he went 13-8 with a 3.40 ERA in 24 starts before a mid-August players’ strike wiped out the remainder of the season.

Following a down year in 1995, Hentgen became the second 20-game winner in Blue Jays’ history in 1996. He also topped the American League in innings pitched (265 2/3), complete games (10), shutouts (3) and WAR (8.6). For his efforts, he became the first Blue Jay to win the American League Cy Young Award.

“As a pro athlete, you kind of get into a sweet spot and I remember in the second half [of 1996], everything just kind of met – my physical strength, my mental strength, my experience – I had 700 innings in the minor leagues, so I had a lot of experience for a guy my age,” said Hentgen. “I just think that all of it kind of met at the perfect time. And I had a manager [Cito Gaston] that gave me the ball. He didn’t come and get me much.”

Hentgen followed that up with another All-Star campaign in 1997 in which he went 15-10 and again led the league in innings pitched (264), complete games (9) and shutouts (3).

Unfortunately, Hentgen battled shoulder tendinitis the ensuing year and was still not 100 per cent in 1999 before he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals that November. He put together another 15-win season for the National League Central-winning Cardinals in 2000 prior to signing with the Orioles as a free agent.

He posted a 3.47 ERA in nine starts with the O’s in 2001 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’d make just 32 more appearances with the O’s prior to resigning with the Blue Jays in November 2003.

Unfortunately, by then, the 35-year-old Hentgen was a shell of his old self and he’d go 2-9 with a 6.95 ERA in 18 games in 2004 before retiring that July.

“I always said when I played here that I’d like to retire as a Blue Jay, and lo and behold I did,” Hentgen told reporters.

Nearly 20 years later, Hentgen still ranks fifth among Blue Jays pitchers in wins (107), starts (238), innings pitched (1,636) and shutouts (9).

As noted earlier, following his playing career, Hentgen joined the Blue Jays as a spring training instructor and special assistant. In 2011, he was named the club’s bullpen coach and he returned to that role in 2013. His current post with the Blue Jays is special assistant to player development.

Hentgen remains in touch with many of his former Blue Jays teammates and was dismayed to see Carlos Delgado fall off the National Baseball Hall of Fame writers’ ballot in his first year of eligibility in 2015.

“He got screwed as far as I’m concerned,” said Hentgen during the recent SABR Zoom call.

I agree, but these words mean more coming from Hentgen, a teammate of Delgado’s for eight seasons and a man who clearly still bleeds Blue Jays blue.