Blue Jays Flashback: Tom Henke

We’ve had Rance Mulliniks, Dave Stieb, Fred McGriff and many more in Kevin Glew’s Blue Jays Flashback series at Bodog Sportsbook. Next up, a man well worthy of his place alongside those names… Tom Henke.

Blue Jays Flashback: Tom Henke

Tom Henke is the best relief pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would disagree with that.

And if they did, there’s plenty of statistical evidence to back up the claim.


In his eight seasons with the Blue Jays, Henke recorded 217 saves – that’s nearly 100 more than Duane Ward who’s second on the club’s all-time list.

And for pitchers that have thrown at least 500 innings for the Blue Jays, Henke is No. 1 in ERA (2.48), strikeouts per nine innings (10.295), Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP) (1.025) and lowest hits per nine innings (6.570).

So how is it that Henke’s name is not on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence?

It’s an omission that has bothered me for years, but it’s not keeping Henke up at night.

“I did the best I could and the rest of it [post-career honours] is if it happens, it happens, but you would probably see me cry if it happened,” said Henke. “It would be a tremendous honour to be up there.”

Born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1957, Henke was fortunate that his father, Fred, was an outstanding catcher. So, from the time Henke began pitching at age 9 to off-seasons during his professional career, his father caught him.

Henke didn’t see scouts at his games until he was a hard-throwing starting pitcher at East Central College in Union, Mo. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs, before finally being selected and signing with the Texas Rangers after they chose him in the fourth round of the 1980 MLB draft.

After joining the pro ranks, Henke soon discovered he would need more than a fastball to be an effective starter and in 1981, he was converted into a reliever.

“At first I thought of it as a demotion, but then I embraced it because I thought I want to get to the big leagues, I don’t care what I’m doing,” said Henke.

Henke thrived in his new role, collecting 14 saves for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers in 1982 and earned his first big league call-up with the Rangers that season. He had short stints with the Rangers the following two years before he was selected by the Blue Jays as a free agent compensation pick for the Rangers signing Cliff Johnson in January 1985.

“I was scared to death to go to Canada,” said Henke. “But then I said to myself, ‘This is how it is, and this is how God is leading me down my path in baseball. So, we’re just going to embrace it and go on from there.’”

And embrace it he did.

That spring, Blue Jays pitching coach Al Widmar worked with Henke on shortening his delivery and the 27-year-old reliever was lights out in the Grapefruit League. But the Blue Jays didn’t have room on their roster and he was sent to triple-A Syracuse, where he continued to dominate. In 39 appearances, he posted a 0.88 ERA and allowed just 13 hits in 51 innings and was so overpowering that teammate John Cerutti started calling him “The Terminator.”

Meanwhile, Blue Jays closer Bill Caudill was struggling, and on July 27, 1985, the Blue Jays called up Henke. Two days later, manager Bobby Cox summoned Henke into a 3-3 tie in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium. The hard-throwing righty proceeded to pitch two scoreless innings, and Damaso Garcia homered in the 10th to give Henke a win in his Blue Jays debut.

In fact, in Henke’s four appearances on the road to begin his tenure with the Blue Jays, he picked up two wins and two saves and didn’t permit a hit in eight innings.

“One of my favourite moments in my Blue Jays career had to be when we came back from that road trip, and I pitched for the first time in front of the Toronto fans at Exhibition Stadium and they gave me a standing ovation,” recalled Henke.

And Henke’s magical season would continue. He posted a 2.03 ERA and recorded 13 saves to help the Blue Jays clinch their first division title.

From there, he established himself as one of baseball’s best closers. In 1987, Henke was selected to his first All-Star Game and topped the American League with 34 saves. Two years later, after a rough start to the season, Henke struck out Orioles pinch-hitter Larry Sheets in the ninth inning on the second-last day of the season to clinch the Blue Jays’ second division title.

In 1992, Henke was finally able to hoist the World Series trophy. His five postseason saves helped the Blue Jays past the Oakland A’s in the American League Championship Series and the Atlanta Braves in the Fall Classic.

“I still wear my ring to this day,” said Henke.

Following the 1992 season, Henke signed a two-year contract with the Rangers and then finished his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

In retirement, Henke has spent much of his time with his wife Kathy, four children and his grandchildren.

“I’ve got 12 grandkids now and I’m busy going to ballgames, not every day, but a lot,” said Henke. “We babysit them and I never say no to my grandkids.”

Henke also continues to host his annual Charity Classic Golf Tournament, which raises money for the Special Learning Center in Jefferson City, Mo., and diabetes research.

“My lifestyle hasn’t changed that much since I was a kid really,” said Henke who owns a hobby farm in Taos, Mo.

Yes, The Terminator is still the same humble guy who also happens to be the best relief pitcher in Blue Jays history – a title that earned him induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 and should garner him a long overdue spot on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.



There are more legendary names to come in Kevin’s Blue Jays Flashback series. Want to see a particular name up on our site? Let us know via our social media channels.