Monster's (Fast) Ball
"I liked Dick a lot. He was a great, fun guy who enjoyed life to the fullest." -- Bill Monbouquette
"He was well liked and respected by the other players. He wasn't a flaky reliever but a down-to-earth family man." -- Frank Malzone
Source: We Played The Game (1994)
We lost another All-Star from a time when baseball was just a game. Richard Raymond Radatz died Wednesday when he fell down a flight of stairs in his home. He was 67.
Forty years ago, in an era when saves were considered a hockey stat, Dick Radatz was the premier relief pitcher in baseball. He was a big guy with a loose arm who could really bring it. His windup and sidearm motion make me think of Don Drysdale. Like Big D, Radatz coupled a slow, deceptive delivery with a devastating 95-mph fastball. He was as unhittable as anybody in his heyday.
Dick Radatz was a rookie the year of my first APBA baseball game set. He was an A* (XY)(Z) in 1962 and 1963 and an A* (XY) in 1964. A letter grade of "A" was the highest awarded to pitchers at that time, the "X" and "Y" symbols were only given to the best strikeout pitchers, and the "Z" was bestowed upon those with excellent control. The asterisk meant a pitcher could only be used in relief.
Sandy Koufax was the type of starter who was an A (XY)(Z) and Radatz was the prototypical A* (XY)(Z) reliever. Radatz was not only the best relief pitcher of his day, but he arguably had the greatest three-year run of any reliever in history.
From 1962-1964, Radatz appeared in 207 games -- all in relief -- and, get this, threw 414 innings (yes, you read that right, an average of 138 IP per season or nearly twice the output of today's typical closer). He only allowed 292 hits and posted a cumulative ERA of 2.17 (with a low of 1.97 and a high of 2.29). His ERA+ (the ballpark-adjusted ratio of the league's ERA to that of the pitcher) was 180. He had a 40-21 record (a .656 winning percentage) and 78 saves during that period. By comparison, the Red Sox were 224-259 (.463) during those years or 184-238 (.436) in games not won or lost by Radatz.
Radatz had the best ERA among pitchers with as few as 150 or more IP and was number one in saves, strikeouts/inning, and hits/inning from 1962-1964. He was even second in Runs Saved Above Average and fifth in strikeouts.
AMERICAN LEAGUE (1962-1964)
EARNED RUN AVERAGE
1 Dick Radatz 2.17
2 Gary Peters 2.46
3 Dean Chance 2.54
4 Whitey Ford 2.60
5 Juan Pizarro 2.89
RUNS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE
1 Whitey Ford 87
2 Dick Radatz 80
3 Dean Chance 73
4 Camilo Pascual 68
5 Gary Peters 60
1 Camilo Pascual 621
2 Whitey Ford 521
3 Dean Chance 502
4 Juan Pizarro 498
5 Dick Radatz 487
1 Dick Radatz 10.59
2 Al Downing 8.32
3 Dick Stigman 7.34
4 Camilo Pascual 7.23
5 Gary Peters 6.85
1 Dick Radatz 6.35
2 Al Downing 6.73
3 Gary Peters 7.18
4 Jim Bouton 7.47
5 Joe Horlen 7.54
1 Dick Radatz 78
2 Hoyt Wilhelm 63
3 John Wyatt 52
4 Stu Miller 50
5 Ron Kline 33
Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
Among relief pitchers, Radatz is the greatest strikeout artist of all time. Of note, Brad Lidge set the NL record for strikeouts by a reliever last year with 157. Radatz topped him twice with 181 in 1964 and 162 in 1963. Dick set the record 40 years ago, and it has remained unbroken ever since. He ranks first, third, and seventh for the most strikeouts in a single season by a relief pitcher.
SINGLE-SEASON STRIKEOUT LEADERS
1 Dick Radatz 1964 181
2 Mark Eichhorn 1986 166
3 Dick Radatz 1963 162
4 Brad Lidge 2004 157
5 Dick Selma 1970 153
6 Goose Gossage 1977 151
7 Dick Radatz 1962 144
8 Mike Marshall 1974 143
9 Rob Dibble 1989 141
10 Eric Gagne 2003 137
If you're unfamiliar with Radatz, think Rich Gossage, circa 1977-1978, in terms of the number of innings and strikeouts. Dick was every bit as overpowering as the Goose was with the Pirates and Yankees those two seasons. Radatz, though, worked his magic for three consecutive years. The Boston fireballer led the league in games, games finished, and saves in 1962; was second in all three categories in 1963; and led once again in games finished and saves in 1964 while placing second in games.
Radatz was an All-Star in 1963 and 1964, and he ranked 5th and 9th, respectively, in the MVP voting. He was named Fireman of the Year by The Sporting News in 1962 and 1964.
In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James termed Radatz's season in 1964 the sixth most valuable relief season ever and called his 1963 season the most valuable in the league that year. Radatz had 21, 24, and 24 Win Shares, respectively, in 1962-1964. To put those totals in perspective, Eric Gagne had 25 in 2003, in a year many have called the best ever by a relief pitcher; Lidge topped the majors last year with 17; and Mariano Rivera has never even had 20 in a single season.
I asked Bill if he could share a memory of Radatz from the latter's playing days.
"In Kansas City we were very jealous of Radatz. We had our own star relief ace at the same time, John Wyatt, and, although of course Wyatt was nowhere near Radatz, he was nonetheless one of our biggest stars, and we were loathe to believe that anybody in the same role was better. Radatz is one of the key people who established the notion of using hard throwers as relief aces. He was a big, strong, overpowering pitcher, which was a contrast to most of the relief aces of that time -- Ted Abernathy, who whipped the ball to the plate underhanded; and Hoyt Wilhelm, who could have raced his pitch to home plate and finished in a tie; or Ron Perranoski, who threw a big, wide curve; and Stu Miller, who threw 18 different changeups, none of them over 70; or Ron Kline, a washed-up starter who released a mediocre fastball from the middle of a dizzying array of twitches and gyrations intended to force the batter to guess when he might decide to turn loose of the ball."
Radatz had several pitching outings that would be unheard of today. Most notably, on June 9, 1963 and June 11, 1963, Radatz pitched 14 2/3 innings over a 50-hour span, allowing five hits, two walks, and no runs, while striking out 21 and picking up two wins in relief. In the first game, Radatz recorded 18 outs, including 10 strikeouts, five foul pop-ups, a sacrifice bunt, and one caught stealing. The only batter he walked was intentional. Moreover, only four of the 20 batters hit the ball into fair territory.
One of Radatz's most memorable performances came in the 1963 All-Star Game, when he struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Dick Groat, Julian Javier, and Duke Snider in two innings of relief. He also struck out five more batters -- including Hank Aaron -- in the following year's All-Star game, before serving up a game-winning home run to Johnny Callison in the bottom of the ninth inning in what Radatz later termed the biggest disappointment of his career. Although Radatz was tagged with the loss in the 1964 All-Star game, he struck out 10 batters in just 4 2/3 innings of work in his two mid-summer classics.
Speaking of striking out Hall of Famers, according to a Boston Red Sox press release, Radatz K'd Mickey Mantle 44 times in 67 lifetime at-bats. (Update: Rob Neyer tells me that David Smith via Retrosheet determined that the actual numbers are 12 Ks in 16 at bats and 19 plate appearances. Still impressive but not of the legendary magnitude previously reported.) Radatz became known as "The Monster" after overwhelming the Mick at Yankee Stadium in one particular game. Richard Goldstein, in a New York Times tribute to Radatz, relayed the following story:
"I had a lot of success with Mantle," Radatz told Bob Cairns in 'Pen Men,' a history of relief pitching. "I'd just start him out with fastballs around the waist and go up the ladder. For some reason he just couldn't move on it. I struck him out in Yankee Stadium with the bases loaded and boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, he started cussing and Monster came out about the tenth word. He was cussing so loud that the press heard it."
"The Monster" also whiffed Roger Maris and Elston Howard -- striking out three AL MVPs in a row -- on a total of 10 pitches. After that game, Radatz, one of the first pitchers to show emotion after getting the last out, punched the sky, as if to say, "I did it!"
Not surprisingly, Mantle once said, "I guess I would have to say that Dick Radatz was the toughest pitcher I ever faced." Bill Monbouquette, Radatz's teammate from 1962-1965, recalled, "Mickey used to say, 'Damn it, I know what he's going to throw and I still can't hit it.' I think he hit one home run off Dick, in Yankee Stadium, and I think Dick broke his bat."
Monbouquette, in We Played The Game, believes Radatz "was the best reliever there ever was. Dick could pitch five innings one day and then pitch the next day. If he had been used differently, where he pitched only an inning or two a game, I know he could have saved between 80 and 100 games a year. That sounds farfetched but I believe it."
"One game, I was leading the Yankees 1-0, but I loaded the bases with no one out in the ninth. Then Dick came in and struck out, in succession, Maris, (Yogi) Berra, and (Johnny) Blanchard. Maris and Blanchard I could see, but Berra was, along with Nellie Fox and Bobby Richardson, the toughest guy in the league to fan."
A native of Detroit, Radatz was a baseball and basketball star at Michigan State during the late 1950s. One of his college teammates was Ron Perranoski, later an outstanding relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins. Radatz was a starting pitcher in college and the first two years in the minors. He was moved to the bullpen in 1961 by Johnny Pesky, who also managed Radatz in the majors in 1963 and 1964.
Despite dominating American League hitters in his first three years, Radatz tried to develop a sinker in the spring of 1965. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers attributed the following Radatz quote to Splendor on the Diamond:
"Ted Williams had said that I needed another pitch. So I tried adding a pitch in '65. It got me into control problems. I changed my arm position, and came up with a sinker. I started using it when I shouldn't have, and it as all downhill after that. It was a classic case of, if the wheel's not broke, don't fix it. I tried changing something, and it became a nightmare for me."
Although Radatz saved 22 games in 1965, his ERA increased more than one-and-a-half runs to 3.92. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Don McMahon and Lee Stange in June 1966 and was out of baseball three years later. Radatz never started a game in the big leagues but, man, was he a Monster in relief.