At six foot five, two-hundred and forty pounds and wearing size 14D shoes, Richard Raymond Radatz was a big man. He was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 2nd 1937, becoming a two sport star (baseball and basketball) at Michigan State University before signing with the Boston Red Sox in 1960.
While still in the minors, Radatz developed a “sore arm” and was sent to the bullpen by his manager, Johnny Pesky. Radatz was not happy about his bullpen assignment, but it was there where he would become one of the most feared pitchers in baseball during the mid 1960’s.
Radatz delivered the baseball sidearm for most of his career, effectively hiding the ball which he threw consistently at 95-96 miles per hour, and from a mound that was 15”, sometimes as much as 20” above home plate. It was in Radatz’s final season, 1969, the year after Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title with a .301 average that Major League Baseball mandated pitching rubbers be no more than 10” above home plate, attempting to minimize the pitcher’s long time advantage (1904). One can only imagine how imposing Radatz must have been at his size, hovering 20” above home plate, and slinging fastball after fastball…
In 1962, his rookie season, Radatz led the American League in saves (24), games (62) and relief wins (9) and was named Fireman of the Year by The Sporting News.
In 1963 Radatz entered a game against the rival New York Yankees in the top of the ninth in relief of starter Earl Wilson who had loaded the bases with nobody out. Radatz struck out Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard, each an American League MVP during their careers, throwing only ten pitches in completing the feat. When Howard struck out for the final out of the game, Radatz thrust his clenched fists overhead, and after being reminded of it the next day by Red Sox broadcasting legend Curt Gowdy, it became his “trademark gesture". It was after that game that Mantle referred to his nemesis as “that Monster”. And why not, Radatz faced Mantle 66 times during “The Mick’s” Hall of Fame career, striking him out 47 times. Yankee manager Ralph Houk later said of '62 and '63, "For two seasons, I've never seen a better pitcher".
It was in 1963, from May 13th to June 14th, that Radatz pitched 33 consecutive scoreless innings. The only Red Sox pitchers to pitch more consecutive scoreless innings were Luis Tiant, who had 40 between August 19th and September 8th in 1972, and the great Cy Young who had 45 between April 25th and May 17th back in 1904. In the 1963 All Star game Radatz fanned Willie Mays, Dick Groat, Duke Snider, Willie McCovey and Julián Javier in the two innings he pitched.
But “The Monster” wasn’t just all business. He had a lighter side. Former Red Sox starter and 20 game winner, Bill Mombouquette, remembers him this way-- ''I never used to give the ball to the manager when he'd come to get me, I'd wait to give it to the guy coming into the game. I used to say to Dick, 'You'd better get these guys out or I'm going to kick your butt,' He'd say, 'Go in the clubhouse, crack me a Bud, and I'll be right up.' And he would.' "
Johnny Pesky's recollection of Radatz's three strikeouts of Yankee greats goes something like this-- "Radatz comes in, and says to Earl, `Big boy, crack a couple of cold ones and I'll be up there in 10 minutes.' He told me to get my little ass in the dugout, which is something he told me a lot of times. He strikes out the three of 'em, Mantle, Maris, and Howard, on 10 pitches."
It wasn’t uncommon for Radatz to pitch three innings of relief one day and four the next. In one three day span "The Monster” pitched 6 innings of relief one day and then 9 innings of an extra-inning game two nights later, the winner in both games.
In 1963 Radatz went 15-6 with a 1.97 ERA, while saving 25 games and becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to have consecutive 20-save seasons. In 1964 Radatz pitched in 79 games, led the league with 29 saves, compiling 16 wins and a 2.29 ERA in the process. He fanned 181 batters in 157 innings, establishing a record for the most strikeouts by a relief pitcher in a single season and won his second Fireman of the Year award.
Sportswriter Jim Murray wrote that "Dick Radatz brings one weapon - a fastball. It's like saying all a country brings to a war is an atom bomb." Radatz's “one-pitch arsenal” was concerning, and Ted Williams encouraged Radatz to develop a second pitch, a sinker. Radatz took William’s advice, but in doing so he altered his mechanics, and as a result his fastball suffered and he never regained his dominating form.
Struggling with a 9-11 record, with 24 saves and 3.91 ERA in 1965, Radatz injured both his arm and shoulder, requiring season-ending surgery. He was traded to the Indians mid-season 1966, and was with the Cubs the following year. Out of action entirely in 1968, he finished his career in 1969 with the Tigers and Expos.
Dick Radatz’s career was cut short after only seven seasons as a result of injuries and the intensity with which he played the game. During that brief time he compiled a 52-43 record with a 3.13 ERA, 122 saves, with 745 strikeouts in 693.2 innings, and earned the respect of many major league hitters. A two-time All Star and saves leader, Radatz was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame (established 1995) in 1997.
After his retirement from baseball Radatz made his home in Easton, Massachusetts and many local residents enjoyed the rare privilege of bumping into him around town. It was in 2002 that I was in the CVS Pharmacy in Easton that I looked over and saw “The Monster” heading for the cash register with several boxes of Hershey chocolate bars tucked under his huge arms. I reacted like the kid who had watched Radatz pitch on his family’s 14” black and white TV many years ago—“Hey, Dick Radatz-- I saw you hit a home run!” Radatz never broke stride, cracked a big, confident smile and said “1965 against the Kansas City Athletics on June 5th!” He kept on walking and I was in left in total awe…
Radatz had one career home run and I had seen it live. It gave the Sox a 4-3 lead and they went on to win 5-3, Radatz getting the win. The day after hitting the home run into the right field bleachers, Radatz was quoted in the newspapers as offering to give batting instruction to his teammates, of course tongue-in-cheek. Both Conigliaro (league leading 32 HR) and Yastrzemski (league leading 45 doubles) hit well that year, but the team finished 62-100, 40 games behind the first place Minnesota Twins, in 9th place (out of 10), and with a team batting average of just .251.
Dick Radatz, AKA: “The Monster” (pronounced Monstah), died on March 16, 2005 after falling down the stairs in his home and suffering a fatal head injury. He was a unique individual, who, in his brief major league career, definitely left his mark on the game of baseball.