I remember watching an interview during which the great Mickey Mantle called Dick Radatz the toughest pitcher he ever had to face. That’s saying a lot since the Mick faced some of the greatest hurlers in big league history. But from his rookie season with the Red Sox in 1962 until his heater began slowing down in 1965, nobody in baseball dominated hitters the way this right-hander did. Mantle faced him 63 times during his career and Radatz struck the legendary switch-hitter out 47 times. The only homer Mickey ever hit off him came on a pitch that broke his bat.
The story goes that it was also Mantle who gave Radatz his nickname, which was “The Monster.” It was supposedly coined after a memorable Yankee-Red Sox game in 1963 in which Radatz had come in with the bases loaded and nobody out and struck out Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard on just ten pitches. After the contest, in the clubhouse, Mantle was allegedly asked by reporters to talk about Radatz’s incredible performance and he started out by referring to him as “That monster…” One thing’s for sure, at six feet six inches tall with a 95 mile per hour fastball and a willingness to pitch inside on demand, this guy frightened every hitter he faced.
He led the AL in saves as a rookie and again in 1964 and he set a strikeout record for relievers that still stands, when he fanned 181 batters during that ’64 season. His combined ERA during his short three-year prime was a nifty 2.17.
A native of Detroit, before signing with the Red Sox in 1960, Radatz starred in both basketball and baseball for the Michigan State Spartans. It was while pitching for Boston’s triple A team in Seattle that he developed a sore arm and the team’s manager, Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky told him he was being sent to the bullpen. Radatz begged Pesky not to take him out of the rotation but it was that move that put him on a fast track to the big leagues.
Long-time Fenway faithful probably still remember Radatz’s signature gesture of punching the sky with his right hand while walking off the mound after getting the game’s last out. And don’t forget, back when Radatz pitched, closers were usually called upon to throw multiple innings.
Things began to unravel for Radatz during the ’65 season when the velocity on his fastball started dropping pretty dramatically. The Red Sox actually made a good trade in April of 1967 by sending a past-his-prime Radatz to the Indians for two decent pitchers named Lee Stange and Don McMahon.
Radatz ended up a journeyman, bouncing around the big leagues until 1969. Toward the end of his life, he blew up to over 400 pounds. He died tragically, from injuries received when he fell down the stairs at his Easton, Massachusetts home in March of 2005. He was 68-years-old at the time of his death. I borrowed the following from his Boston Globe obituary: “Mr. Radatz won or saved 33 of Boston’s 76 wins in 1962; 40 of Boston’s 76 wins in 1963; 45 of Boston’s 72 wins in 1964; and 31 of Boston’s 62 wins in 1965. He led the American League in saves in 1962 and 1964 and made the All-Star team in 1963 and 1964.”
At the time of his death, he ranked second on the Sox all-time list of saves leaders with 104. He now ranks third behind Jonathan Papelbon and Bob Stanley.
Former Red Sox outfielder Reggie Smith and former starting pitcher Al Nipper were also born on this date.