“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Dick Radatz wanted to be a starting pitcher. His minor league manager had different plans. Johnny Pesky turned him into a reliever in 1961 with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, and Radatz became one of baseball's most dominant relievers in the early '60s with the Boston Red Sox. "The season opens," Pesky said. "We played five games. He's in four of them and he saves all four games. From that time on he liked it."
A native of Detroit, Radatz graduated from Michigan State University, where he was a star basketball and baseball player. Boston signed Radatz before the 1959 season as an amateur free agent.
He spent two years with Triple-A Seattle, then joined Boston in 1962 and was managed by Pesky in 1963 and 1964. The right-hander went 49-32 with 104 saves and a 2.66 earned-run average in 286 games with Boston. He had 627 strikeouts in 557 1/3 innings.
At 6 feet 6 and about 250 pounds, Radatz, who reportedly was first called "The Monster" -- among other things -- by Mantle, was an overpowering reliever. He holds the major league record for strikeouts in a season by a relief pitcher with 181 in 1964. He struck out five batters in two innings in the 1963 All-Star game and five in 2 2/3 innings in the 1964 All-Star game. He often pitched several innings, unlike modern closers. His fastballs arrived at 95 miles an hour, and he commonly pitched multiple innings in a game in relief. Bill Monbouquette, a pitching teammate with the Red Sox, recalled how Radatz seemed unhittable in his peak years at Fenway Park. "He had no off-speed pitch," Monbouquette told The Boston Globe, "but he threw 95, 96, he had great location and he'd come right at you, get you 0 and 2 and just blow you away."
His rookie year, 1962, was by any measure a success. He saved 24 games, with an ERA+ of 184. He also averaged 2 IP per appearance, providing a high number of quality innings. Unfortunately, Radatz would finish in a three-way tie for the Rookie of the Year. This didn't stop him from putting together an even better season in 1963. He certainly got plenty of attention.
In 1963, his best season, he embarrassed the whole league, as he saved 25 games and went 15-6 with a 1.97 ERA, 132 IP and 162 K, becoming the first pitcher in history to have consecutive 20-save seasons. The same season he was selected to the All-Star Game, and impressed with strikeouts of Willie Mays, Dick Groat, Duke Snider, Willie McCovey and Julián Javier in the two innings he pitched. In 1963, Yankee manager Ralph Houk said, "For two seasons, I've never seen a better pitcher," and reporters apparently agreed: Radatz finished 5th in MVP voting despite Boston's 7th-place finish.
Radatz received his second Fireman of the Year award in 1964 for his league-leading 29 saves with 16 wins and a 2.29 ERA in 79 games. Again, he was selected an All-Star (but was saddled with the loss in that game when Johnny Callison hit a dramatic home run). Most notably, he fanned 181 batters in 157 innings, setting a record that still stands for most strikeouts by a relief pitcher in a single season.
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." However, Radatz's one-pitch arsenal was a worry for Boston, and Ted Williams encouraged him to develop a sinker. Radatz complied, but in changing his mechanics to incorporate the new pitch, he permanently lost the edge on his fastball.
1965 was a let-down for Radatz and Red Sox fans. The team finished 9th, lost 100 games, and Radatz came back to Earth. He went 9-11 with 24 saves and a high 3.91 ERA. Radatz developed a pretty good sinker, but he never regained his fastball. He changed his mechanics too much to accommodate the sinker. Without his fastball, Radatz lost the extra in extraordinary. He was diagnosed with injuries in his arm and shoulder which required season-ending surgery. The Red Sox traded Radatz to Cleveland on June 2, 1966. He later played for the Cubs, Detroit and Montreal.
Dick Radatz was selected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.