Red Sox Memories: Opening Day 1962 and a monster bullpen


The Red Sox bullpen has one ingredient missing that has become synonymous with perceived late inning success – a flamethrower and not the military type. Suddenly the exploits of Kansas City’s 2014 ‘pen are magnified and a passel of 100+ MPH relievers is the must have item for every GM as high intensity velocity is all the metric rage. The Red Sox once had one of gargantuan proportions.

Opening Day at Fenway Park in 1962 brought together a matchup of a local player of considerable talent and a Boston pitcher coming off a remarkable season. The big story – and he was certainly big – was the appearance of a pitcher who became a Red Sox legend and one of the élite relief pitchers ever to toss for Boston – Dick Radatz.

For the visiting Indians was Boston native Dick Donovan, who had started his career with the Boston Braves. Donovan had been a member of the remarkable Go-Go White Sox staff of 1959 that had (finally) beaten out the Yankees and gone on to lose in the World Series to the Dodgers. Donovan won twenty games for that 1962 edition of the Indians – his only twenty win season.

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Boston had the 1961 Rookie of The Year, Don Schwall on the mound. Schwall, coming off a 15-7 season, was pictured as being a keystone for the Red Sox rotation for the remainder of the decade. That, unfortunately never happened. What did happen was the first appearance of “The Monster” on the mound for the Red Sox.

Radatz had pitched in 1961 for the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate in Seattle and was good, but not spectacular working out of the bullpen. Radatz tossed 71 innings and struck out 74 while posting a 5-6 record and 2.28 ERA.

Spring training for 1962 was in Scottsdale, Arizona and Radatz impressed enough to earn the job of closer for the parent club. In 1962 the closer role was defined significantly different from what is currently used and for the next three seasons Radatz would clearly demonstrate that for the fans pleasure an opponent’s consternation.

That opening game appearance was rather unremarkable as a quick check of the box score and a fading memory shows. An inning pitched with one walk and one strike out in a game that was equally unremarkable. Fans had already deserted the park by the time Radatz trudged in – for the next three years they would stay.

In 1962 “The Monster” led the league in saves, games and terror. The imposing Radatz would have a side-armed fastball and he would demonstrate no hesitation in determining that he was master of the inside corner. In 123.2 innings Radatz struck out 144. Radatz led all AL relievers in FIP, WAR, K/9 and innings pitched.

In 1963, Radatz finished with a 15-6 record, a 1.97 and again led relievers in WAR and FIP. The W/L record is indicative of the managerial philosophy of that era. Radatz pitched eight innings in one game, seven in another and multiple innings were the norm and not the exception. The chant for Radatz would usually start as early as the fourth inning.

1964 was the penultimate for Radatz as he appeared 79 games and threw a staggering 157 innings in going 16-9 while leading the AL in saves. The trademark multiple innings remained, as did leadership in most significant statistical categories, including saves.

In 1965 the star faded for Radatz as quickly as it had risen. The fastball lost some of its intimidating velocity and K/9 “shrunk” to 8.76. Other metrics increased dramatically and Radatz lost more games than he won. The only really positive was the light hitting Radatz hit his only MLB home run that season in Kansas City.

After 1965, Radatz hung around MLB until 1969 and never came close to those three magnificent seasons. Radatz remained active in the Boston area often appearing on talk shows until he died a few years ago as the result of a tragic fall.

Imagine the 2015 edition of the Red Sox with Dick Radatz in his prime? A pitcher who would routinely pitch multiple innings with panache. A fastball that was notoriously “heavy” and with superb movement.

*** Statistics provided by Fangraphs

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