The Boston Red Sox once had Dick “The Monster” Radatz tossing heat out of the bullpen. Now they have a new monster in Craig Kimbrel.
The Boston Red Sox of the early 1960s were a wretched team to watch at least until 1967 resuscitated baseball in Boston. From 1959 to 1966 the team never surfaced above .500 and the grand level of ineptness was in 1965 when they lost 100 games. Fenway Park was a disgraceful wreck and so was the team.
An occasional bright light did surface to stir some level of emotion among what remained of Red Sox fans – a batting title for young Carl Yastrzemski in 1963. One for Pete Runnels in 1960 and another in 1962. A Rookie of The Year Award in 1961 for Don Schwall. An All-Star game in 1961, but that didn’t sell out.
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Attendance was in the tank and the Red Sox did not come close to having a million or so swarm through the gates until 1967, but among the detritus that was the Red Sox roster, one surprising name surfaced that actually made a trip to the ballpark worth it – Dick Radatz.
Radatz was known as “The Monster” and just a glance would tell you why. More football lineman in appearance than a baseball player and the calling card for the huge right-hander was pure heat. Here it is – fastball. That was about it – I’ll serve it and you try and hit it.
For Seattle – the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate – in 1961, Radatz had a decent 5-6 record with a 2.28 ERA in 54 games. The strikeouts totals were noticeable with a K/9 of 9.4. Radatz earned his shot in 1962 and the 25-year-old became the Red Sox closer.
For the next three seasons, the idea was for the Red Sox started to simply blow-up so Radatz could come in and this was old time baseball where relief efforts could often be three innings or longer. A quick look at 1962: W/L – 9-6, 124.2 IP, 2.24 ERA, K/9 10.4. And a league leading 24 saves. A warm-up for 1963.
In 1963, the record was 15-6 with 23 saves, 1.97 ERA and a K/9 of 11.0 in 132.2 innings. 1964 was electric with a 16-9 record in 79 games, a league leading 29 saves, 157 innings, ERA of 2.29 and a K/9 of 10.4. Then it fell apart thanks to arm issues that were undoubtedly the end result of overuse.
What one has to remember is how a Radatz appearance was greeted – a relief version of a Pedro Martinez start. Radatz had the one ultimate sexy pitch in baseball and that is sheer smoke. In that era, a hard thrower like Radatz was rare as few approached the magical 100 MPH, which – no doubt – Radatz did. Now it is more commonplace.
That level of excitement is certainly brewing at Fenway Park with the latest import being one Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel brings in a career K/9 of 14.6. Granted, it is a far more free-swinging game than the 1960s, but that is just – to quote Dennis Eckersley – downright filthy.
Now the crowd is energized in Boston with just the idea that Kimbrel and his good friend Mr. Heater may enter the contest. For the batsman, Kimbrel brings more to the plate – home plate – than just a high 90s fastball. Kimbrel will occasionally mix in a curve – 30% in 2015 and it is usually spotted with excellence.
The Monster – like Kimbrel – was far from perfect with 25 blown saves between 1962-64 and a look at the lost totals clearly shows that the bear sometimes got Radatz just as it occasional gets Kimbrel who has a 90% save percentage.
A Kimbrel appearance is certainly a throwback to the days of Radatz only when Kimbrel enters in means something rather than just another rare win for a team going nowhere. You could see Fenway light up in the first two games of the Toronto series when a save situation presented itself and Kimbrel responded with back-to-back three-whiff saves. That was the beginning.
Expect the party atmosphere to continue and another legend to be created that will include a variety of nicknames centered on Kimbrel’s ability to simply blow a batter away with an efficiency that matches any closer in the game.