A ninth installment mirroring Boston Red Sox players of the present with one from my memories of the past. This is the closers – Craig Kimbrel to Dick Radatz.
In the early 1960s, there was not much for Boston Red Sox fans to cheer about or even go to Fenway Park to watch unless the Yankees were coming to town. Carl Yastrzemski was just starting his career and did win a batting title in 1963 (.321) and the young core that became the foundation of the 1967 team was just starting.
The Red Sox were awful. Two things they never got close to – a million fans and .500 in the standings, but there was one reason to stay bolted to your seat and that was a right-handed reliever, Dick Radatz. Radatz was called “The Monster” and just a look at him would tell you why since he would be right at home on a football line or on the basketball court as he was at college.
Craig Kimbrel is one of the best in baseball at what he does – close games. That specific task has morphed into a ninth-inning appearance and has for several decades. In the Radatz era, it was an entirely different operation and Radatz could be getting loose as early as the sixth inning.
What Kimbrel and Radatz both demonstrated is a fastball as a calling card. Anything else would work off of that. With Kimbrel, it is a curve that can have a devastating impact with a change in velocity and break. For Radatz, his changeup was based on merely throwing his fastball faster, but he did have one.
Radatz played five seasons in Boston, but I will focus on his four core years (1962-65) before his arm went dead and so did his MLB career. The relief numbers are staggering when compared to what is expected today. In four seasons, Radatz tossed 538.1 innings and struck out 608. For a comparison, Kimbrel’s three years in Boston have 184.1 innings.
Radatz twice led the American League in saves and totaled 98 in his four years, but the methodology for anointing a save was different. Radatz was not a sure thing as he had 36 blown saves in that time span compared to just 11 for Kimbrel, but if you blew a save you stayed in. That would explain Radatz’ 49-32 record.
Kimbrel came to Boston already established as an élite closer and had led the National League four times in saves. Radatz came to Boston after being converted to a reliever at Seattle (AAA). At Seattle, Radatz was certainly not dominating with too many walks (5.2 BB/9) and a 5-6 record, but the Red Sox were dismal and any player of promise would get a look.
In his first season, three-games stand out and the first two were back-to-back at Kansas City. In one game Radatz came in to pitch the seventh, gave up the game-tying run in the eighth, and stayed in to win the game in the eleventh. Five innings. On to the next day.
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The next day Radatz entered a tie game and stayed around to finally get a win in the fifteenth inning – a seven-inning and no runs allowed effort. That was just a relief warm up for a third remarkable effort.
Against the Yankees in September, Radatz tossed nine shutout frames to get a 16 inning win. Now you understand why people stayed planted in their seats at Fenway Park actually hoping for a starters failure so “The Monster” could come in.
The high water mark for Radatz was 1964 when he notched a 16-9 record, 29 saves and set a strikeout record for relief pitchers (181). In 1965, the arm was getting frayed and Radatz record dropped to 9-11 and his 8.8 K/9 was his lowest in that four-year span. The 1966 season started out as a disaster and Radatz was traded to Cleveland and by 1969 he was done.
Radatz made a name for himself locally with his effervescent personality that made the Big Guy a fan favorite and media darling. A tragic fall at his home in Easton, Massachusetts ended his life in 2005 at the age of 67.
Who would I rather have to close out a game? The Kimbrel of the past postseason was a bitter disappointment despite getting six nerve-rattling saves. And Radatz could easily do the same as exhibited by a 75% career save percentage. For the sake of diplomacy if I had just one inning needed I would take Kimbrel and more that one I would take Radatz.