#CardCorner: 1964 Topps Dick Radatz
If it’s possible to intimidate through a baseball card, Dick Radatz was one of the few players who could fulfill such a task.
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His 1964 Topps card shows him just the way that many Boston Red Sox fans of the era remember him: with a sharp, steel-like jaw, a tense and terse expression on his face and dark, staring eyes that could melt an opposing hitter – or a cameraman in this case.
If you were photographing Radatz for Topps back in the 1960s, you probably would have felt motivated to get the picture taken in one shot. After all, there was no need to spend any more time than necessary in photographing the pitcher known as “The Monster.”
None of this should be interpreted as an indication of Radatz’ personality or character. He was neither mean, nor unfriendly. No, it all had to do with his appearance, and his persona on the mound. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds – those are his listed dimensions, but some of his contemporaries felt that he weighed even more than that – Radatz was one of the largest players of his era. It was an era that predated weight training, performance-enhancing substances and the general emphasis that pitchers needed to be at least six feet tall.
In today’s game, Radatz might have blended into the crowd, but in the game of the 1960s, he looked more like one of the inhabitants of the late 1960s TV show, Land of the Giants.
Radatz sometimes used his size as part of his sense of humor. While attending Michigan State University in the 1950s, Radatz played basketball and baseball as a freshman. The school’s football coach, Clarence “Biggie” Munn, took one look at Radatz and inquired as to his availability for the varsity football team.
“How come you didn’t come out for football?” the coach asked him. Radatz replied in his typical kidding fashion, “No thanks, Mr. Munn. I don’t like raw meat.”
In 1961, the Red Sox assigned Radatz to their relocated Triple-A venue, the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, while also converting him to a reliever. At first, Radatz balked at the role, but then his manager, Johnny Pesky, explained that the Red Sox needed a relief pitcher in the worst way, which might expedite his arrival in the major leagues. Once Radatz became aware of that, he embraced his role. Though the PCL was known as a hitters’ league, Radatz dominated, posting an ERA of 2.28 in 54 games.
Somehow, Radatz pitched even more effectively in his second season. He lowered his ERA from 2.24 to 1.97. He increased his strikeouts to 162 and piled up 132 innings. He also won 15 games. And keep in mind, Radatz did all of this out of the bullpen; he would not make a single start over the course of his seven years in the major leagues.
Radatz’ pitching was effective enough, but it was also his stature that drew attention. At his high point, he may have weighed as much as 280 pounds. Some opponents called him “Frankenstein.” A few others referred to him as the “White Whale” or “Moose.” Ultimately, the nickname that caught on was “The Monster.” At first, Radatz bristled at the name, expressing concern that his family did not appreciate, but eventually but came to accept it.
Radatz was not only the league’s most dominant relief pitcher, he was also one of its most flamboyant. Upon recording the final out of a game, Radatz would thrust both of his fists above his head and stomp off the mound. This was the kind of on-field demonstration that was foreign to a conservative sport at the time, but in time, it would seem tame in comparison with later on-mound showmen like Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky and Brad “The Animal” Lesley.
All in all, Radatz made a lasting impression during his first three seasons. In retrospect, it’s also tempting to say that he was overused during those early years and that such a remarkable workload would lead to arm trouble. For his part, Radatz believed that his late-career problems were not caused by injury, but by failed pitching mechanics.
Radatz returned to the Indians in 1967, but made only three appearances before being dispatched again. The Indians traded him to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later, who turned out to be an obscure minor league outfielder.
Radatz made 20 appearances for the Cubs, but lost control of his fastball, issuing 24 walks in 23 innings. Frustrated by his wildness, the Cubs demoted him to Triple-A Tacoma. Upset by the demotion, Radatz threatened to retire, but then reconsidered and reported to the Cubs’ affiliate. There he pitched brutally, allowing 22 earned runs in 22 innings.
With his performance so uncharacteristic, the Cubs asked Radatz to undergo a medical examination. Doctors determined that he had a pinched nerve in his shoulder, which was causing numbness in his right hand.
Through proper rest, the pinched nerve healed, allowing Radatz to rejoin the Cubs the following spring. The Cubs pitched him in a preseason B-game and watched in anguish as he threw 24 consecutive balls during one stretch. A week and a half later, the Cubs released Radatz. In late April, he signed on with the Detroit Tigers, who used him at Triple-A Toledo for the entire summer.
Radatz remained out of baseball for much of his post-playing career, but he remained in touch with former teammates and the media, all the while earning a reputation as a humorous storyteller. An entertaining public speaker in his retirement years, Radatz often made appearances in which he delighted onlookers with stories from his days in Boston, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.
In 2003 and ’04, Radatz returned to the game as a pitching instructor for an independent minor league team in Lynn, Mass. He was come back for a third season on the job in 2005, but during the preceding winter, he suffered a bad fall at his home in Boston. Radatz hit his head, resulting in severe trauma. Paramedics were unable to revive him. Radatz was only 67.
Sadly, Radatz’ life was cut far too short, just as his pitching career had been so many years earlier. But for a brief while, a span that lasted three summers, Dick Radatz was as close to unhittable as any relief pitcher could be. And he was oh-so-colorful and distinctly memorable, a big but friendly man who cut a sizeable swath as The Monster.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame