Scottsdale and the Arizona desert were full of unforgettable sights during spring training. The giant saguaro cactuses towered like lost telephone poles over the brush-littered sand. The steaks at the Pinnacle Peak Patio looked like cross sections of steers. A blonde bounced her ponytail and everything else doing the swim atop the bar of the Red Dog Go-Go. But the biggest, most awesome, most impressive sight of all was The Monster standing on the mound in Scottsdale Stadium.
The Monster is Dick Radatz, and he is the best relief pitcher in baseball. He won 16 games and lost 9 for the Boston Red Sox last season, with 25 games saved (a "save" in baseball jargon is a game in which a relief pitcher successfully protects a team's lead), and even though Radatz never started a game last season he was responsible, more or less, for 41 of Boston's 72 victories. His trips, in an electric golf cart, from the bullpen in Fenway Park to the mound came to be looked upon as the most important rides in Boston since Paul Revere got the go sign from the Old North Church.
Radatz really does not look like a monster at all, at least not in the sense that he could be adopted by the Addams family. He is handsome, does not lurch when he walks and has unpleasant plans only for opposing hitters in the American League. He is just monstrously big, and when he leans in to get the sign, squeezing the baseball—which suddenly looks like an undersize golf ball—in his right hand, he looks even bigger. He is 6 feet 5 inches tall, and the Red Sox press booklet this spring listed his weight at 235 pounds, which seems to be reverse hyperbole. "Right now," Radatz said in Arizona, "I'm about 245. Or I will be when the season starts." The weight chart in the trainer's room at Scottsdale Stadium indicated 268 pounds. Red Sox Trainer Jack Fadden, sampling a cold-lunch buffet one afternoon in the locker room, guessed it might run as high as 280. Last year, toward the end of the season, teammates and sportswriters covering the Red Sox estimated Dick's weight at anywhere between 275 and 300 pounds. Bob Turley, Boston's pitching coach, had instituted a "fine for fatties" program in an effort to keep his troops in peak condition. The pitchers were weighed once a week, and if they came in over a prescribed limit they were docked a dollar a pound. The Monster and a few other ingenious eaters found a way to rig the scales so that they weighed as much as 15 pounds light.
"I was overweight at the end of last season," Radatz admitted. He had come through the narrow passageway from the dugout to the clubhouse, his spikes biting into a wooden ramp already chewed into splinters and sawdust by clump-clumping ballplayers, his bulk nearly blotting out the sunlight behind him. Except for his garb, he could have been a defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears coming off the field after a scrimmage. "I knew I had to do something about it. I live near Boston in the off season, so I went to Jack Fadden and told him I'd like to take the weight off. But I wanted to do it the right way. Jack told me about a Boston doctor named Warren Guild, who is an authority on physical fitness, and I went to see him. Dr. Guild's idea is that the best way to lose weight is to exercise, but to exercise in a way that's interesting to you. I ran. I couldn't think of anything more boring than running, but the more I did it, the more I liked it."
Dr. Guild set a schedule of four 30-minute workouts a week for Radatz beginning early in November that included running, weight lifting and sit-ups. Guild, who is middle-aged, worked out with The Monster once a week. On the first day, as the two of them were driving out to Harvard, Radatz said pleasantly, "You're not such a young man, Doc, so I'll take it easy with you today." Guild smiled and said, "O.K., Dick. That's thoughtful of you." The workout consisted of alternately jogging and sprinting the length and breadth of the football field, and before the 30 minutes were up Radatz was stretched out on the turf, white as an Alabama voter and gasping. Guild, of course, was not even breathing hard.
Radatz did not show up for another training session for two or three weeks, but when he did start the workouts again he was faithful to them for the rest of the winter. "Dick's training program was designed to give him explosive energy," Dr. Guild explained. "They differ from those a distance runner would use, because a marathon runner concentrates on stamina and sustained speed. In Dick's case, where he pitches an inning or two a day, we were looking to develop quick energy and strength."
The strengthened Radatz lounging in the clubhouse in Scottsdale had spent an hour and a half playing in a pepper game and chasing fly balls in the outfield, but his brow and his uniform were dry. This may have been due to the dry Arizona heat, which is fine for asthmatics and prairie dogs but is not conducive to working up the "good sweat" that athletes like, or it may have been the first result of Dr. Guild's conditioning program. If so, Dick may be better prepared for his career-shortening grind of 60 or 70 appearances a year. Last year he pitched in 79 games for the Red Sox, an eighth-place team that needed more relief than Appalachia. That was a major-league record until John Wyatt of the even poorer 10th-place Kansas City Athletics passed him with 81. Relief pitching is a specialty not designed for longevity. There have been a few exceptions among the brotherhood—Hoyt Wilhelm and ElRoy Face, for instance—but other relief stars, like Joe Page, Jim Konstanty and Larry Sherry, lost their powers after a couple of years. So far Radatz has shown no signs of slipping and no twinges of arm trouble.
More than 90% of the pitches he throws are fast balls, with a few sliders mixed in but no curves at all. This lack of variety has not been of much benefit to opposing batters, possibly because the Radatz fast ball sometimes sinks, sometimes rises and sometimes fools everybody by coming in perfectly straight. The Radatz pitching motion is simple, too. Some very tall right-handers, like Don Drysdale of the Dodgers, throw with an exaggerated sidearm whip, so that the ball seems to be coming at the batter from third base. Radatz does not whip the ball; he powers it. He throws like a golfer with a short backswing—strong, simple, no waste motion.
"Smooth as he is, he should be around for quite a while," said Red Sox General Manager Mike Higgins. "He's had three great years, and he looks better this year than ever. He shows no ill effects from all that pitching."
"If anything is going to prolong my career, it's the fact that I don't throw too many breaking pitches," said Radatz. "With fast balls, all you're doing is stretching muscles. With curves you're twisting them. There may come a day when I don't have the fast ball, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.
"I'd be happy this season to save as many games as last year. If I get 25 saves, I'll be pitching well and the wins will take care of themselves. I get a bigger kick out of saving ball games than winning them myself, because relief pitchers are getting recognition now. I think we used to be to baseball what linemen were to football, doing a job and not being noticed. I'd probably be just as disappointed now if they made me a starter as I was in the minor leagues when they made me a reliever."
The Monster's obvious pleasure at saving the day in relief is a far cry from his approach to the game when he was a boy growing up in the suburbs of Detroit and later when he was pitching at Michigan State. The Detroit Tigers stopped paying attention to him when he was a college sophomore. A Tiger scout says, "He was nothing but a big, lazy kid who didn't care about anything." Maurice DeLoof, a Red Sox scout in the Detroit area and the man who eventually signed him to his first professional contract, saw him first when he was a 14-year-old freshman at Berkley High, just outside Detroit, and watched him off and on for eight years.
"He was a big, overgrown kid," DeLoof recalled a few weeks ago. "He kind of stumbled when he ran, and he couldn't walk too well. He never was able to get all his strength into his throwing. And he never did seem to have great desire in those days. When the hitters got to him and he was taken out he seemed real satisfied to come out. It was hard to judge him. He didn't seem to want to buckle down in a game."
Still, he pitched three no-hitters in high school and was offered a $4,000 bonus to sign with the Baltimore Orioles, which he turned down. His father, Norman Radatz, who was sitting in the sun behind the third-base dugout in Scottsdale Stadium watching his son, The Monster, pitch, said, "At Berkley High he was top dog in everything. He was No. 1 pitcher in the area, All-County center in basketball, honorable-mention All-State end in football for two years. But baseball was definitely his best sport. I wish I had the headline here to show you: PREP'S EARNED RUN AVERAGE 0.18. That's 0 point one eight. I had that framed. I treasure that.
"Summertime he'd have a baseball in his hand, and in the wintertime it was a football. I had to put a backboard up for him in the yard, and I'd come home and find him playing basketball with his mother. She sure is a fan. She's come down here to Arizona for three years now to watch Dick and the Red Sox in spring training. She was his catcher when he was in high school—I'd come home and she'd be outside playing catch with him. And by the hour. Of course, I used to catch him a lot, too. But after he went to college he got so darn fast that I couldn't see the ball. He was tall and slim in high school, but when he went to college he broadened right out."
Radatz went to Michigan State, where he studied physical education. He gave up basketball after his freshman season, never did play football and was far from an instant success in baseball. A teammate of his at Michigan State was a New Jersey boy named Ron Perranoski, now the top relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Dick was strong even then," Perranoski said this spring. "His fast ball moved well, but he couldn't throw hard. He never seemed to be able to get his body behind the pitch. It was just a question of his coordination catching up with his body development."
When they were sophomores, Perranoski began to pitch regularly, but the Moose, as Radatz was known in those carefree pre-Monster days, was strictly a spectator in uniform. "In the last game of the year," Perranoski said, "we were playing Iowa, and we were losing about 6-1 late in the game. Radatz hadn't pitched one inning all year, but the coach yelled down to him to warm up. I saw him loosening up, and I went over to him and said, 'Dick, this doesn't make sense. You'll lose a whole year of eligibility for pitching one inning. Tell the coach you have a sore arm.' "
Radatz did just that, and the varsity year he saved was an important factor in his eventual success. "The summer after Dick's junior year of eligibility," Perranoski added, "we played in South Dakota, and Radatz got to pitch three or four times a week. Every time he pitched he got better, and the next spring he was an All-America pitcher and got that good bonus from the Red Sox."
"I really got to like him in his last year at Michigan State," said Maurice DeLoof. "It was in a game against Western Michigan, and he had a real good day. He must have had 14 or 15 strikeouts. And he looked like he had great desire to win—he really wanted to beat that club—and that really impressed me. I talked to Dick and his father at their home. They wanted too much money. I made an offer, and they wouldn't take it. So I left his house.
"But I couldn't shake him from my mind. I was up in Canada, and the thought of him went to bed with me. I would think about him before I went to sleep and think about him first thing in the morning when I woke up. I felt he'd be a good big league pitcher. Finally I sent him a telegram and told him to wait before signing with anyone. When I got home we talked again. Then they liked the figure I gave. It was around $20,000, but some of it was on a contingent basis. He had to earn that part. Even when I signed him, I had a little doubt."
There was not much competition for him, according to DeLoof. "That's why he waited for me. There were maybe four clubs at the most that talked to him, and his figure was too high for them. They walked out of his house and never went back. They didn't think much of him. If they could have gotten him for $5,000, O.K. But he wanted more. When I went back I didn't have to outbid anyone. Everything went pretty smooth. Now if Boston didn't have him they wouldn't have a ball club. Though I still don't know how he manages to pitch so much and not get arm trouble."
Radatz, still a starter, began his professional career with Raleigh in 1959. He was moved up to the top Red Sox farm club at Minneapolis during the season of 1960. Notified of his promotion on a Thursday, he piled his wife, Sharon, their first child, Dick Jr., and all their luggage into a station wagon and drove all day and most of the night to his parents' home in Michigan. He spent the day getting his family settled, slept a few hours and got up at 5 the next morning to catch a plane for Minneapolis. That afternoon he started one game of a doubleheader. He struck out nine and allowed no hits in five innings but had to be taken out because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. A few days later he started again, and part way through the game his catcher walked out to the mound.
"Let me see your hand," he said.
"It's all right." answered Radatz.
"Then why is there blood on the ball?" asked the catcher.
Dick came out of that game with a finger split wide open, but he had a good season and in 1961 was assigned to train with Seattle, which had taken Minneapolis" place in the Red Sox farm system. By then he had a callus built up on that tender middle finger, but another problem had developed.
"I went to spring training with a sore arm," he said. "I missed the first three weeks, and then came cutoff time. I thought I might be sent down to a lower club. Johnny Pesky was managing Seattle, and he asked me if I could pitch, and I had my doubts. But I pitched, and I had a real good day. The next morning I went to the ball park, and Johnny told me he was keeping me with Seattle as a relief pitcher. My heart went down to my shoes. I said, 'Johnny, don't do me any favors. Let me go down to a ball club where I can pitch every four days.' He said, 'Don't worry, I'm going to pitch you every day.' "
Radatz appeared in 54 games for Seattle that season and had a 2.28 earned run average. He won a job with the Red Sox in 1962, pitched in 62 games, had a superb 2.23 ERA and won The Sporting News Fireman of the Year award as the best relief pitcher in the American League. In 1963 he lost the relief-pitching title to Stu Miller of Baltimore but won 15 games against six losses and had a 1.98 ERA. He won 10 games in a row, one of them an 8 2/3-inning relief job in Detroit. After his impressive performance last season he regained the Fireman trophy.
Radatz works irregular shifts and almost always at night, but he makes more money than he ever would have made as a physical education teacher. He watches most of each game from the bullpen, the worst seat in the ball park, and he enters games only when disaster is about to strike, but his ability to pitch the Red Sox out of trouble has brought him widespread fame, particularly in Boston. That, and a good voice, have landed him high-paying broadcasting jobs on Boston radio and television stations, and he is in constant demand for paid speaking engagements (51 last winter). The only reservation he might have about his job is that nickname, The Monster.
"I never objected to it, though I thought one article about it in a Los Angeles newspaper was lousy," Radatz said. "The guy wrote, 'The Monster is coming to town; keep your children off the streets.' And that was the nicest thing he said about me in the whole article. I told him off about it in the dressing room, and some of the Boston writers overheard me. They started a contest to find a new nickname for me. It sold a lot of papers." Actually, just one paper conducted the contest, but it received a carload of entries, among them the splendidly obvious "Moby Dick." Boston is very big on whales. But the winner was "Smokey Dick," a multiple pun that started with Moby Dick and went on to include references to Radatz' fast ball and both his physical and occupational resemblance to the celebrated conservationist, Smokey the Bear, who puts out fires, too.
A few days later Radatz approached a Boston sportswriter and growled, "Smokey Dick stinks. I want to be The Monster again."
And that, in the press box, on the mound and on the scales, is what he has been ever since.