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Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Know Dick

Behold a real closer.

That's the late Dick Radatz, the first great closer in MLB, the kind of guy you'd feel comfortable putting into a bases loaded, no out situation against the Yankees with Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris on deck. The kind of guy who was so cocksure of himself he'd say to the starter on the mound, "Pop open a cold one for me. I'll be right back."

Then he'd do it. And if you needed him to pitch three or more innings for a rulebook save, you'd get it. Radatz would routinely pitch anywhere from 120-160 innings a year and would rack up more strikeouts than most starters nowadays get in 32-36 starts. And "the Monster" didn't demand through his agent $12,000,000 a year to do it, either.

There was no choking as with the pretender on the mound in Baltimore last night, one who reminded us that sometimes curses aren't broken, after all, but just temporarily diverted.

You know, this John Lithgow-looking loser who time and again toward crunch time couldn't keep a lead against some of the worst teams the major leagues had to offer.

And, thanks largely to Jonathan Papelbon, it was just like old times again and Pap joined the ghosts of Denny Galehouse, Jim Burton, Mike Torrez, Bob Stanley, Calvin Schiraldi, Tim Wakefield, and, yes, even the great Pedro Martinez.

They couldn't just let us walk away and write them off when they began the most titanic September slide since the '64 Phillies or the '78 Red Sox. No, they had to lead us on just long enough by barely coaxing out an 8-7 win the night before from a roster creaking with injuries, incipient old age and inexperience. It was a teaser of a team so close to falling apart, our little center fielder and leadoff hitter had to come to the rescue again and our backstop was a guy who'd never had a major league start at that position because our everyday and backup catchers were sidelined with injuries.

Papelbon almost blew that save, as well, but managed to keep the tying run from scoring and the romance was alive for another day, a pathological wallflower bereft of all social graces trying to crash the hall to become the belle of the ball.

And then, the inevitable happened. The champagne was ordered, we began filling out our dance cards and the Boston City Police Department was eagerly loading their guns in the interests of crowd control.

To add more of a Three Penny Opera dimension to this spectacle, the Red Sox depended on the division champion New York Yankees, who had zero incentive to win their last game of the year and essentially fielded a team made up almost entirely of Trenton and Columbus minor leaguers who couldn't even hit Karen Carpenter's weight let alone their own, to get us into the postseason.

A Mark Texeira grand slam in the early innings at the Trop made it 5-0 Yankees and when the lead went to 7-0 with the Sox ahead 3-2 against a last place team playing for naught but some misplaced pride, it looked as if we wouldn't have to go to Tampa Bay, after all. Either Michigan or Texas it was. Either way, no way would we be going home. We were going on a postseason-long honeymoon.

And then Papelbon happened and, suddenly, after being in first place half the year, we finished third.

Just his third blown save of the year, it couldn't've come at a worse time. And this past September, Papelbon and much of the pitching staff pitched as if they hated their fans and took sadistic enjoyment out of tormenting us as had their forbears in seasons past. Even Pap's reliable setup guy, Dan Bard, began training his 101 mph flamethrower on the Red Sox dugout. Maybe someone should call the DC police to see if his best friend disappeared again.

As the old saying goes, "The sons of bitches killed our fathers, now they're coming after us." Go buy a poster of Dick Radatz in between basilisk stares and Irish jigs, Johnny boy, hang it up in a prominent place in your home, study it long and hard, try to derive some inspiration from looking at a real closer who did the job when it counted the most.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...
"There was no choking ... a real closer who did the job when it counted the most." Did he win a pennant or World Series title ?

Blogger David in NYC said...
First of all, as a Braves fan, let me say "Thank you!" to the Red Sox for taking away most of the attention that would have otherwise been focused on Atlanta's monumental collapse, which in many ways was actually worse. Among other things, while the Sox blew a 9-game lead, the Braves blew a 10-1/2 game lead.

But I must question the idea that Dick Radatz would have been some sort of solution to what ailed the BoSox. It just seem to me that a guy who blew 35 saves in 4 years (23% of his opportunities) for a team that played under virtually no pressure whatsoever (Boston was a combined 284-364 during his four full seasons) is not your best bet. The only time he pitched under any significant pressure, the 1963 and 1964 All-Star Games, he had a combined ERA of 9.64, and single-handedly blew the 1964 game by allowing 4 runs in the 9th inning.

So, while I am happy that most attention is focused on Jonathan Papelbon rather than Craig Kimbrel, I think you would probably like a better option than Dick Radatz for what ailed the 2011 Red Sox.

Blogger jurassicpork said...
Radatz was a big money pitcher and is still regarded as one of the greatest closers in the game. Back in the old days, before WS home field advantage was at stake, many players didn't have much incentive for playing well.

Between last year and this year, Papelbon blew 11 saves (8 last year alone and they rewarded him with a 12 million dollar contract this January),

Pap's 88.7% conversion rate lifetime isn't that impressive in light of all the other closers in the game who are nearly perfect. When you factor in his 11 blown saves since last year, the blown save percentage shoots up to 14%.

Radatz also had to have a broader closer mentality that Papelbon, typically a one inning pitcher because Radatz knew he may be called on to pitch 3-4 innings, which is nowadays a role we'd give to a long reliever.

Plus, and maybe some would want to debate me on this, Radatz had to stare down far superior hitters back in the early 60's than any closer now. And this was in the days before videotape or the sophisticated hitting charts they use today.

Overall, I think Radatz was a far superior reliever and if the Red Sox had a losing record during the years he was the closer it was mainly because of the dismal hitting they were getting in the post-Williams era.

Blogger David in NYC said...
That wasn't meant as a defense of Papelbon, who clearly had his problems this year.

And you will get no argument at all from me about the relatively minor work that modern-day closers do. As far as I am concerned, today's closers are just somewhat more important than the team's primary pinch-hitter. I blame Jerome Holtzman and the save stat for that state of affairs.

But I do not think Radatz was all people's memories would like to tell us he was. As I said, he had no real pressure (and failed when he did), but he did throw really, really hard, so I think his impression in the mind is larger than his actual performance would lead you to believe.

Also, I speak from first-hand experience, because I am old enough to have seen Radatz's entire career; in fact, I was at the 1964 All-Star Game at Shea Stadium, and got to see him give up the 3-run walkoff homer to Johnny Callison -- which annoyed me to no end, because I was a huge AL fan at the time because of the Yankees. Obviously, I do not root for them any more; as I like to say, George Steinbrenner cured me of that.

Blogger Jill said...
I've been a Mets fan since 1964. I have a hard time drumming up much sympathy for any of you. Futility and heartbreak is my team's stock in trade.

Blogger jurassicpork said...
Jill, our own is much longer suffering than yours.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
jill, y'all won in 1986 ! or did you forget that one.