If nothing else, Father's Day acts to provide a fitting and opposite book end to the prior month's holiday, Mother's Day.
As a father of five, who, like most Dad's, has regrets about not spending enough time with my quintet of off-spring, I like to take every opportunity, whether on Father's Day or not, to bring to the forefront each loving relationship I stumble across that holds the Daddy-Daughter relationship in the brightest of lights.
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Leigh Radatz, daughter of the Boston Red Sox late, great pitcher, Dick "The Monster" Radatz. After losing her larger-than-life Dad to an in-home accident in 2005, Ms. Radatz admits, "That there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish he was here with us. He was loving, caring, understanding, funny, and a role model in so many ways."
After connecting with Leigh, via Facebook, over the past year, I encouraged her to share stories of her life growing up with the legendary Red Sox reliever with friends and fans who miss her Dad greatly following his untimely exit from Red Sox nation in 2005.
Leigh had been somewhat reluctant to share tales of her famous father in an effort to respect the Radatz family privacy, but after an occasional Facebook poke, she graciously agreed to speak of life with her Dad in the following Q and A interview.
With the help of her brother, Dick, Jr. and her sister, Kristine, Leigh shares some stories with her Father's fandom of what it was like growing up with Fenway's real-life Monster.
Todd: Did you ever participate in sports with him, specifically tossing the ball around the yard and as a result of this, how were you as an athlete as a result of this?
Leigh: Definitely! We grew up in the 60s, when my Dad was still playing, so a game of catch or pickle in the yard was standard. We all inherited a bit of Dad’s height and, my brother, I, and my sister are 6’, 5’9”, and 6’1” respectively.
My brother played baseball from a young age, so he was out there at dusk with Dad a bit more than my sister and I were, but we all had our own baseball gloves. I got a new one from my boyfriend as a gift for my high school graduation.
My brother was Captain of his college baseball team and a four-year varsity letter-man. I played mostly intramural basketball and volleyball in high school and then played slow-pitch softball during college summers. I was a catcher who got mowed down by girls much bigger than my 5’9” frame. My sister, similarly, played a bit of basketball in high school.
TC: What is your earliest memory of Dad as a baseball player?
Leigh: I remember being in the grandstands at Fenway with my Mom and brother. We knew Dad was on the field pitching, but were pretty young to have an understanding. I remember during spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona and, then in Winter Haven, Florida, tons of reporters and cameras always outside our front door and not really understanding why.
I remember my Dad meeting us on the concourse underneath Fenway after games were finished and heading out to the player’s parking lot, having everyone wanting my Dad’s attention and then mobbing our station wagon as we drove out. Unfortunately, I don’t remember him pitching specific games.
TC: Who were you able to meet as a result of Dad being a pro player?
Leigh: All three of us have been fortunate to meet many, many past and present players and personnel over the course of our lives and we continue to do so. It’s a wonderful thing to have so many people who speak so fondly and excitedly of Dad and a huge source of pride to know he touched so many people personally, as well as, being a part of their Red Sox and baseball memories.
TC: Did you spend much time around Fenway as a child?
Leigh: Yes, definitely. While we didn’t go to every single game, we were there often. To this day, I still get nostalgic every time I walk on the concrete incline on the lower concourse near Gate B. We’d run up and down it waiting for my Dad to come out of the clubhouse.
By the mid-60s, they had expanded the Father/Son game festivities to include daughters, so my sister and I got to suit up and be on the field, too. Going to Fenway for any reason is still a thrill I never tire of.
TC: Your Dad dominated Mickey Mantle like no other, reportedly striking him out 46 times in 64 at bats. Did he ever speak to that or prepare differently to face the Stick?
Leigh: He used the baseball terminology that he would walk Mantle “Up the Ladder,” in other words start with a pitch lower in the strike zone and then higher and so on. I don’t think he prepared any differently for Mantle, but based on his record I believe he “got up” to face the Yankees.
Do you know that one of the strikeouts my father had on Mantle was Mickey attempting to bunt with two strikes? This is a man who hit .300 in the big leagues ten times!!! Struck out attempting to bunt? It tells you a lot about the match-up.
TC: Among his many accolades, he was the first pitcher in history to save 20 games in consecutive years and also struck out 181 batters in 157 innings in 1964, did he ever speak of the change of the modern day reliever?
Leigh: I think if there was anything in particular it would have been that his career would have been extended. Johnny Pesky will tell you that he wore my father out pitching him seven consecutive days. At one point he set the American League record for appearances and these weren’t one inning stints.
It was part of the evolution of the reliever and it certainly is less stressful for a “closer” today than what my father did. Although, without the innings he did pitch, he would not own the record for strikeouts in a season by a relief pitcher nor would he have become the legend that he did if he didn’t pitch at that point in baseball history.
TC: Do you ever hear from any of his former teammates?
Leigh: We are fortunate to still be in touch with many of my Dad’s former teammates and baseball friends.
TC: What is the family doing these days? Where do they live?
Leigh: My brother, Dick Radatz, Jr., is the President and Co-founder of the Northwoods League, a summer baseball league for college-level players based in Rochester, Minnesota, consisting of 16 teams located in the Midwest and Canada. After living in Boston and it's suburbs and working in the incredible Boston hospitals for 25 years, I recently moved back to the Detroit Metro area, where we grew up after my Dad was out of baseball. My Mom lives here to this day. My younger sister, Kristine, is married with two children and also lives in metro-Detroit. We are all huge sports fans.
TC: Despite being a Detroit native, did Dad consider himself a Red Sox and a Bostonian?
Leigh: Well, my Dad was born and raised in Detroit and it's suburbs. He was a Michigan State grad and loved, loved, loved Michigan. But his professional baseball success came in Boston so it held a special place in his heart as he left his mentor, Johnny Pesky, when he was traded, as well as, so many others instrumental early in his career.
He moved back to the Boston area in 1984 and certainly considered himself mainly a Red Sox and an ‘adopted’ Bostonian. He loved it in Boston, but always spoke of returning to his beloved Michigan.
TC: What did it mean to him to be elected into the Sox HOF?
Leigh: I think it meant the world to him to be elected to the Sox Hall of Fame. He knew he wasn’t going to Cooperstown, due to the length of his career, so this was the next best thing. It was a wonderful night when he was inducted.
TC: Share with us his thoughts of the '63 All-Star game and the Sox finally winning in 2004.
Leigh: Now he was really pumped up for that one. Dad was the first reliever in an All-Star game, chosen by Yankee Manager Ralph Houk. It showed in his performance. He said the electricity in Cleveland, with the large crowd, added about six inches to his fastball. Striking out Mays, McCovey, Snider, Javier and Groat was quite a feat.
I was with my Dad the moment the Sox finally won it in 2004. We were at his house watching it on his big screen TV and I just looked at my Dad and said, “Dad, the Sox just won the World Series”. He was melancholy and replied, “My old team….”
I took a picture of him a minute or so later so I could capture the look on his face. It was joyful.
TC: What was the greatest Father's Day gift you ever gave him?
Leigh: While it’s hard to remember specific gifts, one Father’s Day around ’91 or ’92, his Cleveland Indians teammate Gary Bell was in town and I had a BBQ for family and some friends in my backyard in Brighton, MA. I had pulled out some old pictures of my father when he was a young boy dressed in all sorts of military uniforms He loved to reminisce and we all had a blast (especially, Gary Bell!) laughing with him viewing the pics of himself as a little boy parading around so proud of himself!
TC: And finally, Leigh, what is your greatest all-time Dick Radatz memory?
Leigh: There are many, of course. I’ll share this one. As with most kids and their parents, getting one-on-one time was always too infrequent and once achieved, it was cherished. Around ’87 or ’88, we were at Fenway to watch my Dad participate in a Red Sox Old Timer’s game and other festivities. Afterward, we were all upstairs in the Red Sox box suite at Fenway with other players and their families.
I remember meeting legendary pitcher Don Drysdale while there that day. But it was a moment with my Dad in the middle of the gathering and the noise where he put his arm around me and asked quietly, “Are you having a good time, Sweetheart?” I felt like he and I were the only ones in the room and it eclipsed all else that day. As a daughter, it was always special to be a part of my Dad’s baseball “world”.
Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for Bleacher Report and Sports, Then and Now, he can be reached for hire or comment at email@example.com. He performs publicity duties for the Father/Son Marathon team, Team Hoyt, and major league baseball pitcher, Jason Grilli.