Members of “Red Sox Nation” don’t know how good they have it: World Series championships, playoffs, perennial contender status. Back in the bad old days when I was growing up, the only thing we could ever look forward to was the All-Star game. The Red Sox never had any hope of winning the American League pennant. They were mediocrity personified.
You had to win the pennant to get into the World Series. There were no playoffs, no wild cards. And just about every year, the Yankees would have the regular season title clinched by the end of July.
There was almost no television coverage of baseball from out of town either. So the only time we could see the mythical immortals of the National League was in the mid-summer All-Star game. At least one player from every team had to make the All-Stars, so we could root for a smattering of our local heroes against the titans from afar.
The game was a very big deal. The baseball card companies even hustled out packets of All-Star cards around that time. And the teams played to win. Many of the starters would play the entire game. A lot of those who made it to the game just rode the bench.
From 1950 through 1980, there were 35 All-Star games, because in three of those years they played two games. The National League won 28 of the 35. It was close to utter domination. Musial, Spahn, Matthews, Mays, Marichal, Clemente, McCovey, Drysdale, Koufax – demigods all – were the typical opponents. We of junior circuit were always overmatched.
The Carmine Hose’s perennial representatives were Ted Williams and his successor, Carl Yastrzemski. Others who made it onto the team more than once in that era included Frank Malzone, Pete Runnels, and Jackie Jensen. Sox fans could hope they would get in for an inning or two, and maybe one at-bat.
In 2009, six Red Sox made the All-Stars. This year the only Sox player on the team is Ortiz. The team is in last place. Feels familiar. To me, not to the Gen-Xers, and not to the Millennials. They’ve been spoiled.
Back before anyone invented the term “closer” or dreamed up “saves” as a baseball statistic, Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Dick Radatz was the best in the business. And he pitched for us!
He was big, burly, and intimidating beyond words. He threw heat, heat, and more heat. For three seasons, 1962-64, Dick Radatz and his fastball were masters of the late-innings - not just the ninth. Mickey Mantle dubbed him “The Monster.” It stuck. Radatz didn’t last long in the majors. Once he lost just a tad off his fast ball, he was history.
Richard Raymond Radatz was born in in Detroit and graduated from Michigan State. College graduates in pro baseball were a rarity back then. I once heard – it may have been from him - that he was only the 25th college grad ever to play major league ball. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds plausible.
I met Dick one evening in a corporate “Legends” box at a Red Sox game. He was an ideal host in that venue; he loved to tell stories and share his knowledge of the sport. Radatz was also a good sport with a sense of humor. I decided to kid him during handshakes and introductions by saying that my name was Johnny Callison. He glared at me, then broke into a grin and said, “They were bringing me the keys to the Corvette, and that guy took it away from me. Let me tell you about Johnny Callison.”
John Wesley Callison was a right fielder who grew up in Oklahoma, broke in with the White Sox, and was traded to the Phillies in 1961. In Philadelphia, he blossomed into a star. Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito was a big fan. Callison’s single against the Chicago Cubs in a 1962 game was the first hit ever seen by a live television audience in Europe. A portion of that game was shown on the first transatlantic broadcast via Telstar, which had been launched a few days earlier.
The 1964 Game
Radatz and Eddie Bressoud, a journeyman shortstop who was enjoying a career year, were the only Red Sox on the American League’s 1964 All-Star squad. Bressoud had also done Boston an enormous favor. He was the guy who came here in trade for Don Buddin, the hapless butt of endless jokes and one-liners. Boston writer Clif Keane once suggested that Buddin’s license plate be “E6.”
The game was a thriller, played in brand-new Shea Stadium adjacent to the New York World’s Fair. Radatz took the mound in the seventh inning with American League leading 4-3. The first player he faced was Callison, who flied deep to right field; the long out carried to the warning track. Radatz then retired the next five batters.
The Nationals tied the game in the last of the ninth. Willie Mays – maybe the greatest ball player ever, and certainly one of the top five – walked after fouling off five third-strike pitches. He stole second and scored on a bloop single and a bad throw by the grossly overrated Yankee Joe Pepitone.
Callison came up with two outs and two men on base. He stepped into the batter’s box, then asked for time and went back to the dugout. He emerged a minute later and blasted a Radatz fastball into the seats for a walk-off home run, the third in All-Star Game history. In previous years, Stan Musial and Ted Williams had also ended the All-Star Game with a home run. That hit earned Callison the game MVP award, a Chevrolet Corvette.
Years later, Radatz related, he encountered Callison and asked why he had gone back to the dugout. Callison explained that, with his own bat, he hadn’t quite been able to “get around” on Dick’s fastball. His fly-out had gone to the warning track – not good enough. So Callison borrowed a bat from his teammate, Willie Mays. Willie’s bat was one ounce lighter. A single ounce made all the difference.