Dick Radatz wanted to be a starting pitcher. His minor league manager had different plans.
Johnny Pesky turned him into a reliever in 1961 with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, and Radatz became one of baseball's most dominant relievers in the early '60s with the Boston Red Sox.
"The season opens," Pesky said. "We played five games. He's in four of them and he saves all four games. From that time on he liked it."
The 67-year-old Radatz, who struck out Mickey Mantle 44 of the 63 times he faced the New York Yankee slugger, died Wednesday after falling down a flight of stairs at his home in Easton, Mass., and suffering a severe head injury, according to police.
The Bristol County district attorney's office ruled that Radatz's death was accidental.
A native of Detroit, Radatz graduated from Michigan State University, where he was a star basketball and baseball player. Boston signed Radatz before the 1959 season as an amateur free agent.
He spent two years with Triple-A Seattle, then joined Boston in 1962 and was managed by Pesky in 1963 and 1964. The right-hander went 49-32 with 104 saves and a 2.66 earned-run average in 286 games with Boston. He had 627 strikeouts in 557 1/3 innings.
Pesky, now a special assignment instructor in Boston's spring training camp, recalled on Thursday the time he brought in Radatz to replace pitcher Earl Wilson with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth against the Yankees.
"He says [to Wilson], 'Go on in, crack a couple of cold ones. I'll be up in 10 minutes,' " Pesky said. "He strikes out [Roger] Maris, Mantle and the catcher, Elston Howard. Nine pitches. And that was the best pitching I had ever seen."
At 6 feet 6 and about 250 pounds, Radatz, who reportedly was first called "The Monster" -- among other things -- by Mantle, was an overpowering reliever.
He holds the major league record for strikeouts in a season by a relief pitcher with 181 in 1964. He struck out five batters in two innings in the 1963 All-Star game and five in 2 2/3 innings in the 1964 All-Star game. He often pitched several innings, unlike modern closers.
Infielder Rico Petrocelli played with Radatz from 1963 through 1965, and they remained friends.
"There were times when he'd throw seven innings. Then he'd come in for an inning the next day," Petrocelli said. "In his prime, he'd blow guys away. His fastball was overpowering."
The Red Sox traded Radatz to Cleveland on June 2, 1966. He later played for the Cubs, Detroit and Montreal. In seven seasons, he was 52-43 with a 3.13 ERA, 122 saves and 745 strikeouts in 693 2/3 innings.
Radatz's survivors include a son and a daughter.