Archive for July, 2011

All-Star Game Memories: How Johnny Callison Vanquished Dick “The Monster” Radatz, with a Little Help from Willie Mays

July 13, 2011

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. 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-inning world. Mickey Mantle dubbed him “The Monster.”

Dick Radatz

Richard Raymond Radatz was born in in Detroit and graduated from Michigan State. I met him one evening when he was hosting a “Legends” box at a Red Sox game.  Dick 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 first 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 Samuel Alito was his 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.

Johnny Callison

The 1964 All-Star game was a close affair. The American League called upon Radatz in the seventh inning with American league leading 4-3. The first player he faced was Callison, who flied out 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 on a walk, a bloop single, and a bad throw by Yankee Joe Pepitone. Callison came to bat with two outs and two men on base. He stepped into the batter’s box, then asked for time out and went back to the dugout. He emerged a minute later, then blasted a Radatz fastball into the seats for the All-Star Game’s third-ever walk-off home run. In previous years, Stan Musial and Ted Williams had also ended the All-Star Game with a home run. That 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 teammate Willie Mays. Willie’s bat was one ounce lighter. A single ounce made all the difference.

Yogi and Artie, Hall of Famers, Need Some Company

July 2, 2011

Yogi Berra's Plaque in Baseball's Hall of Fame

Excellent cover story on Yogi Berra in the week’s Sports Illustrated.  I had forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that he was aboard an assault craft on D-Day back in 1944. Yogi had played one season of minor league baseball before joining the Navy and volunteering for duty on a rocket boat that led the invasion of Utah Beach.

The same issue has a brief profile of  Artie Donovan, who also served in World War II and returned home to fashion a brilliant career in the sport of football.

We know stories of other athletic immortals who did likewise – Ted Williams the fighter pilot; Warren Spahn, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge; Christy Mathewson, accidentally gassed in a training exercise in World War I; Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, the “Kraut Line” who went off together to face the Germans as members of the Royal Canadian Air Force .  Like Yogi, all these gentlemen are enshrined in their respective Halls of Fame: Spahn, Williams and Mathewson  at Cooperstown, Donovan at Canton, the “Krauts” in Toronto.

But how many other men of that era left the playing fields to don the uniform of their country and did not make it back?  There must be dozens of them, if not hundreds. They may have lost their lives in battle or suffered debilitating injuries, or may have been too old to resume their athletic careers after the war.

Our Northern neighbors and partners in freedom just celebrated their national holiday.  America is preparing for its own birthday, to celebrate the incomparable gifts that our parents, grandparents, and earlier forebears earned for us and bequeathed to us.

At this time of patriotic reflection and thanks to those who made our lands what they are today, here’s a thought for those who run the Halls of Fame in baseball, football, hockey, basketball, and all the other sports, for that matter. You’re the Keepers of the Flame. You honor and remember those who achieved and excelled. Now tell us the stories of those who might also have achieved and excelled, but who put their sporting lives aside for a higher cause and did not return. Carve them a niche, enroll them, and down through the years, tell your visitors about them – how good they were, how greater still they might have been.