Twins Hall Of Fame
The other day, I was very excited to hear that former Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Brad Radke is being inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2009. Radke was my favorite Twins pitcher of all-time, as I loved the way he was able to dominate batters with little more than a great changeup and pin-point accuracy. Though not quite as good, I always thought of Brad the Rad as the “poor man’s” Greg Maddux. The big knock on Radke (what kept him from really becoming an elite pitcher) was his tendancy to give up the gopher balls at an alarming rate, but he still managed to be a very effective pitcher nonetheless.
A few years ago, while writing for the University Register (the student-run newspaper at the college I attended, the University of Minnesota-Morris), I penned a column about Radke that I would like to share on this blog. It was written it 2005 and thus is a bit dated, but I think it still manages to capture the essence of why I admired Radke so much. Here it is:
Over the years, starting pitcher Brad Radke has been the subject of much debate among Twins fans. Is he the glue that holds the pitching staff together, or just an average pitcher who has been overrated his entire career? Looking at his career statistics, the latter argument seems to win: 136 wins, 130 losses, 2,288.2 innings pitched, 2,446 hits, 302 home runs, 4.22 ERA. While those statistics are better than most who toe the rubber, they are definitely not what legends are made of. However, Radke’s value to the Twins cannot be calculated on statistics alone. By giving his heart and soul to the Twins organization for the past eleven years, this sportswriter feels that Brad deserves a better legacy than “.500 pitcher”.
After the 1991 World Championship season and a strong second place finish in 1992, the Minnesota Twins started disbanding the nucleus of those teams due to financial constraints. The area hit hardest was starting pitching. Jack Morris, staff ace in 1991, was let go amid concerns over his age, while Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani (key contributors in ’91 and ’92) each faltered under the “ace” mantra. During the ’93 and ’94 seasons, such players as Willie Banks, Mike Trombley, Eddie Guardado (yes, Eddie!), Pat Mahomes, and Jim Deshaies tried to bolster the starting staff, but to no avail. Not one of those players made the rotation for any length of time and both seasons were losing efforts. It wasn’t until the next year that the Twins would find a true ace–Brad Radke.
When Radke made his debut in 1995, he looked like another pitcher to be discarded to the scrap heap. In 181 innings, Radke was 11-14 with a 5.32 ERA and had a tendency to give up home runs, allowing 32 of them. Though he got battered around his inaugural campaign, he did have good control of his pitches and the Twins, having no better options, decided to bring him back for another try in 1996. In ’96, he managed to give up 40 gopher balls, but pitched 232 innings (a team-high that season) and get his ERA down to 4.46. Now, while those numbers may not sound impressive, the Twins at that time had no other starter with an ERA lower than 5.00. Radke (in just his second year) was the “established” ace of the Minnesota Twins.
In 1997 (arguably his best season as a Twin) he posted a 20-10 record with a 3.87 ERA. To put his 20-win feat into perspective, he did it on a team that finished 68-94 with little offensive talent. On a winning team, Radke could have easily racked up even more wins and established himself as a premiere pitcher in the league. Instead, Brad was playing for the lowly “Twinkies” at the time and getting little or no attention from the press.
Over the next three seasons (’98, ’99, and ’00), Radke was 36-44 with an 4.17 ERA. For most pitchers, those stats would kick them out the door, but one must remember that Radke was playing for perennial cellar-dweller teams. Numerous times Brad would keep his team in the game and receive no offensive support (and consequently a loss), or leave the game with a lead and watch the bullpen squander it. He might have won 15-20 games every year playing for a respectable team. For those reasons, his value to the Twins could not be based on statistics. His dependability (pitching over 214 innings in each of those seasons) and willingness to take the mound every fifth day for a sink-hole of a team were vital for an organization trying to build a winning philosophy. In the ultimate show of loyalty to Minnesota, Radke signed a four year contract at the end of 2000.
Radke’s confidence payed off in 2001, as the team finished with its first winning season since 1992. Brad was once again the leader of the pitching staff, going 15-11 with a 3.94 ERA and eating up 226 innings. The playoffs were narrowly missed that year, but better days were on the horizon.
During the 2002 season, Radke pitched only 118.1 innings due to injuries, but got his first chance at pitching in the playoffs. In two starts against Oakland he was 1-1 with a 1.54 ERA (winning Game 5 to clinch the series). In the ALCS against Anaheim, he won his lone start, going 6+ innings and giving up only two earned runs. Though the Twins lost that series, Radke had proven that he could perform well in the biggest starts of his career. He was the unquestioned ace of the staff, but competition was lurking.
In 2003 and 2004, Radke was his old reliable self (25-18, 3.99 ERA), but Johan Santana was getting all the attention. While Santana burst onto the scene in 2003 and won the Cy Young award in 2004, Radke kept laboring along every fifth day. He still gave up a startling number of home runs as well as more hits than innings pitched, but more often than not he gave the Twins a chance to win in his starts. The Twins made it to the playoffs each year (losing to the Yankees both times) and Radke turned in two more good performances, bringing his career postseason ERA to 3.19. In typically Radke fashion, however, he was 1-3. At the end of 2004, Radke’s contract was up and he was being courted by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. Signing with either of those teams would have meant better statistics for Brad (as a result of better run-support), but once again he chose to stay with the Twins, signing a two-year deal well under the $-value of the other offers. He was looking forward to another run at the AL Central division title.
This year, that “run” never materialized. Though Radke and the rest of the pitching rotation pitched well the entire year, an anemic offense doomed the Twins to a mediocre finish. Before being deactivated in late September due to soreness in his shoulder, Radke was 9-12 with a 4.04 ERA and ten no-decisions. For the first half of the season he was quite dominant, but after the All-Star break his shoulder injury pushed him back to mediocrity (he was not even able to throw in the bullpen between starts). He battled the injury for a month and a half, not succumbing to the pain until the season was all but over.
Next year will be the end of Brad Radke’s current contract, after which he plans to retire. For ten years, Radke has given his competitive heart and soul for a team that has too often not given him much in return. While he will likely go down in Twins history as second-fiddle to Johan Santana (Brad didn’t play for many good teams, didn’t put together one spectacular season, didn’t strike out many batters, or didn’t pitch deep into the postseason often enough to get media recognition), he deserves better. Many fans will await his retirement after next year, chafing over his mediocre record and statistics, but I will applaud his every start. He deserves all we can give him.