Six off-seasons ago, the Minnesota Twins lost one of their most durable, successful and popular starting pitchers. On December 19, 2006, Brad Radke retired. He had pitched with an injured shoulder for the entire 2006 season. Had he decided to continue his career, he would have had surgery that would have likely knocked him out for the entire 2007 season. Radke would have only been 35 going into the 2008 season, but chose to retire on his own terms, rather than go through painful and arduous rehab, with no guarantee for future success. Radke had made over 60 million dollars in his career, won 20 games in 1997 and pitched in 4 different postseasons. Radke had an excellent career; not bad for an 8th round pick!
Brad Radke was an anomaly of sorts. He didn’t strike many batters out at all. After his age 25 season in 1995, he never had a K/9 over 6.0. Before that, he barely eclipsed that mark. However, Radke didn’t walk anyone either. He averaged roughly 1.5 walks per nine innings for his entire career. Only Greg Maddux had a walk rate that minuscule during the same era and won more games than Radke did, and he might be the best pitcher of all time. The era in which Radke pitched only enhances his legacy, as he took the mound during the steroid era, when home runs sailed out of parks like… sailboats(?). Radke certainly gave up his share of home runs, but the low walk totals kept the bases from being clogged, and helped Radke remain effective. His 113 career ERA+ shows that he was an above average pitcher and much more valuable than many probably think.
The odd thing is that if Radke hadn’t encountered shoulder issues, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he was still pitching today, at age 40. His pitching style seemed like it would have gone hand in hand with longevity. Radke was not a power pitcher and relied heavily on a change-up instead of a curve ball or slider. In the end, pitching itself is enough to destroy a healthy shoulder or elbow, regardless of a player’s pitch of choice. Had Radke been healthy, 200 career wins would not have been out of the question. Now, 200 is just a big, round number, but it still would have been impressive and a testament to his quiet consistency.
Personally, I always really liked Radke. Perhaps it was because we shared the same name, or maybe it was just because he was the lone starting pitcher on the Twins who actually put together two or more good seasons. Carlos Silva did his best Radke impression in 2005 and had his best season. Silva ultimately failed because he struck out significantly fewer batters than even Radke did. Joe Mays had a low-walk, low strike out season in 2001 and had his only remotely decent season. He parlayed that season into one of the worst contracts in Twins history. Eric Milton was a similar pitcher to Radke statistically, but allowed more walks than Radke. He didn’t allow a lot more, but his lesser success showed just how important Radke’s ludicrous control was.
By the end of his career, Radke was completely overshadowed by Johan Santana‘s dominance. Those that watched his whole career still appreciated Radke’s quiet effectiveness. It wasn’t surprising that Radke quietly retired at a young age. He was a quietly unassuming figure on and off the mound. He quietly went about his business and became a rather unique pitcher. There are few pitchers who combine Radke’s below average K rate and elite BB rate and make it work for over a decade, quietly to boot. I certainly enjoyed watching him master the strike zone start after start. The Twins seem to be on a constant quest for more Radkes, but there really is just one, and he burns like an eternal flame.
Read my previous Significant Date in Twins History: November 21, 2007