Radke retires after 12 seasonsby William Wilcoxen, Minnesota Public Radio
For the first time in more than a decade, the Minnesota Twins are planning for a baseball season without Brad Radke. Radke announced his retirement yesterday, after 12 years as a fixture in the Twins' pitching rotation. He's on the short list of the best pitchers in team history and his colleagues say Radke will also be remembered for the determination he showed in pitching through the persistent injuries that finally ended his career.
Minneapolis — Everyone in attendance at Radke's announcement in a Metrodome meeting room knew what the occasion was for. But when it came time to say it, Radke still seemed to be uttering a profanity.
"I don't know if I really want to say the 'R' word. But I'm going to say it. I'm going to announce my retirement today."
Radke's decision to end his playing days was no surprise to those who've followed his struggles with his ailing right shoulder over the last few years. Radke's effectiveness on the pitcher's mound was only slightly diminished, but it was increasingly clear that the effort required to pitch every fifth game was taking a greater and greater toll on Radke.
This past summer doctors found a fracture in the bone of his shoulder socket, seemingly ending his season. When the Twins made the playoffs, though, Radke announced he felt strong enough to start and he gave the team five solid innings in their unsuccessful postseason. But the prospect of coming back for 2007 was more than even Radke could abide.
"I really would love to come back another year," he said. "But physically, I just don't want to go have surgery and go down that road. I just don't want to do it. Mentally, I'm shot, really. I just hit a wall. Last year was real tough on me."
By ending his career now, Radke becomes a rarity in modern-day pro sports: a successful player who wore the uniform of just one big-league team.
Radke, born in Eau Claire, Wisc., moved to Florida as a child but retained a connection to the area.
"Being a baseball fan as a kid, I'd come up here in the summertimes, go to my grandparents' house and catch a few Twins games here and there. I just can't believe that I was part of this organization," he said. Radke was selected by the Twins in the eighth round of baseball's amaueur draft. After a few seasons in the minors, Radke was invited to join the big league squad's training camp in 1995.
General Manager Terry Ryan says the youngster impressed Manager Tom Kelly enough to avoid another stint in the minors.
"He won a job in spring training, after Mr. Kelly got a look at him. I knew he wasn't going anywhere after Tom saw him because he did nothing but throw strikes," Ryan said.
Radke was named the team's pitcher of the year in his rookie season. He was their Opening Day starter the following spring, the first of nine times he would have that distinction.
Radke was known for keeping an even keel. Never prone to emotional outbursts on the field, the interviews he gave reporters were generally benign and he was known to fall back on cliches.
But his teammates saw the competitive fire that burned within Radke.
New Ulm native Terry Steinbach was the Twins' catcher for three years in the late '90s. Steinbach says despite his reputation as a stoic, Radke was a leader in the clubhouse, where he also occasionally let his wry sense of humor show.
"Brad was a quiet guy and he did a lot of leadership by example," Steinbach said. "I mean, always there on time, took the ball, took the ball when he was hurt, gave you innings, gave you wins. In his own way, he led. And then, he did have a great sense of humor. I don't know if it's fortunate or unfortunate that a lot of people didn't get to see that, but his teammates got to see that every day." Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire says Radke's determination and competitive drive were never more evident than during his comeback for this year's playoffs.
"We all saw it; he was broken down," Gardenhire said. "Between innings, he could barely throw the ball to home plate, but he still wanted the ball and still wanted to go out and do that for his teammates. That pretty much says what Brad Radke was all about. He was all about going out there and performing for his teammates. He rooted the guys on. He had fun playing the game. He did everything that we respect here in Minnesota, and that's on and off the field."
Twins executives say the foundation started by Radke and his wife, Heather, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable causes and provided tickets to Twins games for 80,000 children.
Radke is 34, which is a relatively young age for a pitcher to hang up his uniform. But within five minutes of reluctantly spitting out the word "retirement," Radke had embraced his new status and sought to squelch any rumors of a comeback.
"I'm not going to be a guy who will come out of retirement. That's something I'll never do. When I make a decision, I make a decision," he said.
Twins President Dave St. Peter says the team plans to hold a Brad Radke day this summer to give fans a chance to pay tribute to Radke.
- Morning Edition, 12/20/2006, 7:55 a.m.