A dream that haunts

This is a profile of a retired local teacher and former West Virginia University baseball star who blew out his shoulder pitching in the Dodgers’ organization in the 1960s. The story ran in the Daily News-Record on Oct. 8, 2010. 

HARRISONBURG, Va. — John “Lefty” Radosevich is content with his life, but there’s something that still bothers him: an injury-shortened professional baseball career in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system.

It’s not an obsession, but it’s there.

“Even today, about once a month, I have a dream where I’m still down in spring training trying to make the Dodgers’ team,” said Radosevich, who grew up in Ronco, Pa., as the son of a coal miner. “And in my dream, I know I’m 66 years old and I’m thinking to myself: ‘They’ve got to know how old I am. They don’t want to take me.'”

Those are flashbacks to 1968.

Now in retirement, Radosevich spent 39 years as a teacher at Broadway High School after a superlative baseball career at West Virginia University, where he still holds five pitching records. He will be inducted into the Mountaineers’ athletic hall of fame, along with former quarterback Marc Bulger, Saturday at 1 p.m. in Morgantown.

Radosevich — a sturdy man with broad shoulders, short legs and rigid posture — retired in 2007 from teaching at BHS, where he also coached baseball, basketball and football and started the wrestling program in 1991.

In March 1967, Radosevich married his wife Diane — a short, affable lady with a scrapbooking habit — whom he met his senior year at WVU. She was a freshman.

Their courtship is chronicled in one of those scrapbooks, complete with a diagram of a date in which Radosevich, then the Mountaineers’ stud pitcher with reputed uncanny control, tried to decapitate a snowman with a snowball from about 20-30 feet away. He whiffed.

Now, they take daily four-mile early-morning walks and lift weights in their basement gym multiple times a week.

“I’m a blessed man,” Radosevich said.

In 1965, so was his left arm.

After going 25-4 at WVU, Radosevich was taken by the Dodgers in the fifth round (90th overall) of the first-ever major league draft in 1965, signing for $12,000 in the spring after his senior season. A left-hander who threw in the low- to mid-90s and had a great curveball, Radosevich got selected ahead of future Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver (190th) and Nolan Ryan (226th).

But in the fall of 1966, Radosevich hurt his left shoulder doing an overhead press while lifting weights. It never healed. Radosevich tried to hang on, but in 1968 the Dodgers released him. That year, he appeared in one game and faced one batter.

He was 23.

“[The manager] called me into his office and just said, ‘John, we’re going to let you go,’ and I just said, ‘I’m surprised you kept me this long,'” Radosevich said.

In four seasons — all in Single-A — Radosevich had an ERA of 4.33 in 287 innings with a 16-12 record. His numbers, though, suffered because of the injury, which Radosevich now believes was a torn rotator cuff. It relegated him to relief pitching, a role then reserved for failed starters.

Radosevich — who played for the Harrisonburg Turks in 1963, ’64 and one game in ’65 before being drafted (he liked the area so much he moved back after his baseball career ended and never left) — had his best pro season in 1966, playing for Jamestown in the New York-Penn League and Santa Barbara of the California League. He went 9-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 129 innings, spanning 18 starts and 22 appearances.

At WVU, Radosevich was even better. He still holds the school record for career strikeouts (339), strikeouts in a season (123) and strikeouts in a single game (22).

“John Radosevich was one of the best left-handed pitchers I ever saw,” said current Turks owner/manager Bob Wease, who played against Radosevich in the Valley League and with him in the Rockingham County Baseball League, where Radosevich played first base. “…. John threw 92-93 [mph], but his best pitch was his curveball. He had complete command of his curveball. And trust me, I hit left-handed and was at New Market when he was with the Turks in ’63 and ’64, and he was just a nightmare to hit off of.”

When his shoulder injury killed his career, it was the perfect time to be a pitcher in the Dodgers’ system. Sandy Koufax retired in 1966, and Don Drysdale retired in 1969. Both would be Hall of Famers, and their departures left L.A. in need of pitching.

“All I can say is that the opportunity was right for me,” Radosevich said. ” Koufax and Drysdale just retired. They needed left-handed pitching. I was moving up the ladder. In my mind, I think I would [have made it].”

Wease even compared Radosevich to Koufax , who went 165-87 in 12 seasons with a 1.73 ERA. Nicknamed “The Left Arm of God,” Koufax won three Cy Youngs and the 1963 MVP.

“I’m telling you — and I know this to be a fact — and I’ve done some scouting for the Chicago White Sox: John Radosevich would have been a big deal in the big leagues,” Wease said. “He would have been a very good pitcher. He would have won a ton of games in the big leagues if he doesn’t hurt that arm.”

But again, Radosevich insists it’s not something he obsesses over. He doesn’t keep memorabilia from his playing career. He doesn’t even have a glove.

The only thing baseball-related in view at his Traveler Road house in Harrisonburg is a black-and-white photo from his three-year stint in Santa Barbara. The other pictures are boxed in a back room of his basement.

“I never really think about it,” Radosevich said. “Like I said, honestly, I have no regrets for what happened. It doesn’t eat at me — it’s not like a cancer in me. I had my shot and had an opportunity. Few boys ever get that opportunity, so I write it off as personal experience and go from there.”

But there’s still that dream, nagging in his subconscious. In it, Radosevich said, he sees himself in Vero Beach, Fla. — the former longtime Dodgers spring training home, where Radosevich said Tommy Lasorda taught him to throw a straight changeup — throwing on a side session, still trying to make the team even though he’s 66.

Radosevich said the dream is in color and quite vivid.

“I’m throwing pretty good,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘Boy, I wonder when my shoulder’s going to start hurting me.’ But in my dreams, my shoulder doesn’t hurt.”

He’s content there, too.

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