Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

HUGH RADCLIFFE


King of the K's

Most of you who are baseball fans know that Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood hold the record for the most strikeouts in a regulation 9-inning major league game with 2o. You would have to be a baseball purist to know that Tom Cheney set the game record with 21 strikeouts in a 16-inning game.  Cristen Vitek of Baylor and Eileen Canney of Northwestern hold the NCAA record for 28 strikeouts in a game in sixteen and eighteen innings respectively.  But how many of you know that a former Dexter kid struck out 28 batters in a 9-inning high school game  for a world record.  Millard Whittle of Dexter remembers.  Mr. Whittle remembers a lot about a lot of things. After all, he has been around these parts for more than ninety years.  Mr. Whittle called me and related the story of Hugh Frank Radcliffe.  I was hooked and logged onto the Internet as fast as I could to see what I could find.

Hugh Frank Radcliffe was born on November 27, 1928 in Fort Valley, Georgia.  He spent his early years in the Dexter community.  Sometime during the end of the Great Depression, the Radcliffes moved to Thomaston, Georgia.  Hugh attended Robert E. Lee Institute in Thomaston.  Hugh, or Frank, or "Redbone," as his friends called him, was a four-sport star at R.E. Lee.   Radcliffe was an all state and all South  end and the best kicker in Georgia.  He was an all state guard in basketball and a state champion in the pole vault.  But his main sport was baseball.  Now you will see why.

Hugh was considered big for his day standing  six feet one and one half inches tall without his cleats on  and tipping the scale at 185 pounds.  He was as clean cut as any teenager could be.  His coach described him as unimpressed with accolades and one who disdained alcohol, tobacco and even ice cream sodas.

It was the year 1948.  Hugh was just about half way through his senior year in high school.  As a sophomore, Hugh led his team to the Georgia and Regional American Legion titles.  The game was to be played in Macon, Georgia.  The Rebels' opponents that day were the Poets from Lanier High School in Macon.  The Poets, including future big leager Coot Veal,  were no slouches.  The team had a winning tradition for many years.    The Poets no longer had Billy Henderson, a former Dublinite and a high school All-American baseball player.  Sporting a five-game winning streak, Lanier was always a strong team.  The date was April 19th. The place was Silvertown Ballpark.

Hugh struck out three batters to end the first inning.  The fans and coaches all must have said, "well, Frank's on today."  Then he struck out three batters in the second.  Somewhere during the game he struck out four batters in one inning.  Some of you might say, "how can that be?" Well, the reason is simple.  Under baseball rules, when a catcher drops a third strike and first base is not occupied and there is less than two outs, the runner can advance to first base.  The catcher, or another fielder, must retrieve the ball and throw it to first base.  If the runner beats the throw, he is awarded first base, but the pitcher is given credit for a strikeout.  Usually an error is given to the catcher or the pitcher for allowing the runner to advance. But, enough of the rules, back to the game.

Radcliffe struck out at least three batters in every inning for the rest of game.  High school boys played the old-fashioned game with nine innings.  They play only seven today  to give the boys more time to study, as if they were going home after a long ball game and crack open a chemistry text book.

But before you think that every Poet batter struck out, you would be wrong.   In all, only ten balls were touched by a Poet bat.  Seven were fouled off. One Lanier batter managed to get a hit.  Rebel Coach J.E. Richards commented on the single safety by charging it to an inattentive fielder "who was too accustomed to watching Radcliffe playing the game by himself."  Two other balls were mishandled by Hugh's teammates.  The Rebels plated ten runners and won the game 10-0.  The Macon Telegraph's very brief account of the  game credited the Poets with two hits and two dropped third strikes by Rebel catcher Whitten.

Word of "the one in a million feat" got out and scouts from colleges and professional ball clubs descended upon Thomaston like flies at a church picnic.  When these old baseball veterans saw Hugh pitch, they drooled.  They had plenty of opportunities to drool.  Not since School Boy Rowe and Bob Feller came into the limelight in the early 1930s had such a young pitcher drawn so much attention.  Scouts from the Tigers, Indians, Reds, Senators, Yankees, Pirates, Athletics and Crackers came to watch the sizzling sensation.

At the end of R.E. Lee's eighth game of the season, Radcliffe posted a record of six wins and no losses.  On May 19th, Radcliffe took the mound to face nearby Griffin High School.  Two thousand people showed up for the game, a high school game!  The right-handed hurler didn't disappoint the crowd.  Twenty-five Griffin batters were sent back to the dugout with a "K" by their name in the scorekeeper's book.  Radcliffe had an off day, giving up three, but his offensive gave him eighteen runs, so the outcome of the game was never in doubt.  Radcliffe boosted his season totals to 210 strikeouts in 81.67 innings, or 2.57 strikeouts per inning an astonishing 23.13 per game.  During his senior season, he threw three no-hitters, allowing only 18 hits and giving up three unearned runs for a mind-boggling ERA of 0.37.    During that magical season, Radcliffe struck out 50 consecutive batters and 97 in four nine-inning games. By the way, Hugh hit .450 that season.

With all of the praise and accolades piled on him, Radcliffe's high school career game to a disappointing end.  He lost in front of 4,000 fans in the first game of the playoffs, 8-6.  Many of them came to the game on the twenty-six buses parked out in the parking lots and down the streets.  The scouts blamed it on the team and their nine errors, not due to their highly sought after prize, who struck out twenty-four.

The Philadelphia Phillies won the bidding war between 14 teams,  satisfying Hugh and especially his mother.  The young fireballer was assigned to the Phillies' Wilmington, Delaware club with a forty thousand-dollar check in the bank.  Radcliffe pitched well and was moved up to Toronto.    Soon Frank became the property of the New York Yankees and enjoyed a brief stint with the big club before returning to the minor league with the Syracuse Chiefs, Kansas City Blues  and the Birmingham Barons in addition to assignments in Binghamton and Beaumont.

Hugh Radcliffe didn't make it to the current National High School record book.  I guess they don't go back that far, or they just don't have folks like Millard Whittle to remind them of that spring day nearly sixty years ago when a Dexter boy became the "King of Ks," the "Wizard of Whiffs" and the "Sultan of Strikeouts."

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