Hugh Radcliffe

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Hugh Frank Radcliffe

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Biographical Information[edit]

Hugh Radcliffe was a huge star in high school and was offered a large signing bonus by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1948 but never reached the majors.

Radcliffe gained national attention in April 1948 when he struck out 28 batters in a nine-inning high school game, pitching for Robert E. Lee High School. One batter from Lanier (GA) High School reached base on a dropped third strike, two batters were safe on errors, and one more scratched out an infield single. Future major leaguer Coot Veal was a member of the losing team; he described Radcliffe's curveball as the best he ever saw. He was an incredible athlete, excelling in basketball, football - he was a punter - and track, as a pole vaulter, as well as baseball. He led his hometown Thomaston, GA team to the American Legion state championship in 1946. In his senior year in high school, he struck out 210 batters in 81.2 innings, tossing two seven-inning no-hitters and allowing only 16 hits all season. Besides the curveball, of which he threw two varieties, one with a straight drop and another "wide-sweeping", he had an outstanding fastball and also threw a sinker. After graduating from high school, he was offered a $40,000 signing bonus by Philadelphia, a huge sum for the time.

Radcliffe's professional career never matched the heights he reached as a schoolboy. His first season in pro ball was full of promise. Pitching for the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 1948, where he took the place of future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts who had just been promoted to Philly, he went 7-3, 4.12 in 16 games. However, because of the bonus, Radcliffe was vulnerable to being drafted by another team unless the Phillies put him on their major league roster, but they had no room for him after having signed a slew of youngsters over the preceding few years. So they tried to hide him at Toronto in the International League in 1949. This meant that only a major league team willing to place him immediately on its roster could take him; none did, but it also meant that Radcliffe was at a level much higher than his skills, and in typical bonus baby fashion, he rode the pines, being used only 9 times while he should have been pitching regularly at a lower level. He went 1-1, 6.14 that year, and when the Phillies tried to demote him after the season, the New York Yankees came calling and drafted him.

As a draftee, Radcliffe again had to be assigned to a level higher than his skills in 1950, this time to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, the top farm team of the powerhouse Yankees. He went 0-1, 18.00 in 2 games before being sent down to a more appropriate Binghamton of the Eastern League, where he was 9-8, 4.14 in 25 games. Two things conspired to derail Radcliffe's career past that point: first, he could not harness his control at the professional level, being regularly plagued by walks and wild pitches (he had walked 112 batter in 150 innings at Binghamton, for example), then arm troubles robbed him of much of his velocity. He spent most of 1951 with the Beaumont Roughnecks of the Texas League, where he went 6-8, 3.90. By then, his days as a top prospect were behind him, and while he continued pitching in the minors until 1954, he never got close to the majors again. His best season was in 1953, when he went 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA, but by then he had fallen all the way to the Class C Cotton States League, playing for the Natchez Indians.

After his playing career, Hugh Radcliffe worked for a telephone company in Georgia, then became director of recreation for the city of Cordele, GA. He retired to Florida where he pursued his two main hobbies of fishing and golfing. In 1998, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring his accomplishments in four sports as a high school athlete and the historic day when he struck out 28 batters in a game.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Wynn Montgomery: "Georgia's 1948 Phenoms and the Bonus Rule", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 39, Number 1 (Summer 2010), pp. 72-82.

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