Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer are all in the Twins Hall of Fame, and Mike Radcliff is the man most responsible for bringing them to Minnesota. Yet Radcliff, who who died at 66 Friday after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, was just as comfortable discussing a 40th-round minor prospect as the stars who made him one of the sports' most respected and successful scouts.
"You could ask Mike about just about any player in the country, and he'd tell you his life story, where he went to school, his strengths and weaknesses. It was amazing," said Twins vice president Rob Antony. "No one was ever going to outwork him. He would have longer draft lists than any scouting director in the country, not even close. But that's what he liked to do, scout and evaluate."
And that's what he did for more than 35 years, after being hired by scouting director Terry Ryan as an area scout for the Twins in 1987. By 1993, Radcliff had been promoted to that job himself, eventually heading a staff of more than 60 full- and part-time scouts, and then to vice president of player personnel in 2007.
But Radcliff preferred to do much of his work sitting behind the plate, not in an office. He spent several weeks each spring personally scouting potential draftees, driving from campus to campus before the draft, then from Twins affiliate to affiliate after it.
"He believed in getting into the trenches with his people and going where the players are. He liked to get a lot of opinions," Antony said. "He liked to have his guys crosscheck other players, so you could have healthy discussion when you got into the draft room."
Radcliff was a consensus-builder, Ryan said, shepherding all those strong opinions while making the final call himself.
"He wasn't ever the loudest voice in the room, but he certainly was the most respected," Ryan said. "If he was in the ballpark, there was a reason for it, and people would take notice."
The most difficult and controversial decision he ever made, Radcliff said in 2017, was bypassing pitcher Mark Prior and first basemen Mark Teixeira, each of whom had major-league careers, in order to choose Mauer with the No. 1 overall pick in 2001.
"The timing of it all is pretty remarkable," Radcliff said. "To have a kid this talented, from right down the street, enter the draft in the one year we happen to have the top pick — you could never plan that. You couldn't imagine it."
The Twins negotiated informally with all three, but wound up letting Radcliff made the call.
"Mike ended up saying, 'We're going to take Mauer.' … When Mike set his mind to it, he had reasons — he had depth, he had makeup, he had signability, he had injury history," Ryan said. "There wasn't anything you could get by him. He had all that on that particular choice, and felt very confident Joe was the guy."
Similarly, Hunter was an 18-year-old high school outfielder from Pine Bluff, Ark., in 1993 when Radcliff became sold on his leadership qualities. The Twins were picking 20th, and "Mike was just so adamant we needed to take Torii Hunter," Ryan said. "You can read a stopwatch and you can see him throw. But he saw leadership, he saw that makeup and competitiveness and all the things" that made Hunter a five-time All-Star.
His fellow scouts and co-workers saw similar qualities in Radcliff, along with an unwavering affability and friendliness.
"I can't think of anybody that disliked Mike," said Ryan, who like Radcliff is a member of the Professional Scouts Hall of Fame, with plaques displayed on the walls of Hammond Stadium, the Twins' spring home. Radcliff also received a lifetime achievement award from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation in 2016, and the Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award from the Twins in 2021.
"One of the nicest men I ever met," Antony agreed. "I never even heard him swear. He said he didn't see the point."
Radcliff, who died near his suburban Kansas City home, is survived by his wife Sherry, his children Brett and Erin, and several grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.