Slinging one mean heater
A couple weeks ago at work some colleagues and I somehow got caught up in a conversation about pitching ” more specifically, whether the hardest-throwing pitchers in the days of black and white threw as hard as the top flame-throwers of today.
In arguing yes, the old-timers threw equally as fast, a name emerged from my memory bank, where it had been stored since reading a mind-boggling article in an Aug. 24, 1999 issue of The Sporting News.
The article was on Steve Dalkowski, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound freak of nature and career minor leaguer who many say was the hardest-throwing, and wildest, pitcher of all time. The story, which I Googled, printed and read aloud to my co-workers, is as comical as it is hard to fathom. Further Googling revealed even more information about the man with the most gifted arm in baseball history.
Most folks have never heard of Steve “White Lightning” Dalkowski. But for those who have witnessed his fastball, or even heard rumor of it, the name is not to be forgotten.
“He was unbelievable,” former Orioles manager Earl Weaver said of Dalkowski, who it was later learned had an IQ of only around 60. “He threw a lot faster than (Nolan) Ryan. It’s hard to believe but he did.”
Because his tenure in professional baseball preceded the speed gun, exactly how fast Dalkowski threw is debatable. However, many who saw him pitch believe he threw 110 mph. Some estimates have been reported as high as 115 mph., others between 100 and 105 mph.
Either way, it’s unlikely any human being ever fired a baseball faster than Dalkowski, or was more wild. In fact, the character “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins in the movie Bull Durham, was loosely based on Dalkowski.
Representatives from all 16 major league teams began scouting the New Britain (Conn.) High School senior after the left-hander struck out 24 batters in a 1957 game. The Baltimore Orioles signed him upon graduation, offering a $4,000 bonus and, according to Dalkowski, $12,000 under the table and a new Pontiac.
Playing for the Orioles’ Class D minor league affiliate in his first season of pro ball, Dalkowski struck out 121 batters while allowing just 22 hits in 62 innings. He also walked 129, threw 39 wild pitches and finished with a 1-8 record and an 8.13 ERA.
Baseball legend Ted Williams decided to step into the box against the kid in the spring of 1958.
“Fastest ever,” Williams said. “I never want to face him again.”
Former Oriole Paul Blair said the same.
“He threw the hardest I ever saw,” Blair said. “He was the wildest I ever saw.”
– Dalkowski’s lifetime win-loss record in the minor leagues, which lasted from 1957 to 1965, was 46-80. He managed a 5.59 ERA while striking out 1,396 and walking 1,354 in 995 innings.
– In a high school game, Dalkowski threw a no-hit, no-run game with 18 strikeouts and 18 walks.
– During a game in his first pro season, Dalkowski struck out 24 hitters and lost 8-4. He issued 18 walks, hit four batters and uncorked six wild pitches.
– One night in Kingsport, a Dalkowski pitch tore off a batter’s ear lobe.
– In 1960 he set a California League record with 262 walks in 170 innings. The same season he also collected 262 strikeouts.
– In an Eastern League game, he struck out 27 batters and walked 16 while throwing 283 pitches. In another game he was yanked in the second inning after throwing 120 pitches.
– At Aberdeen in the Northern League, he threw a one-hitter and lost 9-8.
– In 1960 in the California League, Dalkowski struck out 19 and limited Reno to four hits, but walked nine and lost 8-3.
– In 1959 Cal Ripken Sr. called for a curveball that Dalkowski, through the thick set of glasses he wore, mistook for a fastball sign. The pitch sailed straight into the umpire’s mask untouched, shattering it in three places and sending the ump to the hospital with a concussion.
– Dalkowski, on a dare, once threw a ball over the stands behind home plate from a centerfield wall 440 feet away.
– To win a $5 bet, he threw a baseball through the boards of an outfield fence.
– In one minor league game, Dalkowski fired three pitches that penetrated the backstop and sent fans scattering.
Catch the second chapter of Dalkowski’s career in Friday’s Sierra Sun.
Online references: The Sporting News, “Minor League Legends,” Sports Illustrated , “Where are they now,” Wikipedia, Steve Dalkowski, Steve Dalkowski Page.