Opening day, and I go back to 1962 — the story of Steve Dalkowski and Earl Weaver.
Did Dalkowski throw a baseball harder than any person who ever lived? We’ll never know for sure, of course, and it’s hard to pinpiont exactly what “throwing the hardest pitch” even means. Later this month, Jontahan Hock will unveil a wonderful new documentary called “Fastball” — I was lucky enough to consult and help out — where he tries to get to the bottom of the fastest pitch ever thrown. Dalkowski plays a role in the story, of course.
But is the hardest fastball ever the one that registers the highest mph on a radar gun? That’s certainly one way to look at it. Another way is to consider the fastball that batters most revered and dreaded, the fastball that made them say — as Ralph Garr once shouted after facing Nolan Ryan — “Boys, we’ve got NO shot today.” Bob Gibson’s fastball might not have gone as fast as, say, Jerry Spradlin’s. But you cannot tell me or any hitter who faced them both that Spradlin threw HARDER than Gibson.
In any case, after researching Dalkowski I’m of this opinion: No one ever threw a fastball that was harder to hit than Steve Dalkowski. It was an unmatched combination of sheer speed and stunning movement. I have come to think of it like the pearl Kino found in the John Steinbeck book. That enormous and lucid pearl was priceless … and yet there was no way for Kino to make money on it. Dalkowski’s fastball was priceless. In the end, it brought him more pain than joy.
The closest he ever got to harnessing that fastball — that’s the point of the story.