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How do you solve a problem like Dalkowski?


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. 

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14 Responses to How do you solve a problem like Dalkowski?

  1. That's Amazing says:

    Interesting that Dalkowski got measured at 93.5 mph crossing the plate. The “muzzle velocity” of a pitched baseball slows down about 1 mph every 7 feet after it leaves the pitcher’s hand, that’s a loss of roughly 8 mph by the time it crosses the plate. Which means he was at about 102 mph when leaving the hand (which is how velocity is measured nowadays). So Dalkowski threw ~102 mph on flat ground the day after throwing ~200 pitches in a game.

    • That is, of course, assuming the device that measured 93.5 MPH was accurate. I would be careful on that one. The world has come a long way in measuring velocity since then. A better gauge is that hundreds of players and professional baseball people saw Nolan Ryan and Steve Dalkowski in their prime ( their rookie years were only 8 years apart) and everybody said Steve threw harder. It would difficult to believe that many people were wrong. Certainly that many respected people. Ryan was clocked at 100.9 MPH using radar and a reference point about ten feet in front of home plate, during his athletic prime in 1974 with the California Angels. I’m pretty sure that would extrapolate to at least 105 MPH at the release. No different than the fastest pitches today.

  2. AaronB says:

    The legend of Dalkowski has always fascinated me, but I suppose part of that is due to the quest for speed. Your comment regarding hard Vs fast got me thinking about the “heavy” balls some pitchers seem to throw. I’d suppose that could be another component to it all. Why do some pitchers throw a fastball that seems more akin to hitting a bowling ball while others, despite the speed of the pitch, throw pitches that routinely end up in the bleachers? Would it be related to the movement of the pitches that generate that effect?

  3. mnaftolin says:

    I’ve really had it with the endless Spradlin-bashing, Joe.

  4. Amber Deen says:

    Aberdeen Proving Ground is in Aberdeen, MARYLAND, not South Dakota

    • Chris Pieters says:

      Incorrect, it was Aberdeen, South Dakota. They had a class C team there for a long time.

      • Cuban X Senators says:

        The Proving Ground is in Maryland. A minor league team did exist in South Dakota. It appears that Dalkowski’s story threaded through both. If you have evidence that the radar was set up in South Dakota cite it – but the story I’ve always heard was that Dalkowski had to go to the radar & the radar was in Maryland.

        • DJ MC says:

          There are Aberdeens in both Maryland and South Dakota. In fact, the Aberdeen (SD) team was, for a time, an Orioles affiliate, and one of the managers was Cal Ripken Sr. (with his family, of course, from Aberdeen, MD).

        • It was not radar. It was a chronograph. By today’s standards, it would be very unsophisticated and suspect. Radar devices, to measure the velocity of a fastball, were not available until Nolan Ryan’s time.

  5. Cuban X Senators says:

    Joe’s got a book in him about the heyday Orioles if a publisher could be made to believe it’d be a money-maker.

    Maybe about Earl, maybe the transformation from Browns to champions, maybe about the Frank Robinson years’ run at 4 Series in 6 years, maybe about the Weaver-in-Winter years as the hopes and joys of the Baltimore’s 60s & 70s dissipate into a world of free agency, white-flight & the realization that Civil Rights victories did not transform America nearly as much as was hoped.

  6. Allen Phillips says:

    come on Joe, Why wasn’t Frank White at the Royals Opening Day?
    Quit ducking the hard stuff.

  7. Tom Gibbons says:

    Thanks for reminding me that the 1959 Aberdeen Pheasants gave us more than just Bo Belinsky. I will wear my commemorative bright orange T-shirt with even more pride.

  8. MCD says:

    I am always struck by the similarities of Dalkowski (though obviously less successful) to Ryne Duren. Both came up thru the Orioles organization (still the St. Louis Browns when Duren’s pro career started) and had legendary fastballs that were even more legendary in regards to their inability to control said pitch. Both Both men struggled with alcoholism and both men had a fictional odd-ball pitcher that was loosely based on them: Dalkowski being an inspiration for Nuke Laloosh in “Bull Durham” and Duren serving as the model for “Wild Thing” Vaughn in “Major League”

    Even though Duren was 10 years older than Dalkowksi, both played their last professional game in 1965.

  9. […] The final game was wilder than Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham. It was wilder than the real Nuke, Steve Dalkowski, about whom Joe Posnanski wrote a wonderful piece in […]

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