April 19, 2008

HUMMIN' THE SEED:

The Wildest Fastball Ever: Steve Dalkowski's pitches didn't rip through the air, they appeared under mystified Ted Williams' chin as if by magic (Pat Jordan, 10/12/70, Sports Illustrated)

On May 7, 1966, shortly after his release from baseball, The Sporting News carried a blurred, seven-year-old photograph of one Stephen Louis Dalkowski, along with a brief story that was headlined: LIVING LEGEND RELEASED. It began, "Steve Dalkowski, a baseball legend in his own time, apparently has thrown his last professional pitch." The description was not hyperbolic. Despite the fact that he never pitched an inning in the major leagues, few people in organized baseball at that time had not heard of Steve Dalkowski.

The legend began 10 years before, on a hot spring day in Miami, Fla., when Dalkowski was pitching batting practice for the Baltimore Orioles before an exhibition game with the Red Sox. According to several guys who were there, Ted Williams was watching curiously from behind the batting cage. After a few minutes Williams picked up a bat and stepped into the cage. Reporters and players moved quickly closer to see this classic confrontation. Williams took three level, disciplined practice swings, cocked his bat, and motioned with his head for Dalkowski to deliver the ball. Dalkowski went into his spare pump, his right leg rising a few inches off the ground, his left arm pulling back and then flicking out from the side of his body like an attacking cobra. The ball did not rip through the air like most fastballs, but seemed to appear suddenly and silently in the catcher's glove.

The catcher held the ball for a few seconds a few inches under Williams' chin. Williams looked back at it, then at Dalkowski, squinting at him from the mound, and then he dropped his bat and stepped out of the cage. The writers immediately asked Williams how fast Steve Dalkowski really was. Williams, whose eyes were said to be so sharp that he could count the stitches on a baseball as it rotated toward the plate, told them he had not seen the pitch, that Steve Dalkowski was the fastest pitcher he ever faced and that he would be damned if he would ever face him again if he could help it.

Ted Williams was not the only baseball authority awed by Dalkowski's speed. Paul Richards, Harry Brecheen, Earl Weaver and just about anyone who had ever seen him throw claimed he was faster than Johnson or Feller or any of the fabled oldtimers. The Orioles, who owned Dalkowski from 1957 to 1965, once sent him to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where they used Army equipment to test the speed of his fastball. The machine clocked it at 93.5 mph, about 5 mph slower than Bob Feller's, which was clocked on similar equipment. But Feller had thrown his fastball from a high mound, which added 5 to 8 mph to its speed, and Dalkowski had thrown his from level ground. Also, Dalkowski had pitched a game the day before, which it was estimated knocked off another 5 to 10 mph. Finally, Dalkowski was literally exhausted by the time the machine clocked his pitch because he had thrown for 40 minutes beforehand, just trying to get a fastball within range of the device. All things considered, it was assumed conservatively that Dalkowski, when right, could throw a baseball at well over 105 mph.


There's an old newsreel clip--that I can't find on-line--of Bob Feller throwing vs a speeding motorcycle. What's amazing isn't just the speed of his pitch--release of which he had to time with the arrival of the bike--but that he basically throws it dead center of the target.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2008 1:28 PM
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