The man who is said to have had the fastest fastball of all time is a player you’ve probably never head of. He’s not Bob Feller, Joel Zumaya, Aroldis Chapman, or even Nolan Ryan. In fact, legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver said, “He threw a lot faster than Ryan.”
This man is Steve Dalkowski. Because he pitched in a time when there were no radar guns, his fastball was estimated at well over 100 miles-per-hour. In fact, some estimated it to even go as fast as 125 miles-per-hour. He is the inspiration for Sidd Finch, a prank pulled by Sports Illustrated about a pitcher who threw 168 miles-per-hour. (If you don’t know that story, look it up. It’s a good read.)
During batting practice before a spring training game, Ted Williams stepped in the box to face the flamethrowing Dalkowski. Williams took the only pitch he saw, looked down at the catcher only to see his mitt with the ball in it inches under his chin. Williams promptly dropped his bat and stepped out of the cage. Regarded as having the best eye in Major League Baseball history, Williams was quoted as saying, “I never saw the ball. I’d be damned if I ever face him again.” Despite his incredible velocity, Dalkowski never appeared in a major league game. He pitched only 24 innings of Triple-A ball over his nine-year Minor League career.
I know what you’ve thinking: “How can a guy with that kind of fastball never make it to the big leagues?” His career 5.38 ERA and 2.005 WHIP give some indication of why he never got the call. In 970 career innings, Dalkowski gave up only 671 hits, which makes his ghastly WHIP even more baffling. Dalkowski struck out 1324 hitters in his career, but also walked an incredible 1274. Dalkowski’s lack of control was the biggest factor in keeping him in the minors. To put this in perspective, he gave up more runs (685) in his career than he did hits (671).
The Army had a device that measured the velocity of projectiles, and it’s the closest thing we have to getting Dalkowski on the gun. Throwing at a small, box-like target, Dalkowski was clocked at 93.5 miles-per-hour, which isn’t as impressive as we think. Due to the inaccuracy of the machine, the estimated velocity from that throw was 102 miles-per-hour. Because of poor planning, Dalkowski threw off of a flat surface, the day after an outing in which he threw 150 pitches. Now for any of us, throwing 102 mph would be a dream come true, but Dalkowski casually did it after throwing a game the day before. That’s just flat-out nuts. This method was also used on Bob Feller, when he was clocked at 98.6 miles-per-hour, throwing from a mound and on full rest.
The legend of Dalkowski continues with some crazy facts that you wouldn’t believe. A pitch of his is said to have torn off part of a hitters ear. On a bet, he once threw a baseball through a wooden fence. He threw a ball from second base over the roof of a clubhouse well beyond the center field wall. After missing the sign for a curveball, he fired a fastball that hit the home plate umpire, shattering his mask and knocking him a few feet back and hospitalizing him with a concussion. The list goes on.
If Dalkowski had managed to control his pitches, it would be incredible to see what he would have done at the major league level. But that’s just the mystery of baseball. We’ll always been left looking back at what might have been.