The Fastest Pitcher You’ve Never Heard Of

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.)

Steve Dalkowski

Steve Dalkowski

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.

3 Responses

  1. Paul Risso

    I remember speaking to a scout near Stockton, California in the late 1970’s and discussed a variety of pitchers from the past, mostly fireballers, as they are who I enjoy
    watching. As with most scouts, he replied with an analytical demeanor, rattling
    off each one’s abilities, strengths, weaknesses, etc. He was watching a
    semi-pro game all the while, clipboard in hand making notes.

    Until that is when I mentioned Dalkowski. When I did so, he dropped his head,
    shook it side to side, paused and merely uttered “a freak of nature”.

    I engaged him further and he recounted a time in Stockton when Dalkowski was
    standing near the clubhouse in center field (Billy Hebert Field) half-drunk and
    pissed off because he had lost the night before. Batting practice was taking
    place and a ball rolled out to where he was standing. While continuing to cuss
    to other teammates about his bad luck he “whipped” the ball in towards the pitcher’s
    mound, but as usual he didn’t hit the mark. It hit half-way up the back stop, 400’+ from where he was standing. Dalkowski wasn’t even paying attention to what he was doing.

    Whenever I used to run into scouts I’d eventually get to the point where I’d
    mention Dalkowski and after awhile their reaction to his name was predictable –
    to a man. Essentially the same as the first one I shared. This to me indicates
    he had something special – regardless of any embellishments that others may
    have added throughout the years.

    I know a guy who played with him in the minors who could also “bring it’, and he made it clear that Dalkowski’s fastball made everyone else’s look like molasses. Fellow fireballer Steve Barber, a teammate of Dalkowski’s in the minors, said basically the same thing. This coming from a guy who with 5 other flamethrowers – including Sandy Koufax – were timed and Barber was found to be the fastest!

    I also spoke to former Orioles All-Star catcher Gus Triandos about Dalkowski. Gus was featured in a magazine article about Dalkowski and recalled how he stepped into the batting cage one day and Dalkowski’s first, flame-trailing pitch sailed over the top of the cage. Needless to say, Gus ended things at that point.

    • Spikehead

      This is over a year since you posted, but I just wanted to say thank you for posting that! Those details and stories were interesting to read, I’m glad you remember that stuff from the 70s about people who saw Dalkowski firsthand.

    • Julian Ichen (@IchenJulian)

      I’d also just like to say thanks for sharing this. It really is a shame no video/film exists of this man throwing! It’s hard to tell what has been embellished and what hasn’t, but it seems clear that he did have something special.


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