September 27, 2022

Pitching Legend Failed to Harness “A Gift from God.”

August 20, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Steve Dalkowski biographyIf ever there was a baseball legend, it’s Steve Dalkowski, a life-long minor leaguer, whose combination of speed (the fastest pitcher ever, according to many) and wildness endlessly frustrated those who tried to harness his incredible potential.The authors of Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher write that Steve “had a once in a generation gift many believed was squandered. A talent drowned by overindulgence in alcohol, sabotaged by wild nights and bad company.”Dalkowski, a 5-11, 170-pound southpaw from New Britain, Conn., looked like an ordinary pitcher until he threw the ball. His blinding speed (thought to be as fast as 110 mph) belied his physical stature. No one seems to be able to figure out why he could throw so hard.A standout football and baseball player in high school, Dalkowski got his start with Class D Kingsport, an Orioles farm team, in 1957. That year he registered 115 strikeouts, 129 walks and 39 wild pitches in 63 innings.In 1958, Steve was invited to the Orioles spring training camp. In an exhibition game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium he pitched the ninth inning and fanned three batters on 12 pitches. It is one of the highlights of his career. Afterwards, Cincinnati Reds’ Don Hoak said Steve threw harder than Herb Score.In Aberdeen, S.D., in 1959, he recorded 68 strikeouts and 68 walks in his first 32 innings. He also threw a no-hitter, striking out 21 while walking just 8. Another career highlight.Baseball coaches and managers tried to figure out what caused Dalkowski’s erratic pitching performances. There were all kinds of theories. Most centered around his lack of self-confidence, inability to concentrate, nervousness, inability to relax on the mound and the fear of hitting a batter.Steve had a one-dimensional approach to pitching, “Rear back and throw as hard as you can.” Pitcher Sam McDowell said Steve never figured out the mental aspect of pitching.His problems were magnified in 1960, when he set league records with 262 strikeouts and 262 walks while pitching for Class C Stockton in the California League.Dalkowski had his best season ever for Elmira in 1962 under the guidance of manager Earl Weaver. The southpaw recorded six shutouts, a 3.04 ERA and, for the first time, he registered more strikeouts than walks.He appeared on the verge of making the 1963 Baltimore Orioles when he heard a pop in his left elbow. The injury kept him from making the roster and he was never the same afterwards.Although he pitched several more seasons, bouncing around from team to team, his chances of making the major leagues appeared non-existent. Always a drinker, he started to drink more and more. His personal life became a mess and managers couldn’t tolerate his actions and unreliability.Dalkowski, who said his speed was “a gift from God,” threw his last pitch at age 26. His post-baseball life was filled with alcohol, menial work and unfulfilled dreams.Credit the authors for trying to separate myths from facts in this biography. The book, much needed and highly anticipated, is well-researched with a wealth of interviews and game accounts from newspapers. The book, however, could have benefited from a chart that included Dalkowski’s year-by-year career stats.Steve Dalkowski died on April 19, 2020, at the age of 80. You can’t help but to feel sad for him when you finish this book.

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