The life and career of the “Fastest Pitcher Ever” does a great job separating the facts from the legend of Steve Dalkowski
Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher by Bill Dembski, Alex Thomas and Brian Vikander
Growing up in Elmira, NY, there was always a hint of the legend of Steve Dalkowski, floating in the air of Historic Dunn Field. Dalkowski never made the major leagues, but he may have been the most famous and well-known minor leaguer in America in the late 1950’s and early Sixties.
Oft-repeated stories told of his legendary fastball, the incredible tally of bases on balls and strikeouts and the times he damaged fences – or humans. His final Minor League stat line reads 956 innings pitched, with 1,324 strikeout and 1,236 walks.
At some point, Steve Dalkowski disappeared – just vanished amid a life of migrant work, and constant intoxication. I remember reading articles where various former teammates were trying to find him. In 2015, Major League Baseball produced a documentary, “Fastball” – and it featured Dalko – alive, but in poor health. In April of 2020, Steve Dalkowski passed away at 80.
Authors Dembski, Thomas and Vikander go to great lengths to detail as much of his life as possible, through interviews with living teammates and players, like Pat Gillick and “Bull Durham” Director Ron Shelton – and research into news accounts from his playing days. The book manages to put some of the greater legends of Dalko to test – Did he really rip an ear off of a batter with an errant fastball? Was his fastball really 110 mph?
Dalko is a compelling read, especially for baseball fans in Elmira and Rochester, where Dalkowski played. Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr. were two big factors in Dalkowski’s career – and Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball” Joe Altobelli was a roommate with Dalko at one point. There’s a lot to learn – for instance, who knew Dalko was a ladies man?
The greatest question of all with Dalkowski cannot be answered, but one does have to wonder if there was anything that could have been done to tame “White Lightning” and make him a MLB success story. Dalko does a good job of indicating that it could have been done – and had Steve Dalkowski emerged in the baseball world of today, there would have been the help he needed (whether with mechanics, psychology or his alcohol dependancy) available.
Official book description:
Gripping and tragic, Dalko is the definitive story of Steve “White Lightning” Dalkowski, baseball’s fastest pitcher ever. Dalko explores one man’s unmatched talent on the mound and the forces that kept ultimate greatness always just beyond his reach.
For the first time, Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher unites all of the eyewitness accounts from the coaches, analysts, teammates, and professionals who witnessed the game’s fastest pitcher in action. In doing so, it puts readers on the fields and at the plate to hear the buzzing fastball of a pitcher fighting to achieve his major league ambitions.
Just three days after his high school graduation in 1957, Steve Dalkowski signed into the Baltimore Orioles system. Poised for greatness, he might have risen to be one of the stars in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead, he spent his entire career toiling away in the minor leagues. An inspiration for the character Nuke LaLoosh in the classic baseball film Bull Durham, Dalko’s life and story were as fast and wild as the pitches he threw.
The late Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who saw baseball greats Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax pitch, said “Dalko threw harder than all of ‘em.” Cal Ripken Sr., Dalkowski’s catcher for several years, said the same. Bull Durham screenwriter Ron Shelton, who played with Dalkowski in the minor leagues, said “They called him “Dalko” and guys liked to hang with him and women wanted to take care of him and if he walked in a room in those days he was probably drunk.” This force on the field that could break chicken wire backstops and wooden fences with his heat but racked up almost as many walks as strikeouts in his career, spent years of drinking all night and showing up on the field the next day, just in time to show his wild heat again.
What the Washington Post called “baseball’s greatest what-If story” is one of a superhuman, once-in-a-generation gift, a near-mythical talent that refused to be tamed. Steve Dalkowski will forever be remembered for his remarkable arm. Said Shelton, “In his sport, he had the equivalent of Michaelangelo’s gift but could never finish a painting.” Dalko is the story of the fastest pitching that baseball has ever seen, an explosive but uncontrolled arm.