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R.I.P. Steve Dalkowski

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Just learned that the legendary Dalko passed away on the 19th of last month. Many of you have probably no idea who he was, but smart money has it that he threw the highest velocity fastball of any pitcher since Smokey Joe Wood. Unfortunately, they didn't have any way of accurately measuring the velocity of a fastball during Dalko's career, but those who saw him pitch swear that he routinely could throw over 105 m.p.h.  Control of both his pitching and his behavior were a constant problem for Dalkowski, who despite his freakish ability was never able to crack the majors due to his alcoholism and generally belligerent attitude. He remains one of the great "What if?" stories of baseball.

Some years ago I was at the World Fantasy Convention in CT, and a friend and I stepped out to attend a meeting of a 12-Step group to which we belong (there's lots and lots of drinking and parties at these things, so I try to stay grounded by catching a meeting or two, besides which, it's always cool to see how similarly/differently they do things in different regions of the country. Anyway turned out that this was a speaker's meeting (wherein one or two people tell their story for the entire hour) and the gentleman speaking was a former professional baseball player, (obviously, I can't violate his anonymity by giving out his name). During his talk he mentioned having just been to see an old friend from his playing days at a local nursing home. The man he was visiting had drank himself into a state that is called "wet brain", basically where one has destroyed so many brain cells that in effect they've developed symptoms similar to profound mental retardation. He went on to say that the man he visited didn't recognize him, pretty much had no recollection of the last thirty years, but was cheered by someone coming to visit even if he had no idea who they were. He went on to say that despite never making it to the Show, this man was generally credited with having the highest velocity fastball in the history of the game with some fellow players estimating that at his hardest he was hitting close to 110 m.p.h. (To give you some perspective,  Randy Johnson, who stands 6 '10 has been clocked at 105 m.p.h., this gentleman stood about 5 '10 and wasn't particularly pumped up.) 

After the meeting I approached the speaker and said, "There's only one player in the history of the game since Smokey Joe Wood that could throw that hard, you've gotta be talking about Steve Dalkowski!" He smiled and said, "You know your baseball, yeah, I was visiting Dalko. He has no idea who I am and most days doesn't know who he is, so it's one of those but for the grace of God things, it could just as easily have been me if I hadn't quit when I did."  We chatted a bit more about baseball, sobriety and some Dalko stories. Certainly one of the most unique talents to ever play the game, had he been able to stay sober it's frightening to imagine what he may have been able to accomplish, an average-sized guy who threw harder than Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson. Sadly, the drinking and fighting kept him in the minors for the duration of his career. One truism of baseball during the 1950s and 1960s was that you could be a foul-tempered asshat as long as you were a consistent performer, but the combination of erratic behavior and erratic play wasn't going to get you very far. Dalkowski couldn't or wouldn't control himself long enough to get a trip to the majors. After a so-so career plagued by off-field antics and fights with team-mates Dalko wound up bouncing around as a migrant worker. In 2009 he was voted in to the Shrine of the Eternals, where last year the fastest pitcher I've ever seen (J.R. Richard) joined him.

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John - stop slamming the submit button. Your first post will go through, just give it time

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