Saturday, July 17, 2021

A white whale speared, and a milestone reached

 Yesterday I went to Nick's, a card shop I've been going to for just about forever. It had been a long time since I'd gone, so I went to check things out and hopefully get some good cards. 

I only had about 15 minutes, because my Dad had a meeting. I quickly shuffled through cards, planning to spend around $10. I made a stack of some decent  cards, but there wasn't anything particularly exciting. I was looking through 1963 Topps cards, and not really finding anything, when I saw it. My dream card. 

I mean, I have a lot of different dream cards, but this was one of the big ones. A card of one of my favorites of all-time, who only has one card from his playing career. 

After staring at it for a moment, (remember, time was short), I ran out to my dad because I didn't have enough cash. He was outside the store with our dog, so I took my turn with the dog as my dad paid for the card. Finally it was mine. Okay, fine, I'll show the card now:


I've wanted a Dalkowski rookie card for as long as I've known about it, but as it's a semi-high number it's always been out of my price range. In decent condition, it starts at $40. And as I used to only look on COMC, and there it used to start close to $100, it seemed to be unattainable for now. A dream card.

I got it for $25, which is the most I've ever spent on a single card, but reasonable. Actually, it was $30, but the guy knocked $5 off when he heard that I was a huge Dalkowski fan, and had been wanting his card for years. Thanks! It's in very nice condition, too. As you can see, it's off-center, but I don't really mind that.

I think if I got this card in 1963, I would've thought that Steve Dalkowksi was made up, an April-Fool's joke. I mean, 1099 K's and 1136 walks in 697 innings? What the?

What you may be wondering, though, is who is Steve Dalkowski, and why did you want his card so much? If you've never heard of Dalkowksi, I can't really blame you, as he never pitched in the majors. But he may have been the fastest pitcher of all time. 

Dalkowski's control problems kept him from success, though. One time he hit a radio announcer broadcasting the game -- up in the radio booth. Another time a Dalko-thrown ball went above the catcher and hit the umpire in the face, sending him back 18 feet and breaking his mask in three places. He was in the hospital for three days. In 1960 Dalkowksi hit a guy in the back, which wouldn't be noteworthy except that he was in line for a hot dog. He survived, and Dalkowksi signed the ball for him.

Dalkowksi started out in pro baseball with Kingsport in the Appalachian League in 1957, and quickly showed that he was something different. That year he allowed just 22 hits in 62 innings and struck out 121, but had a 1-8 record and 8.13 ERA because of 129 walks too. The next year was more of the same, but even more so. Splitting his time between Knoxville, Wilson, and Aberdeen, he walked 245 batters and struck out 232 in 118 innings, with an ERA of 7.78. 1959 brought more cartoonish stats, with 190 walks and 142 strikeouts in 84 innings. In 1960, with Stockton in the California League, he had a career-best 5.14 ERA, and a beautifully symmetrical 262 strikeouts and 262 walks. But in 1961 he appeared to hit low, with a 8.39 ERA and 3-12 record. 

1962, though, was the turning point in his career. That year he was pitching for Elmira, which just happened to be managed by a young Earl Weaver. Weaver had a custom of giving I.Q tests to his players, and Dalkowski's turned out to be 60. After seeing this, he realized that the reason Dalkowksi was so wild was that pitching coaches were trying to get him to change speeds, throw a curveball, pickoff runners, and he just couldn't do all that. Weaver told him to just throw, and it worked. After that happened, according to Gary Cieradkowski, he struck out 104 batters against 11 walks in over 50 innings, allowing but one earned run. A star had been born.

In spring training with the Orioles in 1963, he pitched well, and was informed that he had made the major league team at the end of spring training. His future seemed assured, and his picture was taken for a Topps baseball card. But in the last exhibition game of spring, he blew out his shoulder fielding a bunt. He would never be the same again.

He had one last hurrah with Stockton in 1964, with a 7-4 record, 2.83 ERA, and 141 strikeouts in 108 innings. That was the last time he pitched well anywhere, though, and he was out of baseball by 1966, at 27. 

He virtually disappeared for the next 27 years, working as a fruit picker in California when he wasn't drunk. He was a friendly guy, and his teammates loved him, but he'd always been a drinker. Think Rube Waddell, except not as eccentric. 

In 1993, his sister put him into an assisted living home in New Britain, Connecticut, his home town, where he spent the next 26 years until his death on April 19, 2020. Rest in peace, Steve Dalkowski. He had a tragic career and life, and I hope the afterlife makes up for it for him. 

So how hard did he throw, anyway? Real data is scarce, but most people who saw him pitch give estimates of 110+ MPH. In spring training, Ted Williams stepped into the batting cage against him before a game.  After one pitch, he stepped out. Earl Weaver considered him the hardest thrower of all time, over Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, them all. It is said that the speed at which he threw caused his pitches to have a movement all their own. According to Gary Cieradowski, " Physics made the thing dip half-way to the plate, then accelerate and rise one to two feet as it blazed across it. Someone likened it to a fighter jet taking off." 

Bob Lemke's version of his 1963 Topps card.

That sounds exaggerated, but I've read similar things almost everywhere, and the thing is we just don't know what would happen if a ball was thrown that hard. 

But I'm sure you want real data before crowning him as the fastest pitcher in history. He was timed once, in 1958, at the Aberden Proving Grounds. He was timed at 93.5 MPH, which doesn't sound like a lot. However, back then the velocity of a pitch was timed at home plate, rather than 10 feet from the rubber like now. If you adjust for that, that brings it up to about 100 MPH. Not bad, but not historic. But wait, there's more. Dalkowski had pitched the day before, plus it was on flat ground, plus it took 40 minutes before he even got a reading. Taking that all into consideration, I think 110 MPH is fairly conservative.

Thank you, Gary Cieradowksi, who first introduced me to Dalkowksi in his book "The League of Outsider Baseball," which I also used as a source for this post. You might know him as the creator of The Infinite Baseball Card Set. His blog is at .


Today I hit a milestone, with 100 posts! It's taken me way too long to get here, more than two and a half years, but better late than never I guess. I'm really happy to have such great readers. As Yogi Berra said, "Thank you for making this night necessary." Comments are kind of the reward for blogging, and I wouldn't be able to do this in isolation. 

I also reached 20,000 pageviews, which is cool too. A special thanks must be given to my readers in Sweden, who have provided over a thousand pageviews in the last month. (eyeroll) Somehow I don't believe I'm a blogging celebrity in Sweden, but whatever. 

So anyway, there you have it. My white whale speared. My next white whale will probably be the T206 Jack Dunn, because I'm a big minor-league Baltimore Orioles fan, and Dunn was the mastermind behind their 1920s dynasty.


  1. So glad you found this dream card and so glad to read about his story. The physics of the pitch will ever impress me.

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  3. This is so well written and researched! Congratulations on hitting 100 posts!

  4. I too have long wanted the Dalkowski RC, but I'm glad you finally got one. Great post!

  5. That was quite a post, seems fitting for you 100th though! Congratulations on the milestone, hopefully you've still got at least a few more hundred in you :)

  6. Congratulations on reaching 100 posts and 20,000 views! I was familiar with Dalkowski, but you did a great job refreshing my memory and adding new information. It was kind of sad to hear that he spent the last 26 years of his life in assisted living, but hopefully he was happy and comfortable.

    P.S. Congratulations on catching one of your white whales!

  7. I have always been amazed at your depth of baseball knowledge and this post might be one of the most interesting stories I’ve heard you tell. So excited you speared that white whale!

  8. Congratulations all around, John! The world is a much more interesting place thanks to aficionados like you. : )

  9. I'm glad that you finally got the card, and that you've it a major blogging milestone. It seems appropriate that post number 100 features a dream card.

  10. What do you think about Hack Wilson for the Hall of Fame?

  11. Great post and very informative! Congrats on the card!