Steve Dalkowski, a wild left-hander who was said to have been dubbed "the fastest pitcher in baseball history" by Ted Williams, died this week in New Britain, Connecticut. He was 80.
Dalkowski, who once struck out 24 batters in a minor league game -- and walked 18 -- never made it to the big leagues. Though radar guns were not in use in the late 1950s, when he was working his way through the minors, his fastball was estimated to travel at 100 mph, with Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. putting it at 115 mph, and saying Dalkowski threw harder than Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan.
Dalkowski, a football and baseball star in New Britain, was signed to a minor league contract by the Orioles in 1957. He had an unusual buggy-whip style, and his pitches were as wild as they were hard.
His first year in the minors, Dalkowski pitched 62 innings, struck out 121 and walked 129. He also had 39 wild pitches and won just one game. He finished his minor league career with a record of 46-80 and an ERA of 5.57. He struck out 1,396 and walked 1,354 in 995 innings.
Writer-director Ron Shelton, who spent five years in the Orioles farm system, heard about Dalkowski's exploits and based the character Nuke Laloosh in "Bull Durham" on the pitcher.
Shelton says that Ted Williams once faced Dalkowski and called him "fastest ever." After one pitch, Shelton says, Williams stepped out of the box and said "I never want to face him again."
Dalkowski struggled with alcoholism all his life. When his career ended in 1965, after he threw out his arm fielding a bunt, Dalkowski became a migrant worker in California.
"He had a record 14 feet long inside the Bakersfield, Calif., police station," Shelton wrote, "all barroom brawls, nothing serious, the cops said. He rode the trucks out at dawn to pick grapes with the migrant farm workers of Kern County -- and finally couldn't even hold that job."
Dalkowski returned to his home in Connecticut in the mid '90s and spent much of the rest of his life in a care facility, suffering from alcohol-induced dementia.