The legendary left-handed pitcher and 2009 Shrine of the Eternals inductee, Steve Dalkowski, died on April 19, 2020 at age 80, a victim of COVID-19. Author and historian Tim Wendel has shared this memory of the man they called Dalko:
Ironically, Bull Durham was on TV when I heard that Steve Dalkowski had died.
You run across some great characters in this writing game, and perhaps most of all in baseball, and Steve was one of my favorites.
While researching my book High Heat, a quixotic search for the fastest pitcher of all time, I journeyed to New Britain, Connecticut, Dalko’s hometown. The best what-if story in baseball was by then living in a convalescent home, overlooking the high school diamond where he once starred.
We got to talking about Nuke LaLoosh in the movie, which was loosely based on Dalkowski’s time in the minors. In his day, Steve was considered the fastest pitcher ever to hurl a ball. His offerings so much a blur that Ted Williams wouldn’t get in the batter’s box against him.
Dalko had seen the movie and I started to run some of those scenes and others from Hollywood past him. Did he ever hit the mascot with a pitch, serve one over the backstop, put one through the BP mesh a la The Natural, etc.?
After each question, Steve reluctantly nodded his head. Yep, he’d done that. And that one, too. Incredibly, much of the folklore was true.
But then the best pitcher who might have been smiled and said, “I know something that happened in the movies that didn’t happen to me.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I never got to kiss that lovely lady,” he said, of course meaning Susan Sarandon.
That was vintage Steve Dalkowski. RIP, my friend.
Tim Wendel’s research materials for High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time are in the collection of the Institute for Baseball Studies. Visit Tim Wendel’s Web site.