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The Guardian

Steve Dalkowski: the life and mystery of baseball’s flame-throwing what-if

Many believe the lefthander was the fastest pitcher to ever take the mound. But his career – and life – went off the rails before he could make an impactSteve Dalkowski, a career minor-leaguer who very well could have been the fastest (and wildest) pitcher in baseball history, died in April at the age of 80 from complications from Covid-19. And yet, partly because of one missing detail, his legend lives on, perhaps for ever. A book and a documentary – both of which were in the works well before Dalkowski’s death – have been released since Dalkowski, who had alcohol-related dementia, died in his home town, New Britain, Connecticut, where he became a phenomenon more than 60 years ago.Both the book, Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher, and the documentary, Far From Home: The Steve Dalkowski Story, carefully attempt to clarify, and even dispel, many of the myths that have surfaced about Dalkowski over the years. Nowadays, everything in sports is quantified down to each pitch, or play, and plenty of video exists. It was not always that way. Tom Chiappetta, the Connecticut native who took 30 years to assemble the documentary, has been unable to uncover film of Dalkowski pitching in a game. “This is the last time we’re going to have an American sports legend to talk about,” Brian Vikander, the pitching coach who wrote the book with Bill Dembski and Alex Thomas, tells the Guardian. “But it also talks to the foibles that all of us as individuals have.” Indeed, so much about Dalkowski is legend. Hundreds of newspaper obituaries were written about Dalkowski, but Vikander says most contained errors. Chiappetta, who “barely scratched the surface” with his documentary, says that Dalkowski’s “legend continues. One reason why is that people can’t get enough about his life.” This much we know: Dalkowski, a lefthander, was 5ft 10in and 170lb, not a particularly intimidating mound presence. But he was astonishingly fast and wild, with 1,324 strikeouts – and 1,236 bases on balls – over 956 innings pitched from 1957 to 1965. He had 262 strikeouts and 262 walks over 170 innings for the Class C Stockton Ports in 1960. His four-seam fastball, called his “radio pitch” because batters could hear it but not see it, was practically unhittable … when it streaked over home plate. But just as many pitches sailed over batters’ heads, even into the stands. It was said he once hit a fan waiting in line for a hot dog. He was known for throwing pure heat, but there was no way back then to quantify just how fast he threw. People swear he threw 110 miles an hour, maybe even faster. (New York Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman holds the documented record: 105.8 mph.) “That’s part of the mystique, for sure,” Chiappetta said. “They just didn’t have the technology back then to prove it.” Although…

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