Who is the fastest pitcher ever? Some say Nolan Ryan. His fastball topped 103 mph more than once. Others might say Sandy Koufax. But I’ll bet you a million dollars that most people won’t say Steve Dalkowski, a.k.a. “White Lightning.” That’s because he never played one day in the Major Leagues. For Red Sox fans, Dalkowski is remembered as the prospect that scared Ted Williams with his pitching.
Because of his colorful personality, Steve Dalkowski was the inspiration for two major movie characters. Tim Robbins’ portrayal of “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham was the first. Brendan Fraser’s Steve Nebraska in The Scout was the second. Like Steve Nebraska, Dalkowski had a mean fastball that people feared. And like “Nuke,” he had control problems. In the 995 innings he pitched during his nine years in the minors, he struck out 1,396 but walked 1,354. Nearly 1400 strikeouts in nearly 1000 innings. That’s not the most amazing thing about Dalkowski though.
The problem with knowing whether Dalkowski actually threw 125 mph is that speed guns weren’t used in baseball until after he left the game. It will always be a mystery lost to time. However, stories about his playing days and what he could do with a baseball remain. Legend has it that one of his pitches tore off part of a batter’s ear. Another story details how a wild pitch broke Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey’s mask, knocking him back 18 feet. On two occasions, he allegedly won bets based on the speed of his pitches. He won a $5 bet proving that he could throw a baseball through a wall (He threw a ball through a wooden outfield fence from 15 feet away). On another bet, Dalkowski threw a ball over a fence from 440 feet away.
Unfortunately, Dalkowski never made it to the majors. On March 23, 1963, Dalkowski was used a relief pitcher against the New York Yankees during a spring training game. A slider made something pop in Dalkowski’s arm that caused a severe muscle strain. His arm never recovered. His off-field violent behavior only made life harder for him. When I asked former Red Sox Major Leaguer Jim Gosger, who faced Dalkowski in AAA Rochester, if the stories about him were true, Gosger said, “He was a nice guy, but his nickname was CRAZY STEVE! You never knew if his pitch was going to be a strike or if it was going to go over your head!”
When Dalkowski Scared Ted Williams
Dalkowski was soon released and went to work as a migrant worker. Alcoholism and divorce soon took over his life. Nowadays, Dalkowski lives in an assisted living facility in New Britain, CT and unfortunately suffers from dementia. Though most people don’t know who he is, people like Ted Williams never forgot him.
Dalkowski threw with wild, but demon speed. He had almost as many walks as he did strikeouts in his career. It didn’t deter Ted Williams from satisfying his curiosity about how fast he could throw though. Once during spring training in Miami, Williams stepped in the batter’s box for an at-bat against Dalkowski. One second, Williams was watching Dalkowski wind up. The next thing Williams heard was the ball hit the catcher’s mitt behind him. Startled, Williams dropped his bat and stepped out of the box saying “Fastest ever. I never want to face him again.” The speed of Dalkowski’s pitched scared Ted Williams!