Cover Image: Dalko


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Steve Dalkowski is a household name in baseball loving households, despite never pitching a regular season game. It was fascinating getting to learn more about this famous player and how he came to be.

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I should have known the DALKO was not going to be a happy journey. I knew some parts of Steve Dalkowski's road to fame or infamy. He's not a hero, perhaps more a victim of our sport success machine. Steve had a gift, he could throw a baseball faster than anybody else, then in the late 50s/early 60s. What he didn't have is what DALKO is all about. I found myself shaking my head at his shortcomings he should've conquered perhaps. I was angry often, well, hindsight is never forgiving. Hope, infrequent, but America, Apple pie, and Baseball! Well written, starts somewhat slowly until you join in the author's rhythm.
I recommend DALKO, an interesting story of warning, weariness, hope, fatalistic missteps, and so much more.

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Few figures in baseball's storied history are surrounded by as much myth and intrigue as fireballing pitcher Steve Dalkowski. In Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball's Fastest Pitcher, authors Bill Dembski, Alex Thomas, and Brian Vikander offer a comprehensive bio worthy of the mythic Dalkwoski.

How fast did Dalkwoski throw? Did one of his pitches rip the ear off of a batter? What was it like to hit against him or to serve as his catcher? Why didn't he ever reach the major leagues? One does not have to read too far into this book to know that the authors have done their research. This is especially important for a figure as mythic as Steve Dalkowski, widely regarded as the fastest pitcher who has ever lived. Interviews were conducted with important figures from every era of Dalkowski's life, and newspaper archives were mined deeply and effectively for contemporary accounts of much of the subject's life and times.

The book is most effective at exploring the Connecticut world that Dalkowski emerged from before his professional baseball career began, and following the trail of disappointments and difficulties that defined Dalkowski's post-playing days. In between we see baseball in the '50s and '60s in general, and in the Baltimore Orioles organization in particular, with significant appearances by Cal Ripken Sr., Earl Weaver, and Pat Gillick.

In an ironic twist, many of the less memorable passages in a book about a baseball legend revolve around baseball action itself. Here the archival research becomes a bit of a liability, as the almost day by day breakdowns of Dalkowski's game performances make the narrative a bit plodding at points. The granular detail is there for those that want it, but overall the book's rhythm may have been improved with a slight reduction in it.

All in all, Dalko is a worthy full-scale biography for a figure that has lived large in baseball's imagination for half a century.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Great insight into the life and career of the Faster Arm That Ever Lived. It is a shame that his talent could not be refined for the Major Leagues. The authors delved deep into their resources to give a compelling story of a What Could Have Been.

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Baseball is a sport of legends. The game’s devotion to and celebration of its long history means that titanic figures from the past remain important to the ongoing conversation. Men who haven’t played in a century or more are still vital parts of baseball’s narrative fabric.

And while the majority of those legends are recognized as titans of the game – accomplished hitters and pitchers, deft with the glove or on the basepaths – not all of baseball’s folk heroes show up in the major league record books. Indeed, there are players who, while never appearing in a big league box score, nevertheless became nigh-mythic figures.

Players like Steve Dalkowski.

The new book “Dalko” – co-authored by William A. Dembski, Alex Thomas and Brian Vikander – tells the story of Dalkowski, a career minor leaguer whose lightning bolt of an arm could never be properly be tamed. A figure whose career was wreathed in myth and whose subsequent life was one of struggle and strife, many claimed to have never seen his like before or since.

According to eyewitness accounts, there’s an argument to be made that no pitcher ever threw a faster fastball than Dalkowski. Not Johnson. Not Feller. Not Ryan. Nobody. But no physical proof exists – his pitches were never effectively measured and no video evidence exists. And thanks to an unsparing wildness – a wildness that no coach could ever counteract – Dalko never played in a major league game, instead fading into obscurity, the sort of player that was spoken about in hushed tones by those who remembered his dominating brilliance and his maddening lack of control.

Steve Dalkowski was born in 1939 in New Britain, Connecticut. His career as a schoolboy athlete indicated future greatness – he set the Connecticut high school strikeout record with 24 in a single game, throwing pitches that were faster than anyone there had ever seen. Faster than any seen by the myriad scouts who began turning up to Dalkowski’s starts to check out the phenom they’d been hearing about.

But even then, he struggled mightily with his control, walking almost as many as he struck out.

He graduated in 1957 and was signed by the Baltimore Orioles; from there, he was immediately sent to join the organization’s Class D minor league affiliate in Kingsport, Tennessee. From there, the legend quickly began to grow over the course of his nine-year career. Player after player and coach after coach would insist that they had never seen anyone throw the ball as fast as Dalkowski – his fastball was so fast that it earned him the nickname “White Lightning,” among others.

Still, his control was lacking. Utterly lacking. Take his 1960 season with Stockton in the California League, where in 170 innings pitched, he struck out 262 … and walked 262, putting up one of the most astonishing stat lines in professional sports history. So it was throughout his career. Despite all the strikeouts and very few hits, Dalko couldn’t overcome all the walks and wild pitches – his career minor league line was 46 wins against 80 losses with an ERA of 5.57, striking out 1,396 and walking 1,354 in just under a thousand innings.

(It’s worth noting that Dalkowski was one of screenwriter (and former minor league ballplayer) Ron Shelton’s inspirations for the character of Nuke LaLoosh in the beloved 1988 baseball film “Bull Durham.”)

Some have argued that it was coaching that let Dalkowski down. He was a physical marvel, but he had issues with the mental side of the game; many believe that it was nerves or lack of confidence that were his undoing, rather than anything physical. His issues with alcohol abuse may well have played a significant part as well, particularly toward the end of his career.

Regardless, despite his inability to harness his skills well enough to make it to the big leagues, he was a figure of much renown during his minor league career. He was a beloved figure at all of his stops, drawing big crowds to bear firsthand witness to that electric fastball.

It wasn’t enough – particularly after an arm injury during spring training in 1963 wound up sapping some of his speed. After bouncing around a bit, his professional baseball career came to an end in 1966.

What followed were decades of struggles. His battle with the bottle was ongoing, causing issues in his personal life while also undermining any efforts he made toward holding down a job. For years, he was a migrant worker, picking fruit and vegetables in the fields of California. The decades of drinking ultimately led to alcohol-induced dementia, a condition that would haunt him for the last half of his life. Despite nearly falling through the cracks, he was ultimately tracked down in the early 1990s and brought back to New Britain, where he would spend the rest of his days in an assisted living facility – and where he would occasionally have the chance to relive the high-speed glory days of his youth.

“Dalko” is a fascinating piece of sports biography, an effort to marry facts to the many legends surrounding the life of its subject. By engaging with people who knew Dalkowski – who saw him pitch – we get a clearer sense of just how dazzling his fastball was. For grizzled lifers like Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr. to wax rhapsodic about the sheer speed of it, for a top-tier fastballer like Sam Crawford (who penned this book’s foreword) to readily concede that Dalko’s was faster than his own – it speaks volumes, far more than one could glean from a stat sheet.

Through thorough and meticulous research and a wealth of interviews, this trio of authors has done everything possible to ground the myth of Steve Dalkowski, to find the provenance of the stories that sprung up around his once-in-a-lifetime arm. Some of those tales proved to be just that – tales – while many others had at least a modicum of truth to them. One thing that is for certain: Steve Dalkowski had one hell of a fastball, a pitch so fast that a lot of people – many of whom know a thing or two about the game – believe it to be the fastest to ever grace the game.

Baseball is a game of legends, but not all legends land in the Hall of Fame. Some were born too soon, others were born too late. Some were laid low by injury and others by sheer blind chance. Steve Dalkowski could have been one of the greatest to ever play the game – a baseball hero. Instead, he became something different, but no less worthy of celebration.

A baseball legend.

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DALKO, by William A. Dembski, Alex Thomas, Brian Vikander, is the biography of Steve Dalkowski, a career minor league pitcher who is remembered by anyone he met for his astounding fastball. What is almost as astounding is that he could never make it to the majors, partly from his own demons, partly unfortunate luck, and partly from no one understanding how to mold such a unique talent into a major league star.
The writers have done as excellent job of researching man who is hard to research. His interviews are sparse and minimal in content and there is little or no film of Dalkowski pitching ever. Even the managers and catchers he worked with have conflicting views on his pitching speed, his control, even his work ethic. The legendary stories of Dalkowski are captivatingly picked through and the writers attempt to divide truth from fiction. In the end, the writers clearly wish they had uncovered more concrete information, but that seems to be Steve Dalkowski in a nutshell; everyone has a story, but the true legend of the "fastest pitcher ever" will never be grounded in complete factuality.
A quick, fun baseball read for those of us that can never get enough great baseball history, DALKO is a book to embrace, enjoy, and charge the reader with finding their own true thoughts about the "fastest pitcher ever".

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After reading this book the question you will keep asking yourself is what could have been of Steven Louise Dalkowski or “Dalko”. This book is a gem of history like no other. If alcohol would not have been part of the equation, what amazing records would have been set by Dalko? You will be wanting more with each page you read. An amazing insight into how the human mind can make us or break us. A magical read, you will be a better person for reading it with a little more baseball knowledge!

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There’s something almost lyrical about a good baseball book. Even though the beats are familiar, they never become tiresome. This book is one such story.

In the beginning of the book, Dalkowski the person is almost like a wraith. The only thing spoken of is his insanely fast fastball. There’s talk of how his catchers ended up having to get surgery from having to take the pounding his pitches inflicted. But there isn’t very much said said about how Dalkowski the person felt about all this attention.

The part of the book that begins talking about Steve Dalkowski's professional career is a lot more fleshed out. This is likely due to the fact that there are actual stories that can be recovered from newspapers. At any rate, we see Steve take his amazing talent to the pros. Once there, he falls in with the wrong crowd and never makes it out. Dalkowski had a decent sized minor league career, but the back half of it was surely because of that fastball. It is at this point that Dalkowski is overcome by his alcoholism.

The later years in Dalkowski's life are sad and predictable. He gets married, but never really straightens up. He gets on the wagon for brief periods, but always goes back to the bottle. People from the past come and try to help him, but it never works. Steve eventually ended up in a nursing home in his hometown, unable to speak due to dementia. The last details in this book are timely. Steve Dalkowski died earlier this year because of complications from Covid-19. It was the final indignity in a life never fully lived.

I recommend this book to all.

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Steve Dalkowski had a natural gift for pitching and should have been a household name. This biography shows how Dalko suffered from the too many cooks spoil the broth (I think that's the quote!).

I'm not a baseball fan, though I love books and movies about baseball because I find these real life stories of struggle, talent, success, frustration, fascinating, and Dalko was an engaging, fast paced read.

Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the ARC.

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Steve Dalkowski has always been an enigmatic figure to me. How could someone with such a natural gift for pitching and who was reputed to reach speeds of around 100mph not only fail to make a lasting impression on the game but, remarkably, never even pitched one innings in the major leagues?

This well researched and sympathetically written biography goes a long way towards providing an answer. Dalkowski who ironically could pass a football accurately and crisply as a star quarterback could never maintain control of a baseball long enough to be trusted by the many coaches and managers who toiled in vain to change him.

Perhaps that was the trouble. Too much contradictory advice from too many well meaning people. This allied to his problems with alcohol and his short sightedness meant that he was remained a legend rather than the star that he should have been.

A tragedy and a waste of an exceptional talent.

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