The Orioles have an issue. An issue that has persisted since they cobbled together the Cinderella story that was the 2012 season. Starting pitching is a phrase that substitutes as an oxymoron at times when addressing the Orioles throwers. It is strange that the same organization that has produced the likes of Jim Palmer, Mike Mussina, and (for the older crowd) Milt Pappas would have better luck pulling fans from the stands to pitch in 2018. However, there was a point in time where they produced the biggest “What-if” in baseball history.
Steve Louis Dalkowski, “Dalko” or “White Lighning” to some, was a five-foot 10-inch, left-handed pitcher from New Britain, Connecticut who supposedly threw a fastball at 125 miles per hour. Now, 125 MPH is highly unlikely and unable to prove with the lack of radar guns at the time. That didn’t stop the Orioles from billing him as the “fastest pitcher alive”. That also didn’t stop him from being a wild arm. Between 1957 and 1961, he averaged almost 20 walks per nine innings.
“When I signed Steve in 1957,” said former scout Frank McGowan, “he was a shy, introverted kid with absolutely no confidence. Even in high school he walked everybody….Everyone knew it was a gamble, but we all thought it was worth it.”
The Orioles went as far as to send him up to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds to test his speed on state-of-the-art military equipment. Similar equipment that was tested on another famous hard thrower, “The Heater from Van Meter” Bob Feller. But that was all for show. Dalkwoski bumbled around the minors, never really finding his stride in 1962, when the Orioles gave up on him and Earl Weaver got a hold of him.
“I felt that he had been given every tip on control that was ever known,” said Weaver. “I knew there wasn’t anything I could tell him that he hadn’t heard 100 times before. So all I did was try to keep quiet.”
Under that season with Weaver, he walked fewer batters than innings pitched and struck out 192 batters. He went 7-10 and posted a respectable 3.04 ERA. He also led the league in shutouts with six.
The Orioles saw the Dalkowski they thought they thought they had and gave him a Spring Training invite in 1963. Before he could complete his Cinderella story, it turned into a nightmare. He fielded a bunt during an exhibition game, turned, threw, and his elbow popped. And he was never the same.
It’s well worth noting that Dalkwoski had his issues with alcohol. He drank heavily during his playing days and it only progressed once he lost what made him “White Lightning”. He was out of baseball, but that’s only the middle of the Dalkowski story.
In May of 1966, Sporting News published an article, “Living Legend Released, Dalkowski Eyes New Life”. Dalkowski gained somewhat of cult following in the media. Throughout the years, everyone seemingly has their own new Dalkowski story and those stories became the thing of legends.
“Inevitably, the stories outgrew the man, until it was no longer possible to distinguish fact from fiction.” Sports Illustrated Pat Jordan wrote in a 1970 story on Dalkowski.
Those legends would inspire a movie. “Bull Durham”, one of the most accurate Hollywood representations of baseball life, has a Dalko-influence. Ron Shelton, the director of “Bull Durham” and former Orioles farmhand, remembers hearing about Dalkowski in the minors. Of all the legendary players like Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson that came through the system, the only person people wanted to talk about was Dalkowski. Shelton says the relationship between Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner in the movies is based off of the relationship of Dalkowski and his former manager Joe Altobelli.
“The relationship – The veteran (Altobelli) who loved a game more than the game loved him, and the God-gifted rookie (Dalkowski) who was otherwise a lost soul – was the inspiration.” Said Shelton.
The most best Dalkowski story, I think, comes from Spring Training in 1956. Dalkowski was there, being a random body to fill out the squads, not a real Spring Training invite. The O’s were facing the Red Sox and Ted Williams, arguably the best hitter to ever grace the game of baseball, was there. Dalkowski was getting his reps in and Williams, apparently was looking for some practice. So he stepped into the box, cocked his bat and waiting for the pitch. Dalkowski delivered the ball before anyone could register it was in the Catcher’s mitt. Williams stepped out and the media surrounded him. What happened?
He couldn’t see the ball.
Numerous other research conducted as a Presenter at the 2017 Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture
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