Gripping and tragic, Dalko is the definitive story of Steve “White Lightning” Dalkowski, baseball’s fastest pitcher ever. Dalko explores one man’s unmatched talent on the mound and the forces that kept ultimate greatness always just beyond his reach.
For the first time, Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher unites all of the eyewitness accounts from the coaches, analysts, teammates, and professionals who witnessed the game’s fastest pitcher in action. In doing so, it puts readers on the field and at the plate to hear the buzzing fastball of a pitcher fighting to achieve his major league ambitions.
Just three days after his high school graduation in 1957, Steve Dalkowski signed into the Baltimore Orioles system. Poised for greatness, he might have risen to be one of the stars in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead, he spent his entire career toiling away in the minor leagues. An inspiration for the character Nuke LaLoosh in the classic baseball film Bull Durham, Dalko’s life and story were as fast and wild as the pitches he threw.
The late Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who saw baseball greats Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax pitch, said “Dalko threw harder than all of ‘em.” Cal Ripken Sr., Dalkowski’s catcher for several years, said the same. Bull Durham screenwriter Ron Shelton, who played with Dalkowski in the minor leagues, said “They called him “Dalko” and guys liked to hang with him and women wanted to take care of him and if he walked in a room in those days he was probably drunk.” This force on the field that could break chicken wire backstops and wooden fences with his heat but racked up almost as many walks as strikeouts in his career, spent years of drinking all night and showing up on the field the next day, just in time to show his wild heat again.
What the Washington Post called “baseball’s greatest what-If story” is one of a superhuman, once-in-a-generation gift, a near-mythical talent that refused to be tamed. Steve Dalkowski will forever be remembered for his remarkable arm. Said Shelton, “In his sport, he had the equivalent of Michaelangelo’s gift but could never finish a painting.” Dalko is the story of the fastest pitching that baseball has ever seen, an explosive but uncontrolled arm.
The Three Authors
Bill Dembski is a successful entrepreneur, mathematician, researcher, and author of more than twenty books. A lifelong learner and avid baseball fan, Dembski became interested in studying the science behind how fast a fastball can be thrown when he learned of an average-sized pitcher from the 1950s who threw faster than anyone then or since. This fascination led him to develop Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher with co-authors Brian Vikander and Alex Thomas.
Dembski holds doctorates in mathematics and philosophy from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago respectively, as well as a Master of Divinity in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. His other books cover a range of subject areas including engineering, theology, and education. He lives near Denton, Texas with his wife and three children.
Alex Thomas has researched, edited, ghostwritten, and co-authored more than twenty books across a variety of subjects. His career began as an advertising copywriter and radio producer, including work for Young & Rubicam, the country’s largest advertising agency at the time. Since then, he has worked in diverse roles, including music producer, radio syndication executive, publisher, editor, and communications consultant.
Alex’s most recent collaborations include It Takes Ganas: Jaime Escalante’s Secret to Inspired Learning and The Faces of Miracles. Alex studied at Houston Baptist University and University College, Oxford, and he holds a degree from Vanderbilt University. Alex currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
Brian Vikander is a nationally recognized baseball pitching coach. For more than thirty years he has specialized in mental skills preparation, pitching mechanics, and the meaningful communication of that material. His client list includes a former Cy Young Award Winner, MLB All-Stars, as well as youth, college, and professional players. For two years Brian worked alongside the “father of modern pitching mechanics,” Tom House, Ph.D., at the University of Southern California studying and developing the protocols associated with improving the biomechanics of pitching.
As a photojournalist, Brian has completed assignments to more than one hundred countries for National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other prominent periodicals. His photography can be found in major museum exhibits, corporate, and personal collections worldwide. A graduate of the University of Oregon, he coaches and exhibits his photography in Tucson, Arizona.
“The story of Steve Dalkowski defies belief, but yet it is all true, every poignant, heartbreaking word of it. It is a dual tale of what happened and what should have happened. A haunting book.”
Donald Honig, author of Baseball When the Grass Was Real, and more than 35 other baseball books
Dalko is well written and edited and held my interest from start to finish. It’s a story well worth reading, full of life lessons for us all, and it’s one I highly recommend to all baseball fans.
This book is a gem of history like no other. 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!
Ashley Youngblood, goodreads [full review]
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. I recommend this book to all.
Reviewer, NetGalley [full review]
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.
Laura F, bookseller, NetGalley [full review]
“Few people may know the name Stephen Louis Dalkowski, but many know about him from watching Bull Durham. The film’s star pitcher, Ebby Calvin (Nuke) LaLoosh, was based on the real-life character of Steve Dalkowski. Whether you have seen the film or recognize Dalkowski’s name, after reading this book you will understand the man people say was ‘the hardest thrower I ever saw.’ This book is so well written that you will be turning the pages as fast as Dalkowski’s fastball.”
Pat Gillick, Dalkowski’s 1962 and 1963 teammate, Hall of Fame and 3-time World Series champion GM for the Toronto Blue Jays (1978–1994), Baltimore Orioles (1996–1998), Seattle Mariners (2000–2003) and Philadelphia Phillies (2006–2008).
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 inning in the major leagues? This well researched and sympathetically written biography goes a long way towards providing an answer.
Greville Waterman, goodreads [full review]
An excellent account of “Dalko’s” athletic career written with detail from many different viewpoints by people important in his life. It will have readers learning the real story behind the legend of Steve Dalkowski. Both maddening and sad, it’s a great read for not only readers who know about the talented but erratic pitcher, but also for those who have never heard of him and wish to read about an intriguing person.
The Audiobook Version of Dalko
Michael Beck is an actor and professional audiobook narrator. He is best known for narrating numerous novels by John Grisham and My Life by Bill Clinton. Booklist has described his range as “brilliant” and AudioFile exclaims, “Few authors can compete with John Grisham in the genre of courtroom dramas. Narrator Michael Beck performs with equal skill.”
Michael’s skills as a reader brings the audiobook for Dalko to life. It is available on Audible and Scribid. Beck did a fantastic job reading Dalko!.
Reminiscences of Steve Dalkowski
The story of Steve Dalkowski has touched many baseball fans. We share some of their memories of baseball’s fastest pitcher.
An email from good friend and former pitcher:
Brian, my friend
I finished your book today. WELL DONE. From the enjoyable storytelling to the baseball expertise and insights intertwined, there is no doubt that the authors really knew the game and you’ve written a treasure. I enjoyed the specific attention to everything “Dalko” rather than what most books do … address the topic then jump around to stats or facts that everyone knows just to fill pages. This was all new material and assumed a knowledgeable reader.
Personally, this was a challenging but necessary read as I carry, and continue to work through, heavy shame from my career. Not “guilt” shame but shame types 3 and 4 – disappointed expectation and exclusion. I think this might be an article topic for future because I know I’m not the only one. One bad string of medical decisions in a 6 month period and I could never perform or politic my “prospect status” back into existence. Finally identifying and naming it has been my first step toward recovery. To relive the same experience through another stirs empathy and familiar feelings, especially with the IL and EL cities mentioned in which Dalko and I shared locker rooms 50 years apart. I can still remember my warmup routine in New Britain the night I threw 5-6 inn quality start and faced many current Twins MLB roster players. *Funny story: home plate was actually about 12 inches to the right, the only field I’ve ever played on where the grounds crew had “eyeballed” the placement of the rubber to home plate. It probably helped my cutter to lefties! (Thanks for letting me share this personal part with you).
Though I’m not a daily drinker, I know Dalko and I would relate on the minor league lifestyle and passion pursuit of the game topics as left handed pitchers. I saw my journey throughout his, as a teammate. I probably would have asked him about velocity and power and then lectured him in the bullpen a time or two about throwing strikes, his nightlife, or sleep routines. I held court in the bullpen or locker room regularly. Ha!
I look forward to catching up again soon and wish you continued success with your interviews, sales, and promotion of the book! Congratulations again!
Former AAA pitcher
A brief email from Pete Sala:
Kudos on the book. Your team did a great job. It was an easy read for me having known many of the players. The last few chapters were somewhat sad for me because of my relationship with Steve.
An email from Robert “Skip” Valois:
[Watching Dalko pitch in Elmira from 1962-1964] brought back ample baseball memories from a number of perspectives beginning with Grasshopper to Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion Ball, High School and one year of post high school hardball. Our non-school teams were sponsored by manufacturing companies like Hillard, Bendix Brakes, American Lafrance, Thatcher Glass, Pepsi Cola, etc. Lots of teams were sponsored by Labor Unions like Local 180 Sheetmetal Workers, Local 220 Iron Workers or the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or the Italian American War Vets. Owing to the Pioneers being “AA” we saw serious major league baseball. A Columbia Friend of mine Jerry Martin who played for the Phillies, Cubs, Giants, Royals and Mets (with a long coaching career with rings from Detroit and Philadelphia) told me that if a kid can make it to “AA” he could get called up to the show at any time depending on a team’s needs. In turn, we saw serious baseball and played serious baseball. Everyone, starting with little league learned how to bunt and we all played small ball. You had to learn how to keep a runner out of scoring position (2nd base), how to throw to the appropriate cut-off man and how to back up the bases on infield throws and each other in the outfield. All catchers had to hustle down the 1st base line for infield hits with the pitcher covering home if needed. If you did not know the infield fly rule when called on you ran laps. We learned the history of the game, the players and how to respect the game of baseball. Again, it was serious owing to the Pioneers and to how our coaches approached coaching, winning and losing.
In 1962 I’m 10 years old and in 4th grade; 1963 11 years old and 5th grade; and 1964 12 years old and in 6th grade. I’m anchored to Little League Baseball where my father was an assistant coach and to Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) baseball and basketball for my school St. Mary’s (southside). I was mostly a catcher for my Dad and pitched only in emergencies. For my school it was 2nd base or center field. As you know Elmira was a blue-collar, gray-steel town of about 48,000 in the 1960’s and football, baseball and basketball were the only sports for young boys at the time. Soccer and Lacrosse would come later in Ithaca, Rochester, Syracuse and Long Island NY. Elmira was divided into ethnic neighborhoods anchored to Catholic churches mostly Irish, Italian, Polish and Ukrainian. Competition was very strong in all three sports and especially baseball. By the time we got to high school, (Notre Dame Prep) a number of us got scouted by MLB scouts, some took the bait and a few made it up the food chain. I was 5’10” and weighted 140 lbs. I led off, got on base, stole second and scored a good bit. Got my name in the paper a lot and once in a while my picture, which landed me on the scout’s list. It was a long list. I was advised by a scout (Packy Rogers, Minn Twins I think) to hit the books and play D II or DIII baseball if desired. Corning Community had no baseball and the next year I got drafted into the Army (draft #19). Upon discharge, the desire for competitive baseball was long gone and replaced with academic pursuits and loftier goals. Most notable for baseball in my grade and age group was a kid I played with, and against, named Mark Wesley Williams who was a five-tool kid and a great athlete for the large powerhouse public HS, Elmira Free Academy (think Ernie Davis here). He bounced around the minors and then had a cup of coffee with Oakland in 1977. All this is to say, baseball was big in Elmira, I put in a lot of hours practicing, watching and playing, I loved it, it was competitive and the game taught me lots of life lessons.
Elmira Pioneers- Class “AA” Baltimore Orioles 1962–1964
Going to Pioneer games from ‘62-’64 was binary. If I was with my Dad it was semi-serious. We arrived early for batting practice, watched pitchers and catchers in the bullpen, kept score, discussed strategy/situations, with fundamentals emphasized. Without my Dad, I was free to roam with my buddies chasing foul balls, begging the batboys and clubhouse boy (Jim Minotti) for cracked bats, eating concession food and trying to learn how to talk to girls (mostly in 5th and 6th grade). A season’s pass was not expensive so we lived at Dunn Field and girls came in groups mostly trying to be noticed and trying to figure out middle school boys. The smell of cigars, popcorn, hotdogs, hamburger and french-fries are distinct memories. The ballpark was like a sanctuary to me.
1962 – I do remember batting practice which was fun to watch especially with the sound of big league, wooden, Louisville Slugger professional bats. The thrill in 1962 was to get as close to the bullpen, which was not in the outfield but close to the stands on the first base side (for the Pioneers) and watch the amazing movement on Dave McNally’s awesome curve ball (12 to 6 o’clock) and the speed of Dalko’s fastball. I do remember with clarity, that Dalko’s pitch did make a hissing noise when he threw hard and that the “pop” in Andy Etchebarren’s glove (or any warm up catcher) was exciting and louder than McNally, Pat Gillick or Darold Knowles and the other pitchers. I also remember that in the bullpen and in the games that Etchebarren had to come up out of his stance often for fastballs that were high. My Dad and I talked about my catching stance and how important it was to be on your toes for high throws, and how to sacrifice your body for throws in the dirt. My Dad would emphasize that Etchebarren had to be on his toes with Dalko on the mound. This is consistent with what you write about in your book about Dalko being wild with his pitches up and down, north and south, which was better than being wild, left and right, east and west.
Overall, this was big time baseball to a kid in 4th grade. I was also a bit mesmerized by the size (height and weight) of the players and the awesome baseball equipment they all had. I can remember without hesitation that the players all wore Rawlings baseball cleats and that they were all polished shinny black. In addition, some of the pitchers had a protective piece of extra leather on the toe of the shoe that worked the pitching rubber respective of being a lefty or a righty. Equipment such as gloves (Rawlings), bats (all Louisville Sluggers) and shoes (Rawlings) and the awesome Cream, Orange & Black Pioneer uniforms to me, just shouted big league baseball. I also remember how smooth all of the pitchers were with their delivery. My Dad pointed out that a smooth delivery added to your fastball and helped disguise your curveball. Dalko (5’ 10, 170 lbs) was smooth for a lefty with a boyish and classic Polish face (he did look younger than the other pitchers) and child-like smile that to me looked like he was still in high school. From reading your book and SI articles about Dalko’s smooth delivery, it reminded me of my reading on Tim Lincecum (San Francisco) and his perfect mechanics (finish by picking up the dollar bill as his Dad would say) and how it got Lincecum maximum velocity (about 94.5 mph) for a guy (5’ 11” and 170 lbs, similar to Dalko) with not a ton of body mass behind his pitch. These smooth mechanics no doubt added to the total package that Dalko had for the velocity on his fastball.
So, in 1963, we watched Dalko again with my other favorite pitchers Knowles, Gillick and Frank Bertania. Larry Hainey and John Mason were the catchers and I liked them as well. Infielder Davey Johnson was also one of my favorites and my Dad loved Lloyd Fourroux the big bold French Cajun at 6’2” and 215 lbs. As a guy with French heritage (Valois) my Dad really cheered for this guy, so I did as well. Later in life, I financed my college days as a bartender in a few of the local downtown classic bars. It was fun to listen to the older guys tell stories about Dalko, Fourroux and Lou Pinella when they were in Elmira chasing girls and raising hell in the bars. Dalko went up to Rochester in 1963 and we lost track of him.
In 1964, Dalko was back again so he was our focus in addition to a new guy Eddie Watt. I really liked Outfielder (center field) Paul Blair and thought he was the fastest and smoothest thing I had ever seen in the outfield and on the basepaths. I remember my Dad’s frustration with Dalko and his lack of consistency. His strikeouts were awesome regardless of going down swinging or looking. Dalko’s walks were frustrating, especially with men on base. My Dad could not believe the difference in Dalko struggle in finding the strike zone from inning to inning. Dalko’s stats were similar with a good number of strike out but a large number of walks as well. After reading your book I’m wondering if Dalko suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and maybe a touch of ADHD (hyperactivity). Coach Weaver had the best success with Dalko by making it real simple and only throwing full heat when Weaver sent the signal. Weaver was a gruff old guy (even years later when I talked to him in Cooperstown) but I think Dalko got comfortable with him and Weaver knew he had a gem if he could get him under control.
In 1965 I was at the 27-inning game against the Springfield (Mass) Giants. Like most kids in my neighborhood, I had to be home when the streetlights came on. So, I hopped on my bike and made the trek home. My dad had the game on the radio and allowed me to go back after dinner to see the end. However, I had to go with my older sister Connie (she was a tom-boy and played softball). Elmira won 2-1 and the game ended at 9:25pm and that was late for me in 7th grade and Connie in 10th grade.
I can’t remember the year, but I also witnessed with my Dad, Coach Earl Weaver being ejected from a game. It was a play at the plate and he was not happy. No surprise here. Earl did his usual antics kicking dirt on the umps shoes, hat on backwards, getting real hot and in the umpires faces and really extended his disappointment. When he settled down, he headed for the dugout. As soon as we thought he was gone, he roared back onto the field, ripped up second base and would not give it back. This was brilliant in my opinion. This is minor league ball, so there was no extra base laying around to replace it and make Earl go away. It took the umpires a while to settle him down again and a compromise was reached. He was allowed to sit in the stands with the players’ wives. My Dad and I watched him in the stands over than the last few innings. He was barking out commands and using hand signals to manage the game. This was a treat. It only got better when he got to Baltimore. But, I got to see it up close, and personal at Dunn Field in Elmira NY.
Brian, that about all I can muster up. Dalko on the mound was exciting but getting close to him and the warmup catcher in the bullpen was electric. His fluid wind up and delivery was like the music in your favorite song. The hiss on his heater was like my mother’s Irish teapot. But the pop in Etchebarren’s beautiful Rawling catcher’s mitt when Dalko delivered the cheese was magic. It was like the satisfaction you got by pounding in a nail. That last strike on the nail head combined with the solid sound of completion gave you the feeling of being “in the groove.”
I hope you like the pictures. I’ll send those tomorrow late afternoon EST so your phone isn’t blowing up early in the morning in California.
Robert “Skip” Valois, Columbia, SC, March 16, 2021