Players From the Past: Steve Dalkowski

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This part of the Baseball Notebook from one day last week is being republished since it was the end of a very long article and I think it was overlooked since there were no comments on it. The links at bottom of the article tell even more about Dalkowski.

Steve Dalkowski:
Born June 3, 1939 in New Britain Connecticut

Steve Dalkowski never pitched in the Major Leagues, but he still made a lasting impression on anyone who ever saw him pitch. Some people think he threw 110 miles per hour, but we will never know since radar guns didn’t exist back then so it is all conjecture as to how fast he really threw.

Ron Shelton, a movie director, patterned the Nuke LaLoosh character in Bull Durham after his minor league teammate Dalkowski, but it is reported that they were never teammates. I saw this movie many years ago, but now that I know it was about Dalkowski, I hope to see it again soon.

Dalkowski was 46-80 in nine Minor League seasons with a 5.59 ERA. In 995 innings, he struck out 1396 batters and walked 1354. In 1960, he set a California League record of 262 walks in 170 innings and also struck out 262 batters.

One time, he was pitching in Miami and hit a guy in the back and the guy was in line to buy a hot dog. Another time, maybe more for effect than for any other reason, threw his first warmup pitch out of the stadium. I am sure any opposing batters that witnessed that pitch didn’t dig in too much against him. An umpire actually had his mask broken into three pieces when hit by a Dalkowski pitch and that sent the umpire to the hospital for three days.

When Earl Weaver found out that Dalkowski had an IQ of 60, he figured out that Dalkowski couldn’t manage to remember a lot of information from the coaches. So he simplified the instructions for Dalkowski narrowing it down to fast balls and strikeouts, and his pitching improved. Then he was told he was going to start the season with the Baltimore Orioles during spring training, but before he could pitch in the Majors, he strained a tendon in his left elbow.

Dalkowski also had a serious drinking problem, which became even worse when made the roommate for Bo Belinsky in the Minor Leagues.

On August 31, 1957 in an Appalachian League game he struck out 24, walked 18, hit four batters and threw 6 wild pitches and lost the game 8-4.

Ted Williams once batted against Dalkowski in the batting cage and this is what transpired according to Sports Illustrated:

In 1958, Dalkowski was invited to the Orioles' camp in Miami. One day that spring, Ted Williams was lurking around the batting cage and decided to see this Dalkowski kid for himself. The Splendid Splinter stepped into the batter's box, watched one pitch fly by and stepped out of the cage, muttering to reporters that he'd be damned if he would face Dalkowski until he had to. Williams told Dalkowski he hadn't even seen the ball -- he'd just heard the pop of the catcher's glove. In an exhibition game that spring against the Cincinnati Reds in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, with his parents watching, Dalkowski fanned the side in the ninth on just 12 pitches. He would never again pitch in a big league ballpark.

After retiring from baseball, Dalkowski was still drinking heavily and was a migrant worker for many years. The following three paragraphs, also from the same Sports Illustrated story, sum up his life after baseball:

Dalkowski doesn't remember much of the next 30 years. He suffers from alcohol-related dementia, but the gaps in his memory don't start until about 1964. "I keep trying and trying to remember," he says. "But I don't." His sister, Pat Cain, can't fill in the blanks for him, because he stopped talking to his family around that same time. At some point, he was married again, to a motel clerk named Virginia, though today he struggles even to recall her name. He never had children. ("Thank God," he says soberly.)

Dalkowski moved to Oklahoma City with Virginia in 1993, but when she died of a brain aneurysm in 1994, it was time for him to come home. His parents had passed away, but Cain was living in New Britain. She arranged for Dalkowski to move into the Walnut Hill Care Center, just down the hill from Dalkowski's old high school baseball field. Initially, Cain was told that Dalkowski likely wouldn't live more than a year. Yet Dalkowski has rallied. Given his decades of drinking, he is remarkably healthy, and he has begun to display the easy manner his old friends remember.

Sitting with his family and friends in the stands after throwing the first pitch at the Rock Cats game, he mugs good-naturedly with his three-year-old grandniece, Samantha. He sings along with God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch. Yet it's the game that interests him most. When a New Britain pitcher gets two strikes on a batter, Dalkowski says, "Let it all hang out." Dalkowski can no longer let it all hang out, yet he finally seems to be keeping it together.

I have barely skimmed the surface of the stories out there about Dalkowski so am going to do something I usually don’t do and provide several links to websites that have more information on Dalkowski. It is surprising that there is so much on the internet about a pitcher than never pitched in the majors but his story is so interesting they are worth reading.

Anyone that doesn’t have time to read each story today could open them up and bookmark them for later reading.

Dalkowski’s story is not just a story about a baseball player but about a man who couldn’t handle life after baseball. One last story about Dalkowski is that the player’s union tried to help him by sending him money for help to stop drinking but when they found out he was using the money for liquor they stopped sending the money.





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