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Legend Of The Fall

O's Prospect Steve Dalkowski, Who Partially Inspired 'Bull Durham' Threw Hard, Sank Fast

July 21, 2009|By Ron Shelton | Ron Shelton,Special to Tribune Newspapers

Dalko pitched in a time before radar guns, so nobody is really sure how fast he threw. But the Orioles took him to the Aberdeen Proving Ground and lined him up 60 feet, 6 inches from a tube that judged wind speed. Without a mound, in sneakers, Dalko fired at the tube for nearly an hour, his pitches registering in the mid-90s. Some guess his fastball from a mound approached 110 mph.

We'll never know.

The lost journey

When Dalkowski's career ended, after he had bounced around trying for a comeback with his aching shoulder - he threw more than 90 mph with a bad arm - he submitted completely to whatever solace the bottle held and began a lost journey that led him to the migrant farmworker fields of Bakersfield.

Wandering the streets of L.A. years later on Christmas Eve, he was rescued and reunited with his wife from Bakersfield, who thought he had been dead for years. She died shortly thereafter, and finally his family from Connecticut discovered he was still breathing, barely, and brought him home.

Racked with alcoholic dementia, Dalko has been in a New Britain home for 15 years. He attends minor league games, a celebrity now. He gets out of the home for family picnics. He is, if you can use the term, at peace, according to his family.

Dalkowski was inducted Sunday into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals - its Hall of Fame - along with Roger Maris and Jim Eisenreich, during an afternoon ceremony at the Pasadena (Calif.) Central Library.

But what lingers is not the drinking or the abuse or the desperation. We've seen that and know these same demons touch us at times.

It's the gift from the gods - the arm, the power - that this little guy could throw it through a wall, literally, or back Ted Williams out of there. That is what haunts us.

He had it all and didn't know it. That's why Dalkowski stays in our minds. In his sport, he had the equivalent of Michelangelo's gift but could never finish a painting.

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