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BASEBALL

Steve Dalkowski had the stuff of legends

The hard-throwing minor league sensation put up amazing numbers and spawned a number of myths before his arm went dead and he turned to alcohol.

July 19, 2009|Ron Shelton | Writer-director Ron Shelton ("Bull Durham," "White Men Can't Jump," "Tin Cup") spent five years playing infield in the Baltimore Orioles' minor league system.

This relationship -- the veteran who loved a game more than the game loved him, and the God-gifted rookie who was otherwise a lost soul -- was the inspiration for "Bull Durham," though nothing specific in Altobelli or Dalkowski's character is applicable.

Dalko pitched before radar guns, so nobody is really sure how fast he threw. But the Orioles took him to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a military test site near Baltimore, and lined him up 60 feet 6 inches from a tube that judged wind speed. Without a mound, in sneakers, Dalko fired away 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.

When Dalkowski's career ended, after he'd 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'd 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 will be inducted today 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 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 Steve 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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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Minor sensation

Career statistics for Steve Dalkowski (* -- led league):

(Table not retained).

Source: baseball-reference.com

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