A former Oriole enters the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Okay, so it’s a former Orioles minor leaguer.
And it’s not actually the Hall of Fame but rather the “Shrine of the Eternals,” an alternative Hall of Fame that looks beyond statistics alone to consider “the distinctiveness of play (good or bad); the uniqueness of character and personality; and the imprint that the individual has made on the baseball landscape.”
The player in question is Steve Dalkowski, whose named popped up in a Roar from 34 posting about Joe Altobelli earlier this season. On Sunday, the New York Times (it’s no Roar from 34) detailed Dalkowski’s colorful career in the story “A Hall of Fame for a Legendary Fastball Pitcher.”
Batters in the minors spoke with wonder of pitches they could hear but could not see. One poor guy in Kingsport, Tenn., took a fastball — “right in back of his ear, right on the hairline,” Dalkowski recalled. The legend is that the man was never the same.
Ted Williams, who had heard of this Dalkowski fellow, invited himself into the cage before a spring exhibition but promptly disinvited himself after listening to a whoosh or two. The Baltimore Orioles’ organization took Dalkowski to a military base to time his fastball — over 100 miles per hour seems to be the conservative figure for his peak speed.
Before long, Dalkowski was a legend, for his fastball as well as his tumblers of vodka for breakfast. Ron Shelton, an Orioles farmhand six years younger than Dalkowski, rarely heard Brooks Robinson stories or Frank Robinson stories from the managers in the organization, but everybody had Dalkowski stories.
Cal Ripken Sr., who had been Dalkowski’s catcher, said he was relatively easy to handle because he was wild high and low but did not pitch inside too often. Joe Altobelli told how Dalkowski came to the ballpark thoroughly hung over, and never worked out, but was a good teammate — “not a mean bone in his body,” Shelton quoted Altobelli saying.
The organization decided to have the young flame thrower room with the old player, figuring Dalkowski might learn something. But it was hard for Altobelli to teach a roomie who was never in the room.
Years later, while writing a screenplay, Shelton remembered the relationship between a brash young pitcher and a wise old head. The movie was named “Bull Durham,” with Tim Robbins as the speedballer who was all over the place.
“In the minors, you’d see guys who had these amazing gifts,” Shelton said the other day. “It would drive you nuts.”
Shelton has never met Dalkowski but will introduce him Sunday night — a couple of former farmhands who never reached what the movie memorably called the Show. Dalkowski came close, after a year at Elmira under patient tutelage from Earl Weaver, of all people.
“He let me pitch,” Dalkowski said. “He sort of called the pitches. He’d whistle or move to one end of the dugout or the other, or he’d hit his hand against the wall.”
Weaver had him primed for the majors in the spring of 1963, when Dalkowski blew down the Yankees for a few innings under the lights in Miami. Pitching to Phil Linz, “I felt something pop,” Dalkowski said. It was a ligament in his elbow, and he was never the same. He hung on for a few more years, and finished with an amazing 1,396 strikeouts and 1,354 walks in only 995 innings.
Speaking of past Roar from 34 material, The Sun’s game story about Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the White Sox notes the following: “Dropping two straight to start the second half, the Orioles have lost a series to an AL Central team for the first time since 2007 against the Detroit Tigers.”
I examined the O’s success against the central in the June 9 posting “Go Central, Young Birds.”
Consider this: “Since their last winning season in 1997 (excluding this year), the Birds have compiled an overall record of 791-989, ‘good’ for a .444 winning percentage. During that same period, the O’s are 215-210 against the A.L. Central, better for a .506 winning percentage.“