No one is certain just how fast Dalkowski threw in those days before the use of the radar gun. Dalkowski believes he threw 110 mph at his peak. Gillick, Cox (the Atlanta Braves' manager, who batted against Dalkowski) and others say it was definitely over 100, perhaps 105. In 1958 the Orioles took Dalkowski to the Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Grounds to measure his heater. The experiment did not go well. Dalkowski had pitched the night before and was throwing from a flat surface rather than a mound. Worse, he spent a maddening 40 minutes trying to throw the ball through a laser beam emanating from a metal box about the width of the plate. When he finally got the ball through the laser, the pitch clocked in at 93.5 mph, and everyone went home.
For the next three years Dalkowski careened from dominance to ineptitude. The Orioles tried everything to harness his gift. One manager constructed a plywood target with a hole for Dalkowski to throw through, but a few fastballs turned that to splinters. Another manager had him pitch for 11 straight days to tire him out, or throw from 15 feet to get a feel for the strike zone, or warm up with batters standing on both sides of the plate. Through it all Dalkowski kept putting up exotic numbers. He threw a no-hitter while striking out 21 and a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts that he lost 9-8 because of his 17 walks. In Stockton, Calif., in 1960 he tied the California League single-game record by fanning 19, but he walked nine and lost 8-3 when Cox, then a young Reno second baseman, hit a grand slam in the ninth after whiffing his first four times up. "He had me down 0-2, and he hit my bat," says Cox.
As the numbers multiplied, so did the stories. Dalkowski once tore a batter's ear lobe off with a pitch. When he plunked another hitter in the batting helmet, the ball landed just in front of second base. (After that he was almost exclusively wild up and down, not in and out.) There was the time in Pensacola in 1959 when catcher Cal Ripken Sr. called for a curveball but Dalkowski thought he saw the fastball sign. The pitch smacked the umpire flush in the mask, breaking it in three places and sending the ump to the hospital with a concussion. On a dare Dalkowski once threw a ball over the stands behind home plate from a centerfield wall 440 feet away. To win a $5 bet, he fired a ball through a wooden outfield fence.
Dalkowski's contemporaries say he was mostly business on the field, but off the diamond was another matter. He had started drinking beer as a ninth-grader. In the minors, with bars and girls in every town and all day to sleep off a bender—not to mention hell-raiser Bo Belinsky as a onetime roommate—his drinking got worse. In 1963, when Dalkowski reached Triple A Rochester, the Orioles assigned him to room on the road with 31-year-old Joe Altobelli, in hopes that Altobelli could be his mentor. (Film director and writer Ron Shelton, who played for Altobelli at two stops in the minors, later cast the arrangement as Bull Durham's Nuke LaLoosh and Crash Davis.) One teammate, Ray Youngdahl, would commandeer Dalkowski's paycheck and give him an allowance so he wouldn't squander it all.
That Dalkowski ever ascended to Rochester was due largely to Weaver, then a young manager. In 1962, at Class A Elmira, Weaver, who knew instructors had been confusing Dalkowski with a surfeit of advice, told him as little as possible—except that he believed in him. Dalkowski finally consented to take a little steam off his fastball and began to consistently throw his biting slider for strikes to get ahead in the count. When Dalkowski got two strikes on a batter, Weaver would whistle, signaling Dalkowski to fire away. That was music to Dalkowski's ears. "With two strikes," he says, "I really let it all hang out." Dalkowski finished 7-10 but with a solid 3.04 ERA He had 192 strikeouts and, for the first time, fewer walks (114) than innings pitched (160). He threw 37 straight scoreless innings, emerging as a shutdown reliever.
Dalkowski was the talk of Orioles spring training in Miami in 1963. After he threw six scoreless, hitless innings over several relief outings, manager Billy Hitchcock told him he had made the club. On the morning of March 22, 1963, Dalkowski was fitted for a major league uniform. That afternoon he pitched against the New York Yankees. He struck out four in two innings, but while throwing a slider to Phil Linz something popped in his elbow. Dalkowski had injured a nerve, and his arm never recovered. Soon he was back in the minors.
At midseason in 1964, Baltimore released Dalkowski. He hung on for two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates' and the Los Angeles Angels' organizations. In Bakersfield in 1965 he married a schoolteacher named Linda Moore, but they divorced two years later. Soon he was in the California fields, picking cotton and sugar beets, beans and carrots. Dalkowski's drink of choice was cheap wine, which he would buy when the bus stopped on the way to the crop field. Often he would place a bottle in the next row as motivation.
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.