Ever heard of Steve “Dalko” Dalkowski (1939 - 2020)? Well, I have. He grew up and played baseball in New Britain, CT and thanks to his pitching mechanics New Britain, CT is the Home of the World’s Fastest Fastballer - Steve Dalkowski.
I’m Prof. Don R. Mueller: a semi-retired physics professor (proficient in sports biomechanics) and former pro baseball pitcher who still throws stuff (e.g., baseballs and footballs) pretty far-and-fast based on simple concepts in physics. I’ve been analyzing (using physics in connection with human biomechanics) the “unfathomable gift” as one baseball writer used to describe the 110 mph minor league hurler most baseball fans never heard of Steve Dalkowski. Similarly, baseball scribes preserve Dalko as a Paul-Bunyan-like figure in baseball lore (though far more diminutive at 5’ 10’’ and more likely closer to 5’ 8’’ as cited in the Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball - I chatted with the author Jonathan Fraser Light).
In my semi-empirical study, I take into consideration what little is known of Dalko’s motion (only photos and anecdotes) along with his height (short for a modern day hurler) and join it with what I know: physics and human biomechanics. The result is called semi-empirical as the evidence available is combined with theory, which is the definition of this type of study. Curiously, I’ve been able to reproduce Dalko’s pitching motion (in large degree) in a more personal way for folks to see as I do the throwing experiments myself and can still throw pretty hard using the Dalko motion. Why not have kids give it a try?
So here we go:
Dalko’s windup was not unconventional (just compact like Nolan Ryan): The photo is a bit blurry, but the only one I found of his windup.
The next photo shows his release point and wrist action, which I refer to as the “neutral” wrist (where pronation of the wrist occurs largely after release of the ball). The neutral wrist is the fastest way to straighten the arm and pull it across the body using the powerful muscles of the torso; this occurring after the lower-body (i.e., legs and hips) rotates the upper-body into the throw. Whoosh!
The neutral wrist also allows for more back-spin, which they say Dalko was known for with his extreme “rising” fastball. BTW: the rising fastball is an aerodynamic effect based on the Bernoulli Principle and the Magnus Force. The ball doesn’t actually rise as it is thrown downward toward the plate - it just doesn’t fall as fast. Back-spin creates the lift that keeps the ball afloat on the air, so to speak. Interestingly, when I threw for long-distance, I would try to get more of this spin-effect so that the ball would travel farther. A top-spin (as in tennis) would cause the ball to fall faster, which is the same as the curveball in baseball. In short: back-spin to keep the ball up and top-spin to drive the ball down.
Here are two photos of his follow-through. You will notice that Dalko got his upper-body out over his front leg.
Similar to the greatest fastball pitcher of all-time Nolan Ryan (shown below).
This next photo shows how hard Dalko must have thrown: as his body is sideways to the catcher and glove arm behind his back. His front foot is also pointing slightly to the right. You will also notice that his stride was usually long for his height, which suggests plenty of forward drive.
Though unlike Tom Seaver in the photo to follow, Dalko does not drag his knee on the ground: what Seaver was known for Drop and Drive.
Instead, Dalko would Drive and Drop (dropping with the force of gravity). This Drive off the mound however, was directly coupled to a rotation supplied by a leg-kick to create a moment of inertia. The Drive provides the torque to Rotate the body toward the plate: what I refer to as Drive and Rotate. As Dalko moves powerfully to his release point he would drop his upper-body over his front leg, which is bent: Drop and Release. The complete motion I call in an amusing way: Doctor-Doctor (DR-DR): DRIVE-ROTATE-DROP-RELEASE.
Rest In Peace: Steve “Dalko” Dalkowski.
For a fascinating journey into the life of the fire-baller see the documentary film by Tom Chiappetta: Far From Home - The Steve Dalkowski Story