Baseball BeatJuly 18, 2009
The Heat Is In (the Shrine of the Eternals)
By Rich Lederer

The Baseball Reliquary will induct Steve Dalkowski, Roger Maris, and Jim Eisenreich into its Shrine of the Eternals in a public ceremony on Sunday, July 19 at the Pasadena Central Library in Pasadena, California.

In a press release, Terry Cannon, the Executive Director of the nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history, announced that Dalkowski, Maris, and Eisenreich "will join thirty other baseball luminaries who have been inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals since elections began in 1999, including, in alphabetical order, Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Emmett Ashford, Moe Berg, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Bill Buckner, Roberto Clemente, Rod Dedeaux, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Josh Gibson, William 'Dummy' Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Bill 'Spaceman' Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Buck O'Neil, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck Jr., and Kenichi Zenimura."

Dalkowski, a resident of the Walnut Hill Care Center in New Britain, Connecticut, arrived in Los Angeles on Friday and threw out the ceremonial first pitch at last night's Dodgers-Astros game at Dodger Stadium. The now 70-year-old career minor leaguer emerged from a wheelchair in front of the mound and tossed a "fastball" that bore no resemblance to the 100+ mph heater the southpaw reportedly threw as a matter of routine back in the 1950s and 1960s.

The closest the bespectacled Baltimore Orioles farmhand came to the major leagues was appearing on a 1963 Topps Rookie Stars baseball card along with three other young pitchers (Fred Newman of the Los Angeles Angels, Carl Bouldin of the Washington Senators, and Jack Smith of the Los Angeles Dodgers). With no help from Dalkowski, the quartet recorded a combined total of 38 wins and 49 losses in the majors (with Newman earning 33 of those victories). However, to the extent that this card has any value whatsoever, it is solely due to the legend that is Dalkowski, the inspiration for Nick LaLoosh, the character portrayed by Tim Robbins in "Bull Durham."

Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the 1988 movie classic, will introduce Dalkowski at tomorrow's induction ceremony. Shelton was a minor league second baseman for the Orioles during the '60s, yet, according to George Vecsey in an article in today's The New York Times, he and Dalkowski have surprisingly never met.

Dalkowski, who has been in and out of hospitals and halfway houses for the past two or three decades, is in town with his once estranged younger sister Patti Cain. An administrator at a hospital not far from the facility that houses her brother (and just a block from the ballpark where he was a high school star and a bonus baby over 50 years ago), Patti is responsible for rescuing her brother in Oklahoma City in 1994 after the death of his wife. She told Tim Hoffarth, a columnist for the Daily News, "The doctors once told us he'd only have a year to live, so how remarkable is it that he's here and has a run of the place? Of course, some days are better than others. Same with me. When he wants to talk baseball, he's still full of stories. But nothing's easy. He's laying down now. He needs his rest."

You can read more from Hoffarth about Dalkowski and his story here and here, as well as older articles from Sports Illustrated (Where Are They Now? Steve Dalkowski by Pete McEntegart and The Wildest Fastball Ever by Pat Jordan) and The Hardball Times (Delving into the Dalkowski depths by Steve Treder). The latter piece includes Dalkowski's year-by-year and career minor league record plus links to several other articles. The Los Angeles Times is scheduled to publish an article by Shelton in tomorrow's newspaper, which I will link to when it is up.

For those of you who live in Southern California, you can meet Dalkowski and Eisenreich on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium of the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut Street. Admission is free and open to the public.

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Update: Although Paul Richards never managed Steve Dalkowski, The Wizard of Waxahachie was Baltimore's field boss from 1955-1961. He handled the "Kiddie Korps," a collection of young Oriole pitchers, including Steve Barber, Chuck Estrada, Jack Fisher, Milt Pappas, and Jerry Walker, during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Dalkowski was born in the same year as Fisher, Pappas, and Walker and was 16 months younger than Barber and Estrada.

The Wizard of Waxahachie: Paul Richards and the End of Baseball as We Knew It by Warren Corbett is available for pre-order. I previewed the book and believe it is a worthwhile read for baseball historians, especially those interested in the teams that he played on (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Philadelphia Athletics, and Detroit Tigers), managed (Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles), and served as an executive (Houston Colt .45s, Atlanta Braves, White Sox, and Texas Rangers). Richards would be 100 years old if he hadn't passed away in 1986 in his hometown of Waxahachie.

Competition and conflict marked Richards's sixty-year career, from his first week as a professional player, when the seventeen-year-old may have punched his manager. As a manager, Richards was thrown out of games more frequently than anyone else. In his first year as a general manager, he was threatened with suspension for cheating. He brought the first black players to the White Sox and the first important black players to the Orioles, but several of them denounced him as a racist. In his later years his was one of the loudest and most reactionary voices opposing the rising players' union.

When his catchers couldn't handle a knuckleball, he invented a mitt as big as an elephant's ear so they could at least knock it down. He was the first manager known to enforce pitch counts to protect young arms from injury. Previously undiscovered documents reveal that Richards tracked his hitters' on-base percentages before that statistic even had a name and decades before it became a cornerstone of baseball analysis. He computed catchers' earned run averages years before the sabermetric community thought of it.

Corbett, a contributor to the Society for American Baseball Research's Biography Project headed up by fellow author and Baseball Analysts guest columnist Mark Armour, handles the Richards story in a thorough and balanced manner. The book includes a Foreword by Brooks Robinson and an Introduction by Tony La Russa, as well as a bibliography that cites more than a couple of hundred published works, interviews, and personal correspondence.