Uncontrollable Talent

Ever heard of the name Steve (Dalko) Dalkowski? Few people have. One would think the name of the pitcher whose claim to fame was that of throwing a baseball faster than any other person would be well known. While radar guns didn’t exist when he was pitching, those who faced him in the batter’s box left no doubt that no one could match his speed.

Dalko was born in 1939 in Connecticut. In high school, he was a star quarterback and baseball pitcher. His record of striking out 24 batters in a single game is still the state record in Connecticut.

Following graduation from high school, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. He was sent to the minor leagues where he spent virtually his entire minor league career. With someone with his pitching speed, you would have expected that he would be an asset in the major leagues. But for all of his talent as a fastball pitcher, he lacked control both on and off the field.

Over his career of nine seasons in the minor leagues, he averaged 1.4 strikeouts per inning. But he also averaged 1.36 walks per inning. His win/loss record was 46-80 and his earned run average was 5.57. In one game he only gave up one hit but lost 9-8. He had given up 17 walks. In an extra-inning game, he recorded 27 strikeouts and 16 walks on 283 pitches.

Dalko’s control off the field was just as problematic. He was an alcoholic and had a violent temper. When he retired from baseball, the only job he could get was that of being a migrant worker. Eventually, his health deteriorated, and he began to suffer from alcohol-induced dementia. He died in a nursing home as one of the many Covid-19 victims.

While few people know of Dalko today, they probably have seen the movie. Bull Durham and remember Tim Robbins’ character Nuke LaLoosh. The inspiration for the character was Dalko.

What can we do to help someone with immeasurable talent bring that talent to fruition? That’s one of society’s most challenging questions. Certainly, coaches, role models, and mentors are needed. But how much can they help when a person with that much talent lacks personal control? Some talents go undiscovered and can be revealed and nurtured through support from others. That talent development process is much easier than taming and focusing on the talent that is visible to all but remains uncontrollable despite intervention efforts.

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“His failure was not one of deficiency, but rather of excess. He was too fast. His ball moved too much. His talent was too superhuman… It mattered only that once, just once, Steve Dalkowski threw a fastball so hard that Ted Williams never even saw it. No one else could claim that.” – Sports Illustrated profile of Steve Dalkowski

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