The Baltimore Orioles minor league pitcher who was the inspiration for Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham died.
The flame throwing Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Steve Dalkowski never saw time in the Majors, despite his intense pitching skills. He died on April 19 reportedly of complications from Covid-19. He was 80 years old.
He might just be the most famous pitcher you’ve never heard of. The 5’11 175-pound lefty affectionately known as “Dalko” entered the Orioles minor league system at age 18. He reported threw a fast ball at speeds between 110 and 115 MPH. Unfortunately, like the Laloosh of the fictional Durham Bulls in the movie, Dalkowski struggled with command.
In a movie, that lack of command made Laloosh endearing and funny. But, in real life, a wild pitch coming in at over 100 MPH can be deadly. Fortunately, Dalkowski’s talent never killed anyone. However, according to a story from Cal Ripken Sr. by Matt Schudel with The Washington Post
"“In one game Ripken was catching, he called for a breaking pitch. Mr. Dalkowski missed the sign and threw his fastball instead. It hit the umpire in the mask, breaking it in three places. The umpire was knocked unconscious.”"
Rumors abound about Dalko, including one where he threw a pitch high and tight, taking off a man’s ear. According to an article by Ron Shelton, who wrote the screenplay for Bull Durham, Dalko was often drunk and would take small bets about his ability to throw a ball.
"“On a $10 bet he threw a baseball from the center-field fence toward home plate, over the 40-foot-high backstop screen.”"
Dalkowski did pitch in Major League spring training. He faced batters like Ted Williams and Bob Feller. Like Rikpen, they commented on how fast his pitches were and how they struggled to put them into play.
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Dalkowski’s stats show his ability and struggle. In 1960 with the Stockton Ports, he finished the season with a 5.14 ERA in 170 innings with 262 strikeouts and 262 walks. He didn’t get much better in 1961 when he struck out 150 batters and walked 196 in 103 innings.
On a positive note, Dalkowski rarely gave up home runs and he rarely ever hit batters. In 1960 and 61, he gave up a total of nine homers and he hit 15 batters. Instead, he often sent spectators and players looking for cover, and he did hit the mascot during one game, just like in the movie by Shelton, who also played in the Orioles minor league system.
Dalkowski will always be remembered through the movie Bull Durham. But, his real story is enshrined in the Shrine of the Eternals, where baseball players with unique talents are memorialized. He was inducted in 2009 along with Roger Maris and Jim Eisenreich.