The forthcoming TRISTAR Obak baseball set includes some serious surprises and some fascinating baseball-related inclusions.
But this one might be one of the cooler ones of the bunch.
You see, Steve Dalkowski was at one time regarded as the hardest-throwing pitcher ever, some saying he threw 110 miles an hour — at least that’s what the back of his newest baseball card says.
Whether that’s true or just baseball legend intensified by years of dust, he played in an era before radar guns so it doesn’t matter. What’s cool about this card?
Dalkowski is considered to be the player who was a key inspiration for Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh from Bull Durham.
You know, the guy with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.
You see, years before Tim Robbins wore No. 37, there was another million-dollar arm with a five-cent … well, you know.
You see unlike Nuke, “Dalko” never made The Show, despite his pitches being so powerful that they shattered umpire masks and penetrated backstops. (His Obak baseball card says that, too.)
But the real story of Dalko wasn’t lost on Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed Bull Durham, which became the highest-grossing baseball movie of all time when it was released in 1988. Shelton played minor league ball — in the same Baltimore Orioles farm system as Dalko.
“Playing baseball in Stockton and Bakersfield several years behind Dalko, but increasingly aware of the legend,” Shelton wrote in a piece for The Los Angeles Times, “I would see a figure standing in the dark down the right-field line at old Sam Lynn Park in Oildale, a paper bag in hand. Sometimes he would come to the clubhouse to beg for money.
“Our manager, Joe Altobelli, would talk to him, give him some change, then come back and report, ‘That was Steve Dalkowski.’ And a clubhouse full of cocky, young, testosterone-driven baseball players sat in awe — of the unimaginable gift, the legend, the fall.”
Dalko didn’t make it to The Show, instead toiling in the minors for nine seasons, playing for a dozen teams in eleven different leagues. His career record? 46-80 with a 5.57 ERA and 1,354 walks in 995 innings. (His career strikeout total is incomplete.) In 1958 alone, though, he walked 245 batters in 188 innings, so that should give you some idea of his on-field woes mixed with milestone mph successes.
Seems like more of an unfortunate version of the Crash Davis tale to me, but it’s one that we can all learn from. (What’s Dalko doing today? Read the link above.)
Shelton sums Dalko up well.
“In his sport” he wrote, “he had the equivalent of Michelangelo’s gift but could never finish a painting.”
However the unfortunate masterpiece that is Steve Dalkowski’s career does have its cardboard highlights.
The OBak card, which arrives in the throwback-style set inspired by the minor league tobacco cards of the same name from 100 years ago, will arrive in collectors’ hands beginning on Monday.
The product also includes a limited number of cards autographed by the man who inspired Nuke.
It’s not his only other baseball card — he appeared in the 1963 Topps set on card No. 496, a fifth series Rookie Stars card (worth about $30) that also features Angels’ pitcher Fred Newman, Dodgers pitcher Jack Smith and Senators pitcher Carl Bouldin.
There’s no doubting that those players likely have a story or two behind them, but the Baltimore Orioles pitcher in the upper left corner is the one that, to me, says plenty.
I’m sure his OBak card, produced 46 years after his first, will have a similar appeal.
Chris Olds has collected sports cards and memorabilia since 1987. Before coming to Beckett Media, he wrote about the hobby for the Orlando Sentinel on his blog, SportsStuff, and for the San Antonio Express-News and The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. Do you have a comment, question or idea? Send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.