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Fastball: A Film About the Greatest Fastball Pitchers in Baseball History

Updated on February 19, 2019
Mr Archer profile image

Archer has been an online baseball writer for over seven years. His articles often focus on baseball strategy and team management.

The Big Train
The Big Train | Source

A film for every baseball fan in the world

There are a myriad of Baseball films, from "Bang The Drum Slowly" to "Bull Durham" to "A League Of Their Own" which have been produced over the years, films that are fiction, fantasy and true life. But this film stands alone as focusing on the one thing that all fans love: heat. Pure, unadulterated heat. High hard ones, high and tight, ones which put the fear of God into a batter before they even set foot in the batter's box. Heat that caused batters to question whether they would return unscathed from their at bat, or would they be headed to the hospital with an injury.

Heat that makes a pitcher into a legend.

This documentary features names that have become legends, names from the history of the game, names which are still in the game today. The Big Train, Walter Johnson; The Heater From Van Meter, "Bullet" Bob Feller; The Ryan Express, Nolan Ryan; "Hoot" Bob Gibson; Rich "Goose" Gossage and others from among the best the game has ever seen, they are all here with fantastic footage from actual games. There is also some amazing footage of scientific studies and experiments done from as early as Walter Johnson, which details just how fast he and the others really were/are. The scientists have their studies down the hundredths of a millisecond to show just how much time a human being has to react to a ball thrown that hard.

Folks, it ain't much.

Bullet Bob
Bullet Bob | Source

The Big Train and Bullet Bob

The earliest true fastball story comes to us from the greatest hitter of all time, Ty Cobb when he faced Walter Johnson for the first time. Cobb was heard to say that when the ball went past him it hissed like a train going by.

The Big Train was born.

With a motion as easy as a gentle rocking chair setting on the front porch during a summer's evening, Johnson threw so hard he was afraid of killing someone if his pitch got away from him. Everyone knew he threw harder than anybody else in baseball, but no one could say for sure just how fast he actually did throw. Leave it to the Army to make a determination. Setting up a 2' x 2' contraption that Johnson was to throw through, breaking a wire as it passed through then continuing on to strike a plate 15' behind the contraption, thus stopping a clock which was started with the broken wire.

The result? 122 feet per second. The first measurement in baseball to find out just how hard he threw a ball was complete. Eventually, the number was extrapolated out to become the hardest pitch ever thrown, and he threw it while dressed in his Sunday best clothing; street shoes, dress slacks, button down shirt and tie. How fast? Read on to find out.

Then came Bob Feller in the mid 1930's, a player that threw so hard that he was challenged to a race... with a motorcycle. The footage of this, although I had heard of it and never seen it, was worth the wait. Again, in his Sunday best (including tie!) he stood still, waiting for the motorcycle to speed by at 86 mph. As the motorcycle passed by him he released the ball as it was some 10' in front of him. A 10' lead at 86 mph. The ball traveled 60' 6" before the motorcycle traveled the remaining 50', passing dead through the bull's eye before the motorcycle could break the paper target.

Estimates were well over 100 mph.

Steve Dalkowski

I can hear you out there saying "Steve who? Dalkowski? Who the hell is that?" And I was saying the same thing before I watched this film. Well, I know who he was now.

Steve Dalkowski was a pitcher in the late 1950's and early 1960's's who never made it to the Major Leagues. He had the talent, oh boy did he have talent. A fastball that was literally unhittable and yet, he was as wild as a March hare. In 1957 he threw 62 innings, striking out 121 batters. Yes, you read that right: 121 outs out of a possible 186 were by strikeout. He literally struck out two out of every three outs when he pitched. The problem was that he walked 129 batters. That same year he struck out 24 batters in a single game but walked 18 and threw 6 wild pitches. His former catcher was interviewed and he told of a time when Dalkowski actually shattered his shin guard in a game. Another time he broke his face mask!

The wildness problem wasn't what you think of when you think of a wild pitcher: rather than not knowing where the ball was going he knew, he just could not control the ball once it left his hand. It did not go left or right, rather it was a sailing fastball that took off for the most part. Evidentally when he threw his arm had a "buggy whip" motion that produced such an underspin that the ball rose upwards at a rate that was nigh on uncontrollable. Under the tutelage of Earl Weaver he reportedly gained enough control of his fastball in 1962 that he was going to break camp the next year with the big league team. In his final 52 innings he struck out 104 and walked but 11. Unfortunately in the final Spring Training game of 1963 an arm injury on a routine throw to first dashed his chances of making it on the Orioles squad.

To add to the legend, think on this: throwing a one hitter and losing 9 to 8 because he walked 17 batters. In another game which went into extra innings, he struck out 27 batters, walked 16 while throwing 283 pitches.

"White Lightning" was perhaps the most talented fastball pitcher of all time yet we will never know just how good he really was because he never made it to the big leagues and there is no film footage of him to watch and salivate over.

But we can watch Nuke LaLouche in "Bull Durham"; after all, Dalkowski was the inspiration for Tim Robbin's character.

Sandy, Hoot and Goose

Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Goose Gossage are detailed here with game footage including a snippit of Koufax's perfect game from behind home plate. It is absolutely amazing to watch him wind up and see that little white dot flying towards home plate, seemingly disappearing as it approaches the batter. Watch as Gibson has the greatest season a pitcher has ever had in 1968 where he had the unimaginable ERA of 1.12 with some thirteen shutouts. Thirteen shutouts! He did win twenty games but the amazing thing is he lost so many that year. How? If you are only giving up a run a game, how in the hell are you not a thirty game winner? Oh yeah, because the Cardinals couldn't score that year.

And Goose, that wild thing with a Fu Manchu mustache that put the fear of God into a batter with his whirlwind windup and limbs flailing any which way. Per Goose, batters refused to look at him, but he would stare them down as they left the dugout, all the way to the batter's box. I literally laughed out loud as they show a clip where an Oakland A's hitter had a pitch up and in that was so close to hitting him that he threw the bat into the air, screamed like a little girl and spun around even as the ball was by him. The batter then looked at the catcher, holding his hand to his mouth as he was laughing out loud. I suppose he was laughing because he dodged death and was glad to be alive!

But the best Goose moment has to be George Brett's famous pine tar bat incident. Remember that one? Yep, that was Goose on the mound that day. He said that that was the maddest human being he had ever seen.

The Ryan Express
The Ryan Express | Source

The Ryan Express

Nolan Ryan is my favorite player of all time and I remember when they put a radar gun on him that special night in 1974 when he broke 100 mph. He speaks about his days pitching as they show footage of his immaculate delivery, that driving towards home plate and the release of an orb that the batter could barely see, let along hit. Sheer poetry in motion to me. He also tells that there was a lot of fear involved for the batters.

Listen as Hall of Fame hitters such as Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Al Kaline and Tony Gwinn tell tales about Ryan and others. Brett said that batters would begin to swing when they left the dugout when they were going up to face Ryan. And Ryan tells a bit about his mindset as he looked at the batter and threw the heater in. Then he smiles a secret little smile.

A few others deserve mention

Others are spoken of in a variation of hushed whispers and awed statements. Zumaya, Randy Johnson, Chapman amid other names which are spoken of in hushed tones and seen during this film. All are amazing and memories flow like crystal clear springs that feed the baseball soul.

I sat completely involved in this history lesson. There are even a few tidbits thrown in for good measure which tell the behind the scenes stories, stories I had heard of and never knew the truth which lay at the core. Stories such as Gibson's famous glare and what he would say to a batter before they took the field. Stories like what happened when Aroldis Chapman learned he had thrown the fastest measured pitch in MLB history.

And the story of the actual fastest pitcher of all time, including how they arrived at the measurement.

Jordan Hicks, the new kid on the block

The Fastest Pitcher Of All Time

So, who is the fastest pitcher of all time? The Big Train was the first Fastest, with a mark that was thought to be @86 mph. Then came Bullet Bob and his 100 mph legend that did get measured by a then scientific method. The Ryan Express was measured by modern methods at 100 mph. Zumaya hit 103 on radar and Chapman hit 105. In today's world Jordan Hicks of the St Louis Cardinals fine tuned that to 105.2 mph. But is this the fastest ever?

Remember the April Fools joke pulled on the sporting world with Sid Lynch and his 168 mph speed? That was a good one for sure but this documentary lays bare every legend, every fastball pitcher who ever laid claim to Fastest Ever.

So who was the fastest? Suffice it to say that when they level the playing field and take into account all of the dated methods and estimates, making each pitcher and their best fastball thrown the same and measured the same, who it is doesn't surprise you. At least, it didn't me. But what the actual measured speed was did.

Some of you won't watch this wonderful documentary so I will tell you here and now. But I really think you should watch. Today's standard of measurement is at fifty (50) feet from home plate, @ ten (10) feet from the mound. Okay, taking into account the measurements taken, where and when, it goes like this:

Walter Johnson goes from 83.2 mph (7.5 feet behind home plate) to 93.8 mph. Bullet Bob Feller was clocked at 98.6 mph at home plate which becomes 107.6 mph. And Nolan Ryan goes from 100.9 mph 10 feet from home plate to 108.5 mph.

Nolan Ryan. The Express. And in excess of 108 mph. Yes, over 108 mph when all is equal. In the 9th inning, on his 159th pitch he threw a fastball 108.5 mph. He is The King of the fastball.

Watch this feature and see for yourself who, what and how. It is truly worth your time if you enjoy baseball.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Mr Archer


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