Dalkowski, 'Bull Durham' inspiration, passes away

Former flamethrower died of complications due to COVID-19

April 25th, 2020

We all know the character Nuke LaLoosh from the 1988 movie "Bull Durham." But what many don't know is whom the wild, hard-throwing Minor League pitcher was modeled after. That was Steve Dalkowski, a left-hander in the Orioles organization during the late 1950s and early '60s, who passed away due to complications from COVID-19 last Sunday, per The Associated Press. He was 80.

Dalkowski's story is the stuff of legend. He threw incredibly hard, 100 mph -- some onlookers said up to 125 mph -- though that was well before velocity was tracked reliably. According to "Bull Durham" writer and director Ron Shelton, Ted Williams once said Dalkowski was "the fastest he ever saw."

But Dalkowski was also incredibly wild. At Class C Stockton in 1960, for example, he struck out 262 batters in 170 innings, but he also walked 262. At Class D in 1957, he threw 39 wild pitches in 62 innings. He was never able to rein in his command and lost the velocity after injuring his pitching arm during Spring Training with the O's in '63.

Overall, Dalkowski spent nine seasons in the Minors and pitched 956 innings, over which he struck out 1,324, walked 1,236 and threw 145 wild pitches.

An infielder in Baltimore's Minor League system just after Dalkowski retired, Shelton heard the legendary stories about the left-hander and decided to write and direct a movie with a Dalkowski-inspired main character. LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) was a young, hot-headed pitcher with great potential alongside a veteran catcher, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), tasked with guiding LaLoosh toward the Major Leagues.

Dalkowski had been in a nursing home since 1994 due to dementia, and according to his sister, Patricia Cain, had several pre-existing conditions that became complicated once he contracted COVID-19. In addition to his sister, Dalkowski is survived by nephews Daniel and David Lee, great niece Amanda Lee and great nephew Nicholas Lee.