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Thread: Did Pitchers of Yesteryear Throw With "Much Less" Velocity Than They Do Today?

  1. #141
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    Quote Originally Posted by hellborn View Post
    I think that Christy was implying that such dumb pitchers wouldn't make the majors. It is interesting that '10 was Walter's first big year...ERA+ went from 109 to 183, CGs from 27/36 to 38/42, record from 13-25 to 25-17, Ks from 164 to 313 (in about 74 more innings pitched, to be fair). If that was really when WJ stopped throwing full effort on every pitch, maybe that's good evidence that Christy's advice was good for that time.
    Such pitchers did, however, reach, and even thrive in the majors (and still do) following this approach. (The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.) In the context of how atrocious his batting support was, and how heavily his decimated staffmates leaned on him that year, Johnson's 1909 season is actually a tremendous achievement.

    Nonetheless, Christy's advice was indeed absolutely good for the time; and still is today, despite the fact that changes in usage patterns have rendered this practice not nearly as critical as it used to be.
    A swing--and a smash--and a gray streak partaking/Of ghostly manoeuvres that follow the whack;/The old earth rebounds with a quiver and quaking/And high flies the dust as he thuds on the track;/The atmosphere reels--and it isn't the comet--/There follows the blur of a phantom at play;/Then out from the reel comes the glitter of steel--/And damned be the fellow that gets in the way.                 A swing and a smash--and the far echoes quiver--/A ripping and rearing and volcanic roar;/And off streaks the Ghost with a shake and a shiver,/To hurdle red hell on the way to a score;/A cross between tidal wave, cyclone and earthquake--/Fire, wind and water all out on a lark;/Then out from the reel comes the glitter of steel,/Plus ten tons of dynamite hitched to a spark.

    --Cobb, Grantland Rice

  2. #142
    It wouldn't surprise me. Players and people in general, are just bigger, stronger, and healthier today and pitchers have better conditioning targeted at maximizing their arm's potential (not to mention are working hard at early age with focused training to develop their pitching). Plus, with things like radar guns, there is something palpable to reach for - instead of just trying to throw hard, you're trying to shoot for a specific number. Also, hitters used much heavier bats way back when, which could suggest that they didn't need as much bat speed as today to catch up to pitches.

    I'd actually be surprised if pitchers say from 100 years ago threw as hard on the whole as pitchers today. Doesn't mean that no one back then could throw as hard as modern pitchers, but on the whole, I would think there's more velocity now.

  3. #143
    I agree. I think that there are a lot more high velocity fastballs being thrown today that 50/100 years ago. I don't, however, think that pitchers 100 years ago were incapable of hitting the high 90s. I think that even with pitchers throwing more high-speed fastballs today, if I was a manager of an MLB team I would be more worried to see Lefty Grove warming up in the opposing teams bullpen than a lot of modern pitchers.

    This argument is similar to trying to argue whether players during the deadball era could hit for great power since there were far less home runs. Everyone knows that would be an outrageous claim. Of course Wagner and Cobb could swat the ball as far as many of the top modern sluggers, but there's no way to prove it 100 percent.

  4. #144
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    Quote Originally Posted by leecemark View Post
    --I think an important point about Feller's 98.6 MPH clocling is that it came in 1946 and probably did not represent his top speed. I've read comments by Feller to the effect that when he returned from the War he started throwing the slider more and that accounted for his strikeout record in 1946. Batters simply weren't prepared to deal with a very good slider in additon to the great fastball - and a pretty damn good curve. Another comment by Feller that suggests he was not throwing as hard then, although more effectively, is that he used a very high leg kick early in his career but abandoned it after several years. The high leg kick gave him a little extra speed, but hurt his control. I'm fairly confident that had Feller been timed before the War he could have hit 100+.
    I remember reading an anecdote by Billy Goodman (AL batting champ, 1950), probably in an old issue of Baseball Digest, concerning his first AB against Feller in 1947 as a pinch-hitter.

    After not even seeing the ball, he went back to the bench and heard veterans saying, "What a shame Feller has lost his fastball."

    Goodman supposedly said, "Whatever he lost, he doesn't NEED!" Apparently Feller still possessed a very impressive fastball 10 years after his major league debut, and after 4 years off as a gunner on a battleship.

  5. #145
    Quote Originally Posted by deadball-era-rules View Post
    I agree. I think that there are a lot more high velocity fastballs being thrown today that 50/100 years ago. I don't, however, think that pitchers 100 years ago were incapable of hitting the high 90s.
    I would amend this to say that some pitchers could hit the 90s, but there were certainly many pitchers who could make it in that era with control and change of speed. Since pitchers could be successful throwing various speed stuff from 60-80, I think that most pitchers of the deadball era could not throw close to 90. Basically there was more variety of pitching styles.

    What batters FACED on average was pitchers who probably topped out in the low 80s.

  6. #146
    If y'all haven't seen it yet, check out my video for Bob Feller. At the end of it you get to see Feller make Greenberg look absolutely stupid with his fastball thrown from the stretch.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAm5fwb1Psw

  7. #147
    Quote Originally Posted by SABR Matt View Post
    And IMHO, the "pitch-to-contact" mentality of the deadball era made pitchers considerably less important to the outcome of games and therefore less valuable.
    But they individually pitched so much more than today's pitchers that the 3 day rest, 3 or 4 day rotation guys at least as valuable as today's 5 man, 5 day rest guys.

    In fact, "at least" isn't even accurate; the greatest pitchers of the pre-1920 era were certainly more valuable and important to their teams in comparison to today's greatest pitchers.

  8. #148
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    In terms of total wins created, yes that's true Chris.

    In terms of impact on any ONE game...no they weren't.

    Yeah...when you start 50 or 70 games for your team, you're going to amass a lot of raw value...but in terms of per-game impact...the pitching position as a whole was markedly less valuable.

  9. #149
    Quote Originally Posted by THE OX View Post
    I remember reading an anecdote by Billy Goodman (AL batting champ, 1950), probably in an old issue of Baseball Digest, concerning his first AB against Feller in 1947 as a pinch-hitter.

    After not even seeing the ball, he went back to the bench and heard veterans saying, "What a shame Feller has lost his fastball."

    Goodman supposedly said, "Whatever he lost, he doesn't NEED!" Apparently Feller still possessed a very impressive fastball 10 years after his major league debut, and after 4 years off as a gunner on a battleship.
    I very clearly remember an interview with Ted Williams on his ESPN Sportscentury hour episode commenting that not only had Feller not lost much on his fastball, but his fastball had actually gained movement in 46' as compared to 41'. And yes, he also developed the slider after WWII.

    I think his 1946 performance very clearly indicates that this was the case!!

  10. #150
    Quote Originally Posted by SABR Matt View Post
    But in terms of per-game impact...the pitching position as a whole was markedly less valuable.
    Sure, but impact "in any one game" is vastly less important than a pitcher's impact per season or over the course of a career.

    Moreover, the "per-game" impact is diluted given that pitchers throw far fewer games in the long run today!! We've gone from the 3 man rotation (Young, Alex, Johnson), to the four man rotation, which lasted until the mid 1970's, with the advent of the five man rotation.

    That's why Bill James arbitrarily chose to "halve" all the Win Share totals of 19th century pitchers. If he hadn't, every WS list would be completely dominated by those guys.

    Code:
    Career Win Shares
    Cy Young 634
    Walter Johnson 536
    Pete Alexander 476
    Roger Clemens* 440
    Christy Mathewson 426
    Warren Spahn 412
    Greg Maddux 392
    Lefty Grove 391
    Tom Seaver 388
    Phil Niekro 374
    Eddie Plank 361
    A majority of these guys pitched before integration, and only all were from eras where pitchers were more valuable to their teams (see: deadball, 60's-70's) than today.

    Of the top 10, only two are listed from the last 25 years. Clemens prolonged his career artificially twice with steroids; this is well documented. He wouldn't even be on this list without the massive doses of artificial help. OTOH, Maddux's career appears legit; no damning anecdotal or circumstantial evidence has come to light. And, given his skill set, he could/would be the best pitcher in the world in any era. He deserves a spot on this list.

    The point is, though, look at Maddux, with his 23 years and 5000 IP in the major leagues and how much less value he has accumulated compared to Alexander, who pitched a very similar # of innings.

    On top of the vastly disparate workloads they had to endure, when you also include the fact that deadball era pitchers not only had to field frequently, but were required to field well due to the level of infield plays/hits/bunts, it just solidifies that they were much more important then than they are today. A pitcher like RJ or Pedro can be an atrocious fielder and get away with it given the conditions.

    Going 5-6 every 5 days is nothing compared to going 8-9 every third day, while also being called in to relieve on short rest on your days off (Big Train, Alexander, and the other greats of his day were also asked to do this, in addition).

    You mentioned starts. Well, Maddux averaged 33 stars per season over his career, which is actually 1 more than Alexander did in his. Of course, he completed 22 games/season and Greg 5/season.

  11. #151
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    Bob Feller was tested three times in his career. He was tested using a device developed by the Cleveland Plains Dealer around 1939. Accounts at the time indicate Feller threw into the machine while joking around. He threw 81 MPH. Atley Donald of the Yankees threw 95 and a couple other players did as well. It was set-up similar to a radar gun at a carnival.

    He was tested against a speeding motorcycle a couple years later. The motorcycle was going 88 and he beat it easily. It was determine that the ball was traveling 104 MPH.

    He also was tested using a chronograph in 1946. He threw 98.6. Here's a video of the test.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMPxpOapRuU

    Note that the ball is measured as it crosses the plate. Most modern guns measure the velocity 20 feet from the pitcher's hand. The ball loses about 8 MPH from the mound to the plate.

    I agree that many of the old timer speedballers could throw 95-100. But I think they paced themselves. There's no reason to throw as hard as you can when many of the players were "punch and judy" types that didn't hit the deadball more than 200 feet.

    If the radar guns being used today are an accurate "apples to apples" comparison to the guns used 20-30 years ago, I think modern pitchers throw a few MPH harder than they did in the 70's through the 90's.
    Last edited by Bench 5; 07-23-2008 at 01:32 PM.
    "Batting slumps? I never had one. When a guy hits .358, he doesn't have slumps."

    Rogers Hornsby, 1961

  12. #152
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    "Ted Williams once stood in a spring training batting cage and took one pitch from Dalkowski. Williams swore he never saw the ball and claimed that Dalkowski probably was the fastest pitcher who ever lived."

    According to Steve Dalkowski (who should probably know), this is only partially right. In ST 1960, Williams went 1 for 2 against him. The first time, he got him up to an 0-2 count and threw his slider ("I think I hung it...it was high and outside.")...which Williams knocked half a mile for a homerun. The second time, he threw five four-seam fastballs...the first two missed, and then Steve threw three right down the middle. The first one Williams fouled off. The second one, a little higher, Williams took for a close called strike two. And the third? Well, that one Williams took a huge hack at missed.

    One thing that's been missing from this discussion is probably the most important thing of all...the distance at which a pitcher's heater is measured. A modern JUGS Radar Gun clocks a pitcher at 45 feet from the mound. But the device that recorded Nolan Ryan's record pitch at 100 mph, Bob Feller's 98.6 mph fastball, and Steve Dalkowski's 93.6 mph fastball (with no mound, he'd been pitching for fifteen minutes trying to get the chronograph to read a pitch, and he'd started the day before) all came at 60'6". I posted more about this in the trivia section, which I'll reproduce here...

    "[W]hile I believe Steve Dalkowski could probably hit 103 mph and probably threw slightly harder than Joel Zumaya, that's about the limit of the human arm without the tendons in your ulnar collateral ligament flying apart. Steve's arm structure was rather unique...his left arm was a lot like Satchel Paige's right arm. He threw with a max effort delivery, used an incredibly fast arm action, and take a look at a picture of Steve's stride and it's quite similar to that of Tim Lincecum in length. While Steve probably was among the fastest pitchers of all time, he probably seemed to throw even harder, as well. Could he hit 108 [an oft-repeated myth was that he was timed at 108 mph]? Depends on your definition of throwing 108 mph (see below). Could he do it all the time? Same answer as before. Was he ever timed at 108? No. Where did this myth come from? Read on.

    When Dalkowski threw a fastball that was actually clocked, it registered at (according to conflicting reports) 99.8 mph or 93.8 mph. Considering Steve's sister claims the latter speed is correct, we'll go with that. However, keep in mind the following: Dalkowski, like Nolan Ryan, was timed at 60'6". Today's pitchers are timed at 45 feet from the mound. Dalkowski also lost a few mph throwing off flat ground and throwing over fifty pitches before he finally registered one single speed. It's likely Dalkowski could hit 100-103 mph at 60'6", which is 1-3 mph more than what Ryan threw. Now consider that a pitcher loses anywhere from 5-7 mph from 45 feet to 60 feet 6 inches (let's assume 5 mph, since that's the minimum). Add in 1-2 mph from that loss of throwing off flat ground, and all of a sudden Dalkowski is throwing 99-100 mph with that pitch on a modern gun taking readings at 45 feet. Further, all of a sudden, Ryan is throwing 105 at least and 107 at most (since speed guns have registered that much on one of Joel Zumaya's best pitches at 45 feet, it's not impossible).

    But let's go back to answering our original question...how did this myth come about? Well, add 7 (max limit of pitch velocity loss from 45 feet to 60'6") and 1 mph (from having lost that throwing off the mound) to 99.8 (the incorrect measurement) and round up. What do you get? That's right...108 mph. Seems someone was guessing what that pitch would do on a modern radar gun and did it with the wrong info.

    This is all about perspective. Could Steve Dalkowski throw 108 at 60'6" (which is basically what matters)? No, that's not humanly possible. Consider that ASMI is referring to 60'6" when asked what the limit of the human arm is (about 105 mph). But could he throw that at 45 feet? I have no doubt. Considering he actually caught Steve Dalkowski AND Nolan Ryan, I'll go with Andy Etchebarren as saying that Dalkowski was definitely faster than Ryan, but not to the point where they were incomparable. Then we have the inevitable question that follows...could Nolan Ryan throw that hard at 45 feet? Almost certainly. When we see Ryan finally recorded on a modern JUGS Radar gun at 45 feet, he's played over 15 years of his career. Both Dalkowski and Ryan in their primes likely threw as hard or a little harder than Joel Zumaya...whose fastest pitches likely top off around 99-100 mph at 60'6"."
    "They put me in the Hall of Fame? They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel!"
    -Eppa Rixey, upon learning of his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Motafy (MO-ta-fy) vt. -fied, -fying 1. For a pitcher to melt down in a big game situation; to become like Guillermo Mota. 2. The transformation of a good pitcher into one of Guillermo Mota's caliber.

  13. #153
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    One thing to note about Ted Williams and Dalkowski in 1960.

    During spring training Ted was suffering from the same pinched nerve in his neck that made him a .254 hitter the year before. He couldn't turn his neck much at all and he couldn't see the pitcher real well. The problem didn't clear up for him until around opening day against Washington. So it is entirely possible that Ted never saw Steve's fastball.
    Last edited by Ubiquitous; 07-23-2008 at 02:31 PM.

  14. #154
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    Makes sense...Steve said each of the three fastballs that he threw Williams was higher than the next.
    "They put me in the Hall of Fame? They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel!"
    -Eppa Rixey, upon learning of his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Motafy (MO-ta-fy) vt. -fied, -fying 1. For a pitcher to melt down in a big game situation; to become like Guillermo Mota. 2. The transformation of a good pitcher into one of Guillermo Mota's caliber.

  15. #155

    Dalkowski

    All this stuff about Dalkowski is just speculation. Like the alledged "Roswell incident" the ledgend grows bigger every year. He was clocked at 93 point something? So I can believe that on a real good day he'd have been up around 100 on Pitchf/x or the Jugs Gun.

  16. #156
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    Quote Originally Posted by evetts18 View Post
    All this stuff about Dalkowski is just speculation. Like the alledged "Roswell incident" the ledgend grows bigger every year. He was clocked at 93 point something? So I can believe that on a real good day he'd have been up around 100 on Pitchf/x or the Jugs Gun.
    You can find dozens of quotes from baseball people saying Dalko was the fastest pitcher they ever saw. Earl Weaver said this, and he managed Dalko in the minors...think of how many great fastballs Weaver has seen from Ryan, I'd assume Koufax, Tanana, etc. If Weaver says Dalko had a fastball like nobody else, he had to be throwing over 100 on a gun. Cal Ripken Sr. caught him in the minors and said the same thing. These guys know a little baseball, and they knew Dalko intimately, and had seen dozens of other flamethrowers...they said Dalko was the fastest, no question.
    Weaver figured out that Dalko had a very low IQ and couldn't process a lot of information from coaches. Earl told Steve to throw his fastball and slider over the plate and not worry about anything else. After this, Dalko struck out 104, walked 11, and gave up 1 earned run in 52 innings during one stretch at AA. The next spring training, he was headed for the majors, and he hurt his arm. Never made the majors.
    We'll never know exactly how hard he threw, and we can't compare him to Grove, Feller, or the Big Train...but, I think that it's impossible that he could have only touched 100 on a gun on a good night, and I think that it's very likely that he was faster than Ryan at his best. But, Dalko also couldn't throw strikes until the very end...I honestly wonder if he was so challenged intellectually that he didn't know to take a little off the ball to control it and just threw full effort without being that concerned about just where it would go.
    Last edited by hellborn; 07-24-2008 at 12:16 PM. Reason: wrong tense
    "I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base." - Preacher Roe on pitching to Musial

  17. #157
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    "He was clocked at 93 point something? So I can believe that on a real good day he'd have been up around 100 on Pitchf/x or the Jugs Gun."

    Off flat ground, having thrown for fifteen minutes, and starting the game the previous day...yep, sure are ideal conditions...

    "Earl told Steve to throw his fastball and slider over the plate and not worry about anything else. After this, Dalko struck out 104, walked 11, and gave up 1 earned run in 52 innings during one stretch at AA."

    Yep. That was 1962 after about half the season had passed. Weaver pretty much realized that if he told Dalkowski (whose likely problems came with his release point...he was wild up and down, not in and out) just to throw the four-seamer right down the middle, nobody was going to catch up with it anyway. He was just pipelineing his best pitch and still put up those numbers (Steve had better control over his two-seamer and slider and could locate those a little better).

    "I honestly wonder if he was so challenged intellectually that he didn't know to take a little off the ball to control it and just threw full effort without being that concerned about just where it would go."

    Kind of. Steve's problems more or less had to do with his release point. But his coaches couldn't communicate that because they essentially got him thinking too much on the mound. As an example of this, Steve also said that the Orioles pitching coaches (namely Harry Brecheen) slowed him down on the mound around 1959 and wanted him to be more deliberate. While Brecheen's logic probably would have worked with most other pitchers, it got Steve thinking too much and too hard.

    "We'll never know exactly how hard he threw, and we can't compare him to Grove, Feller, or the Big Train...but, I think that it's impossible that he could have only touched 100 on a gun on a good night, and I think that it's very likely that he was faster than Ryan at his best. "

    Well put!
    "They put me in the Hall of Fame? They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel!"
    -Eppa Rixey, upon learning of his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Motafy (MO-ta-fy) vt. -fied, -fying 1. For a pitcher to melt down in a big game situation; to become like Guillermo Mota. 2. The transformation of a good pitcher into one of Guillermo Mota's caliber.

  18. #158
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    From the Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, page 248. Dalkowski must have been incredible to watch. He must have scared bujeezus out of hitters!

    .
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 07-24-2008 at 02:41 PM.
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  19. #159
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    Ironically, Bill James didn't quite get it right with regards to how Steve injured his arm (also, Earl managed Steve at Elmira in '62, not '64). As you can imagine, something like that...even with a guy with an IQ of about 60...stays with you for a very long time. "I don't remember the count, but Joe Pepitone was up and he was bunting. I think it was a slider I threw him [and it] felt like my elbow popped." Although Hector Lopez, Phil Linz, and Jim Bouton have all come up as being names Steve faced, the articles where the writers have actually asked Steve, it's been Joe Pepitone.

    I will give this to evetts18...there ARE a lot of myths out there to the point of where it's difficult to seperate fact from fiction in the case of Steve Dalkowski. However, it's also clear that with Steve finally beginning to regain control of his memory, which had once been nearly blank, that many of these myths will be undoubtedly put to pasture. However, one other thing is clear...Steve throwing so fast that he could come up in speed discussions with Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller (note that Feller and Dalkowski were clocked with the same machine at the same distance...Feller had the luxury of getting a pitch reading on his third pitch, being well-rested, and throwing off a mound) is NOT a myth.
    Last edited by Dalkowski110; 07-24-2008 at 03:06 PM.
    "They put me in the Hall of Fame? They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel!"
    -Eppa Rixey, upon learning of his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Motafy (MO-ta-fy) vt. -fied, -fying 1. For a pitcher to melt down in a big game situation; to become like Guillermo Mota. 2. The transformation of a good pitcher into one of Guillermo Mota's caliber.

  20. #160

    93 point something

    Quote Originally Posted by Dalkowski110 View Post
    "He was clocked at 93 point something? So I can believe that on a real good day he'd have been up around 100 on Pitchf/x or the Jugs Gun."

    Off flat ground, having thrown for fifteen minutes, and starting the game the previous day...yep, sure are ideal conditions...

    "Earl told Steve to throw his fastball and slider over the plate and not worry about anything else. After this, Dalko struck out 104, walked 11, and gave up 1 earned run in 52 innings during one stretch at AA."

    Yep. That was 1962 after about half the season had passed. Weaver pretty much realized that if he told Dalkowski (whose likely problems came with his release point...he was wild up and down, not in and out) just to throw the four-seamer right down the middle, nobody was going to catch up with it anyway. He was just pipelineing his best pitch and still put up those numbers (Steve had better control over his two-seamer and slider and could locate those a little better).

    "I honestly wonder if he was so challenged intellectually that he didn't know to take a little off the ball to control it and just threw full effort without being that concerned about just where it would go."

    Kind of. Steve's problems more or less had to do with his release point. But his coaches couldn't communicate that because they essentially got him thinking too much on the mound. As an example of this, Steve also said that the Orioles pitching coaches (namely Harry Brecheen) slowed him down on the mound around 1959 and wanted him to be more deliberate. While Brecheen's logic probably would have worked with most other pitchers, it got Steve thinking too much and too hard.

    "We'll never know exactly how hard he threw, and we can't compare him to Grove, Feller, or the Big Train...but, I think that it's impossible that he could have only touched 100 on a gun on a good night, and I think that it's very likely that he was faster than Ryan at his best. "

    Well put!


    How do you know he started a game the previous day? Have you seen a box score or something? Even if he had, remember Randy Johnson coming into the World Series game against the Yankees after having pitched the previous day? I don't remember him throwing 80 mph. He had pretty much the same fastball as the night before. Also, throwing off of flat ground vs. a mound doesn't make that much of a difference. I pitched a little in college and I can tell you that it just doesn't. And throwing for fifteen minutes before throwing the ball into the machine couldn't make that much difference, either. For all we know he rested every couple of minutes anyway. As for all of these people who supposedly have said that Dalkowski was the fastest they've ever seen, most, if not all of them saw him while they were first in the minor leagues (some were probably right out of high school). Therefore, they would have been comparing him to other minor leaguers. In comparison, I'm sure his fastball looked 110 when everyone else was probably throwing mid 80's. I'm not saying that he wasn't one of the fastest of all time, just that I bet he didn't throw any harder than Feller, Ryan, Zumaya or anyone else who's had a legit 100 mph fastball. And if he did, it was maybe by a half a mph. That 93.8 is pretty hard to get around.
    Last edited by evetts18; 07-25-2008 at 08:23 AM.

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