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

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  • Originally posted by Bill Burgess
    I'm afraid that I am the one who has asserted on this site, that I believe that old time pitchers, as a collective group, probably couldn't hit the 90's on the radar gun. But that's not to say that there were not any exceptions.

    I have said this several times, since those few pitchers, such as Amos Rusie, Walter Johnson, Waddell, Vance, Grove, Feller were singled out as fireballers, while few other pitchers were ever mentioned as exceptional fastball pitchers.

    I'm such a presumptious guy, here is what my gut tells me about their top end velocity. No evidence whatsoever.

    Johnson 101, Rusie 99, Feller/Grove 98, Waddell 94, Vance 93. I doubt if any of the other pitchers pre-1950, could have hit 90.

    I believe that the 60's featured such good fastball pitching due to the high strike zone. Larger your target area, easier to cut loose. Guys like Koufax were clocked at 93, Drysdale at 95, Bob Turley at 97. I haven't seen any number for Sam McDowell but he was probably at 98, at the least.

    I further believe that todays pitchers can fire so fast is that they don't have to do it for very long. Not the whole game. But they're also limited by having to fire it into a much smaller target area. Which limits their velocity.

    Bill Burgess

    Plus the Negro Leaguers, like Paige/Williams, whom I forgot. They no doubt were over the 95 mph threshhold. And possibly over 100.
    I am pretty sure that Vance threw considerably harder than 93 m.p.h. as did Van Lingle Mungo.

    Take a look at the wide disparity between the K totals of Vance and Mungo and league averages.

    The pitchers of the 1963-68 ERA Era threw the hardest as the height of the strike zone enabled the high release point that resulted from the windups of that time.

    I think that velocity started to decline in the early 70's as the strike zone shrunk and the height of the 10" mound was enforced.

    The increase in stolen bases prompted by artificial turf stadiums worked against young hurlers using the double-pump windups uised by Juan Marichal and Ferguson Jenkins.

    This process was quickened by Jim Kaat's abandonment of the windup.
    This enabled him to hold runners and conserve energy.
    This practice was widely copied and is one of the many reasons Kaat should be in the Hall of Fame.

    On recent Red Sox teams only Paul Byrd has had a full windup.

    The pitchers of the last 20 years with the exceptions of the usual suspects haven't thrown nearly as hard as the pitchers of my youth.

    Almost all of the hardest throwers of the past 20 years have been closers.

    Comment


    • Originally posted by evetts18 View Post
      Here's the sort of thing your asking me to believe. The best sprinters in the world run the 100 meters in just under 9.7 seconds and probably, on average, run it in about 9.75 to 9.8 or so. However, suddenly some guy could come along who could consistently run the 100 meters in under 9.7 seconds and set the world record at 9.6 seconds, or maybe less. I don't believe that sort of thing is possible, no mater what Earl Weaver thinks.

      One thing the radar guns over the last 20 years have told us, if nothing else, is that no one performs that far out of the norm. We know what the fastest pitchers throw and that the next really hard thrower who comes along isn't going to throw 107 or 108. He'll top out in the low 100's and probably not be able to sustain that for more than a couple of innings. You can bet on it.

      By the way, don't be such a sensitive guy. This is all in good fun, isn't it?
      Usain Bolt says hi.
      Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

      Comment


      • Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules View Post
        Usain Bolt says hi.
        LOL. What's really interesting is that there's evidence humans are capable of running considerably faster than that. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/19/wuss_men/

        Comment


        • Originally posted by davewashere View Post
          LOL. What's really interesting is that there's evidence humans are capable of running considerably faster than that. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/19/wuss_men/
          Let me first make this clear, I don't doubt that Bolt or some one else could run even faster.
          But this guy has to be kidding, he can tell the speed or that aboriginal man by his foot prints, are you buying, I'm not.

          Comment


          • I haven't read the article but yest you can compute the speed of a creature based on the footprints.

            Comment


            • Originally posted by Ubiquitous View Post
              I haven't read the article but yest you can compute the speed of a creature based on the footprints.
              I'm speaking of this particular case, 20,000 years ago.Figures for speed are arrived at by " estimating" leg length by foot size, key word estimating and also factoring in stride length.

              Obviously stride length can be measured with accuracy but leg length is an estimate, not accurate enough to measure a number, speed.

              In the past this method has been used to "estimate" speed of some dinosaurs. In some cases after a speed was reached it was noted that it might not be accurate because the leg length of that dinosaur could not be certain.

              I'm not accepting, his conclusion, could be slower could be faster than the number he gives.

              Comment


              • Originally posted by davewashere View Post
                LOL. What's really interesting is that there's evidence humans are capable of running considerably faster than that. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/19/wuss_men/
                What was so ironic is that just 21 days after that post regarding running 100 meters Usain Bolt broke the 100 m world record.
                Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                Comment


                • Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules View Post
                  What was so ironic is that just 21 days after that post regarding running 100 meters Usain Bolt broke the 100 m world record.
                  This guy is on another planet, all by himself.
                  When he's out there it seems the only real race is for second place.

                  Comment


                  • Does anyone have any detailed info on the design of the apparatus that timed Bob Feller at 98.6 mph? From what I understand they used army ordinance equipment called the Sky Screen Chronograph. It was designed to measure the velocity of artillery shells. From what I've found from Internet sources this device had an accuracy of 1/10,000th of second. But here is the kicker. The 98.6 mph reading is supposed to be the velocity as the ball crossed home plate! Doesn't a baseball lose about 8 mph from when the ball leaves the pitcher's hand to when it crosses home plate? That would imply that Feller threw that pitch at about 106-107 mph.
                    Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 03-05-2010, 02:11 PM.
                    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                    Comment


                    • Thats true. I saw a test (data) run on W.Johnson by a bullet mfgr (I think) that yielded results in feet per second which calculated out to a value below 90 mph, but that too was not likely the initial velocity. I believe that I posted the details on this somewhere here. I will see if I can dig that out.

                      Comment


                      • Originally posted by Bill Burgess
                        There are few ways to measure velocity, but every once in a while, there occurs other ways. For example:

                        Batters facing Walter Johnson often alleged that they could not actually see the ball. Umpire Billy Evans admitted that even he couldn't tell if the ball was crossing the plate or not. Quite an admission.

                        Batters often admitted that they couldn't tell if they were swinging over the ball, under the ball, or anything. Even Babe Ruth told of his first AB against Johnson in 1915. He says he stepped into the batters box. Bam, bam, bam. Back to the dugout. Easiest victim Walter ever had. Babe never swung, never saw any pitches. But he heard something swish by. He told the ump that the pitches sounded high.

                        Another batter, I think it was Jimmie Dykes was, was batting agaisnt Walter and his arm comes down. Jimmie is waiting and the ball never arrives. Then the catcher is returning the ball. Jimmie turns to the ump, with questioning eyes. The ump tells him to take his base. Huh? says Jimmie. The ump then informs him that if he doesn't think the ball clipped him, feel his bill cap.

                        Jimmie does and the bill is turned all the way around. Jimmie turns white. Never even saw a ball! Only Nolan Ryan was that fast in modern times.
                        No one ever alleged they couldn't even see a ball. So I equate Johnson with Ryan. Ryan was timed over 100 mph.

                        Feller was time at 98.6. Body temperature. Many equated Feller with Grove. But no one ever claimed that they couldn't follow Feller's pitches. So I measure Johnson over 100. With Ryan.

                        When Feller came along in '37, he electrified the BB world, with his 98.5 mph velocity. So that was the top rate for the BB world at the time.

                        Today, so many pitchers register over 98 on the radar gun, that I stopped counting. Rod Dibble, JR Richards were both over 100. Didn't create a stir then. But it would have in 1940. So that is one way to measure velocity by era. Today, I suspect that Clemens, Johnson, Martinez, Rivera, and lots of others could go over 100 perhaps several times a game.

                        If that were possible in 1938, they would have created the same stir as Feller did in '38.

                        Bill Burgess
                        I love these anecdotes and apocryphal stories, but I have one problem with them. If Johnson's fastball was so fast that the best batters and umpires could not track them, how did Johnson's catchers ever stand a chance? I believe that these stories are surely exaggerated. I will say this in agreement with you. Johnson might have had the fastest fastball relative to other pitchers ever. If he's throwing 93-95 and everybody else is topping out at 87-89, then it would be as if someone could throw 103 routinely in today's game when most everyone else is topping out in the 96-98 range.

                        Comment


                        • And wow, THIS thread has been resurrected! A few quick points that I believe need correcting from my prior comments...

                          -After doing some rather extensive newspaper research, Steve Dalkowski was attempted to be timed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, MD AT LEAST four different times. I've also spoken with Joe Ginsberg, who caught Steve on perhaps the best-covered test by the media. This one took place in June 1958. I was lucky enough to obtain a photograph of Steve pitching, taken by James Kelmartin of the UPI (RIP). I have been thus far able to confirm...
                          -Steve was pitching on one or perhaps two days rest at most. He had indeed started a game either one or two days earlier with the Knoxville Smokies.
                          -Steve could not get the ball into the chronograph measuring him for a minimum of 15 minutes.
                          -Steve WAS wearing spikes and pitching off a mound.
                          -Baltimore was angry because he'd thrown a slip pitch through the machine to get it to record a speed of 85.8 mph at a distance of 60'6" from home plate, repeating the test once the season had concluded (unsure of the exact date), in Spring Training 1959 (where he likely hit 93.4 or 94.3; I've found both figures), and a third test I have almost nothing on that occured in 1960.
                          -The device Steve was measured on was a lumiline chronograph; almost identical to the one Feller was clocked on in 1946. Unfortunately, in my studies of the lumiline chronograph (often incorrectly referred to as a "sky screen"; this is but one of two components that takes speed), I've come to be absolutely convinced that it had such a horrific margin of error that it was almost useless. The device was designed to function in a controlled environment and some factors that could throw timing off included wind conditions, an insect flying over the aft lumiline screen, dirt blowing across the field, and even clouds! I would extend this being basically useless to Feller's 98.6 mph pitch, as well. The problems with the device included speed readings taken of pitches that were literally 10 mph apart or more. Feller also registered in the high 80's during that same test where he hit 98.6! I believe Frank Gilbreth's studies of Art Fromme suffered from something similar, albeit far worse.
                          -Nolan Ryan was almost certainly clocked between 30 and 45 feet away from his hand, NOT at home plate. The people at Rockwell International had actually published this prior to their taking his speed on radar. The sports journalists seemed to merely assume it was home plate, and while a few very early articles say it was "about 45 feet" from Ryan's hand, they were soon after replaced by Ryan being clocked at home plate. In my mind, that pitch would have registered about 104 mph on a modern radar gun. Highly impressive? Yes. But as fast as either Dalkowski or Zumaya? I doubt it.
                          -Zumaya's pitches (and everyone else's these days, as well) are measured between point of release and about 10 feet away from the hand.
                          -Walter Johnson's pitching mechanics (which HAVE been recorded on video and have been slowed down, and have been looked at by a ton of people) likely didn't allow him to throw much faster than 92-93 mph at release. But then consider that due to the primitive nature of throwing mechanics at the time, the league average for fastballs was in the high 70's or low 80's. Here you have a guy about 10-12 mph faster than the league average, on pretty much every pitch. In terms of simply being "faster than his peers," Walter Johnson was probably unparalleled on a Major League level at any time in history. Why was he so fast with such a mechanically-weak delivery? It's possible he simply had a tremendous amount of "fast twitch" muscle fiber in his right arm, allowing him to generate greater arm speed.
                          -I firmly believe based on what I've gathered that Steve Dalkowski threw a minimum of 105 mph and a maximum of 109 mph. However, bear in mind I'm using the Zumaya release point. The studies performed by Dr. Glenn Fleisig on the human arm saying the UCL explodes at just over 100 mph (possibly 101 mph) are indeed dead on...if you're using home plate as the 100 mph barrier. A fastball loses about 10-11 mph of velocity from point of release to home. Therefore, it's perfectly anatomically possible for Steve to have thrown 100 mph at home plate. Most pitcher can generate neither the mechanics nor tolerate the pain threshhold it takes to reach these speeds. With regards to pitching mechanics, you'll see more about that in my book on Steve. However, I will say this: Steve was almost certainly hitting 90 mph at release with a twice-torn MCL during California Angels Spring Training of 1966. He was in extreme agony, but pitched anyway. With regards to pain threshhold, I believe Steve's was incredibly high.
                          "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.

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                          • Originally posted by Dalkowski110 View Post
                            -Walter Johnson's pitching mechanics (which HAVE been recorded on video and have been slowed down, and have been looked at by a ton of people) likely didn't allow him to throw much faster than 92-93 mph at release. But then consider that due to the primitive nature of throwing mechanics at the time, the league average for fastballs was in the high 70's or low 80's.
                            Dalkowski, your passionate, meticulous research into the life and achievements of the eponymous baseball legend are always a highlight of my sporadic board lurking these days. You may yet do for Dalkowski what Bill Jenkinson has done for Ruth and other distance hitters.

                            However, in the five years plus since I originally posted this thread, I still have yet to see a convincing or well-thought out argument for the above claim. My research has found, among other things, way too many caved in batter skulls, broken arms, smashed ribs, ended careers, and other maiming/mangling physical traumae at the blow of wayward(?) twirler pitches to accept the early 20th century moundsman-as-soft-tosser model. (See post #16.)

                            It's well-established by now that, for various reasons, nearly all existing film (not video--a mid-20th century innovation) records of early 20th century baseball athletes are of extremely limited value for making determinations about player physical skills. Of far better utility are any surviving records of skill competitions in which definite measurements were made; such as the throwing contest figures I listed (also in post #16). If simple math based on his recorded best tells you that Honus Wagner (a position player) could demonstrably break 90mph on a hypothetical gun, it's all but certain that Johnson (as well as the other top speedballers of the day) were exceeding this implied figure by quite a wide margin.
                            Last edited by HitchedtoaSpark; 03-10-2010, 02:28 PM.
                            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

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                            • Of course the average pitchers speed has increased as the 100m times have improved over the time. esp. I think todays pitchers can maintain speed longer.
                              But of course that doesn't mean all pitchers where really slow then, because velocity in throwing like 100m speed is more a talent then speed thing.
                              100m runners 80 years ago didn't run 11.0(jesse owens ran 10.2) and of course not all pitchers did throw in the 80s.

                              sure there where some guys who could top out in the low to even mid 90s although they might not have thrown it as consistently as todays pitchers who can maintain top speed for 5 or 6 innings.
                              I now have my own non commercial blog about training for batspeed and power using my training experience in baseball and track and field.

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                              • You don't need to throw 100 mph to injure a human being.

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