Understanding Pitcher Steve Dalkowski

Meeting Steve Dalkowski, circa 2008
(photo courtesy John-William Greenbaum)

John-William Greenbaum is a fan/collector/historian. It began with one card and one question.

In the process of discovering minor league legend Steve Dalkowski, Greenbaum found inspiration for a book. Meanwhile, he’s been finding a world of talented players who fell just one opportunity short of the majors.

I thank this all-star researcher and likely future professor for an enlightening e-interview about one of baseball’s hardest throwers ever — and one of the sport’s most mythic, misunderstood personalities.
Q: How did you first encounter Mister Dalkowski? How did you build that relationship?

How I encountered Steve is probably one of the most remarkable things that’s ever happened to me. It was either late 2003 or early 2004, and at that time, I was living with my parents in Ossining, NY, which isn’t too terribly far from the CT state line. Well, one of my Dad and I’s favorite things to do then was go to the flea markets, because they were real treasure troves. You didn’t go there and find a bunch of junk…you could and did actually find valuable stuff. Anyway, there were two really good flea markets: an outdoor one called the Elephant’s Trunk Bazaar, and an indoor one that had much less. So as I said, it’s late 2003 or early 2004. December of one year or January of another. Dad and I go out to Elephant’s Trunk because we think there are going to be dealers there…no snow on the ground after all. Really sunny. But you know what? It was 29 or 30 degrees outside! Nobody showed up! So we went to the indoor flea market.
You could count on the indoor flea market to be pretty much the same every week. The booths never changed hands that I know of. So we went there as a fall-back and Dad went to his favorite booth, where the vendor sold old tools, and I went to my favorite booth, where the dealer sold baseball cards.

My favorite era of card collecting is pretty much everything pre-1980. It always has been. The cards this guy kept were in shoebox type arrangements, kept in two rows with a cardboard divider. He would only organize them by decade…you could find a 1950 Bowman in a bunch of 1959 Topps cards, for example…but I digress. I’m going through his 1960’s box and well well, what do we have here? A 1963 Topps #496, which at that time, was Steve Dalkowski’s only baseball card.
I’d heard of Steve because I’d always read all the trivia books and basically wondered about those eye-popping strikeout and walk totals. But I never got a straight story. There was always something different from one story to another. But right then and there, I just wanted that baseball card. So it’s got a green price sticker on the toploader that says “8-“. I go into my wallet and voila! I’ve got six bucks. Two short, and I had no bargaining skill whatsoever then. So I walk on over to Dad, who’s going through a chest of tools with another gentleman.

“Dad, can I have two bucks?” I ask him.

“What for, son?” he asks, pretty doubtfully. See, I’d probably borrowed that $6 I had to begin with since I didn’t have any concept of fiscal responsibility either at that time, so I had to justify getting $2.
“A Steve Dalkowski rookie card,” I told Dad. 
The other gentleman going through the chest of tools dropped whatever he had back in, whirled to his feet, eyes wide as saucers, and he had a very serious expression on his face.
“Did you say a Steve Dalkowski rookie card?” he asks me. I told him yes, I did.

“Well, my name’s Bill Huber,” he said, extending his hand for me to shake it. “I was Steve Dalkowski’s high school baseball coach.” And indeed he was!
 We must have spoken for 45 minutes, and that’s a minimum, before he told me “you should go on over there and talk baseball with Steve. He’d like that.”

Dad and I got Pat Cain’s contact info, although I misplaced it and had to get it again from a CT newspaper man named Steve Frank. That was a bit embarassing, but on July 13, 2008, I met with Steve Dalkowski in-person with Pat Cain there for the first of five times. Three of those were for interviewing purposes, and the other two were more or less shoot the breeze. One thing that surprised me, when I was doing the actual research, is that Steve is portrayed these days as someone who can’t remember anything. I’d fallen for that hook line and sinker until I met Steve. If you brought up a name of a ballplayer, he’d remember.

Q: How has Steve D been through the years regarding autographs and fan mail?”

A: Terrific until the TriStar Obak cards came out. You see, when you’re sending to Steve, you’re really sending to his sister, Pat Cain. Oh, she doesn’t sign anything…it’s all Steve…but she likes to be there when Steve signs and spend time with him. Pat’s a wonderful woman and without her, my book would not have been possible to even start, but she’s really busy. It used to be that there would be 3×5’s and photos and stuff like that…she could handle that. But when the Obaks came out, it was like everyone who had one of the cards decided to send it to her. Right now, I’d rate Steve a very good TTM signer, but you have to wait, and the wait is pretty long.
IP, it’s totally different. Steve signs for anybody. When I was there the first few times, Steve was signing everything I had. I gave a lot of it away, actually. Just to friends who were curious about what Steve had done. Early on, I even gave some away to teammates of Steve’s. Ballplayers collect autographs, too, although I’m sure you knew that, Tom, haha!

Q: Possible publication date for the book?

A: I’m guessing you’ll see the whole thing done a year from now. It’s going faster than I’d anticipated, which is good, but I still need to get some of the box scores. I have a great deal of them and have found some remarkable games that seem, for some reason, not to have entered into Steve Dalkowski lore, yet are truly amazing. For example, against the Greensboro Yankees in 1958, Steve pitched against Bob Riesener, who is another legendary Minor League pitcher. The previous year, he’d gone 20-0, something which no other professional pitcher has done. But he hurt his arm in ’58. I’d never heard that one.

Coming Monday: Reconnecting with Steve Dalkowski’s teammates and foes.

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