Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

High Heat: Finding Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher

High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time  by Tim Wendel

Yesterday we posted an interview with the author that touched off a wonderful debate on who was, in fact, the fastest pitcher of all time.  So this expanded post contains some additional facts about 100+ mph throwers, reviews of the book which, by the way, has drawn critical aclaim, a repost of the NPR interview, and videos of some of the contenders for fastest pitcher–Johnson, Feller, Koufax, & Paige. 

From efastball.com, the fastest recorded pitch ever was 108 mph by Nolan Ryan during the 1974 season with Bob Feller coming in second at 107.6 in 1946.  However, both pitches were measured using different, and less precise, devices than one would use today.  However, there is no debate that there are more 100+ mph pitchers today than ever before.  A total of 26 pitchers (led by Joel Zumaya at 102.7 ) threw in excess of 100 mph in 2009 while 17 reached the century mark in 2008.

Enjoy!

 Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press

Baseball is so obsessed with statistics you might think it’s easy to identify who threw the fastest fastball.

Not so, Tim Wendel tells us in “High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time.” In fact, he says, Major League Baseball doesn’t recognize radar gun readings as official. And what’s more, some of the most famous fireballers showed their stuff long before radar guns were first aimed at pitchers in the 1970s.

Feel free to disagree with his conclusion, but be sure to enjoy the book. Far from just a statistical inquiry, it’s packed with stories about baseball and some of its extraordinary players.

We read about men throwing a baseball through a wooden fence or a wire-mesh backstop, knocking over a surprised hot dog vendor in at least one case. Rusie was said to have hunted jack rabbits with stones when he was a child, throwing with deadly speed and accuracy. Ryan tells about the day when, as a ninth-grader, he threw a softball the length of a football field. Sandy Koufax, as a kid in New York City, peppered his buddies with softballs from so far away they couldn’t fire back.

He traces how fireballers left their marks on the game, spurring such innovations as the walk and a lengthening of the distance from the mound to home plate. (Another innovation, the elbow operation known as Tommy John surgery, is reflected on by former pitcher Tommy John himself.) Wendel talks about the fear batters feel when they face those lightning bolts from the mound, and how Ty Cobb exploited Walter Johnson’s own fear of hurting somebody when Cobb stepped to the plate.

This is a fascinating book for a baseball fan. And it shows Feller had the right idea when Wendel told him about his quest.

“Who was the fastest pitcher of all time?” Feller mused. “The world will never know, may never agree, but it sure is fun to talk about, isn’t it?”

Library Journal

Wendel … moves across baseball history to show that choosing the fastest pitcher, and defending such a choice, is subjective: there are no agreed-upon criteria, since speed alone is not useful if you can’t hit the plate. In our era of moneyball and sabermetrics, it’s refreshing to read a book so vividly written that we can easily envision the old-time players and scouts spit tobacco juice to punctuate their opinions while disdaining mere radar readings. Wendel teaches us as much about the evolution of the values of our society as he does the development of the national pastime: will all information gathering rely only upon machinery, or will we trust our eyes, instincts, and judgment? Highly recommended.

NPR INTERVIEW: Author Tim Wendel is interviewed by NPR’s Scott Simon

Walter Johnson

Bob Feller

Sandy Koufax

Satchel Paige

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