What was the fastest pitch ever thrown during a baseball game? Who was the fastest pitcher in baseball history? Who could throw the fastest fastball? These questions, and others like it, are some of the most commonly asked items here on Baseball Almanac. They are also some of the most widely debated by historians, researchers & experts alike.
Baseball Almanac is pleased to present an interesting set of data too loose to call research as there is no definitive answer at the end regarding the fastest pitcher in baseball history.
by Baseball Almanac, Inc.
Document Creator: Sean Holtz of Baseball Almanac, Inc. © 2003-2005. Originally Published: February 2003 on Baseball Almanac.
Fans, researchers, historians and even the players argue all the time about who was the fastest pitcher of all-time. The most widely quoted response is Nolan Ryan , whose fastball was "officially" clocked by the Guinness Book of World Records at 100.9 miles per hour in a game played on August 20, 1974 , versus the Detroit Tigers. A record that's still included in the book.
Fascinating accounts, stories, and even myths about how fast - or not so fast - a pitch has gone are common in the annals of the game. One such account allegedly took place during a Spring Training game in 1968. A rookie catcher named Johnny Bench was behind the plate and eight-year veteran Jim Maloney was on the mound. Bench continuously called for breaking balls and Maloney continuously shook him off. Frustrated, the two met at the mound where Bench bluntly said, "Your fastball's not popping." Maloney , also blunt, replied, "%*$@ you." The rookie returned to his position behind the plate and called for a curve, only to be shaken off again. Bench gave in to the veteran (who had recently strung together four consecutive seasons with 200+ strikeouts) and signaled for a fastball. Maloney delivered. Before the pitch reached the plate Bench dropped his glove and caught the ball bare-handed - or so the story goes.
Stories about the fastest pitchers in history have also appeared in the Associated Press . Radar ( RA dio D etection A nd R anging) guns were first introduced in 1935 and the media has covered their evolution with great interest. Two early stories about this emerging technology and its application towards baseball pitching speeds are reprinted below:
Meter to Record Feller's Speed
CLEVELAND (AP) A series of photo-electric cells may settle all those arguments over who is the speedball king of the major leagues.
A few amateurs warmed up yesterday on a new pitching speed meter. Today it will test the salary wings of Bob Feller , and any other members of the Cleveland and Boston American loop clubs who are willing. Other American League clubs will be given a chance at it later.
John A. Crawford of the Cleveland Plain Dealer thought the idea would be useful in selection of pitching and other talents. President Alvin Bradley of the Cleveland Indians agreed and Rex D. McDill, Cleveland electronics engineer, built the machine.
"A kid pitcher has to have a fast ball to succeed in the big leagues," said Bradley, "for he can never learn how to pitch faster. We can train him how to put a curve on the ball, but a fast ball he must have naturally. This machine will tell us at once whether he has the fast ball. The same goes for an infielder."
First Miss Cappy Ogiun, a visitor from Orlando, Fla., tried her speed yesterday. Her best was 40 feet per second.
A varied assortment of men followed. The best throw was 86 feet a second, the second best 84. A man of about 60 years old did a foot for each of his years.
Sponsors recalled that back in 1917, in Bridgeport (Conn.) arms laboratory, Walter Johnson recorded 134 feet per second, Christy Mathewson 127 and "Smoky Joe" Wood 124. They used a gravity drop interval recorder.
The new meter, which gives an immediate reading which engineers said compared with standard laboratory meter accuracy, is built in a trailer. You throw into a hole two feet square. Just inside is a set of photo-electric tubes, and five feet back is another set. The device measures the ball's speed between the two points and flashes it on a scale facing the pitcher.
Source : Richmond (VA) Times Dispatch , June 6, 1939.
Smoky Joe Wood
often said, "I threw so hard, I thought my arm would fly right off my body."
, often cited as the fastest throwing pitcher in Major League history by experts, believed that
was faster than himself and once said, "Mister, no man alive can throw a baseball harder than
." Both were mentioned in the
Meter to Record Feller's Speed
article above and the unit of measure was feet per second. Modern measurements / clockings are done in miles per hour in the United States and kilometers per hour in Canada & Japan.
is pleased to provide you with a velocity calculator which you can use to convert these various formats and compare pitchers - both modern and historical.
So how fast was Feller ? The Meter to Record Feller's Speed article mentioned it was specifically going to examine his pitching speed. Satchel Paige , who could bring on the heat himself, believed Feller was the fastest and told teammates, "If anybody threw that ball any harder than Rapid Robert , then the human eye couldn't follow it." Feller once mentioned that he was clocked at 104 mph at Lincoln Park in Chicago. He also claimed he was clocked at 107.9 mph in a demonstration in 1946 at Griffith Stadium. At the Aberdeen Proving Grounds he was measured using the ever-popular speeding motorcycle test, once used in 1914 with Walter Johnson who reached 99.7 mph, and Feller reached 98.6 mph. The results of the test from the "new meter" were reported the day after the initial article:
Humphreys' 'Hard' Un' Faster Than Feller's, Meter Shows
CLEVELAND (AP) - Three Boston Red Sox threw a baseball 122 feet a second into a new photo-electric pitching meter yesterday. Three Cleveland Indians could do only 119 feet.
Pitchers were not included in yesterday's test but "unofficially," Bob Feller of Cleveland threw three balls into the meter from a distance of 20 feet. The best mark he recorded was 119 feet. His less-touted teammate, pitcher Johnny Humphreys , recorded 127 feet. There will be a contest for pitchers later.
Cleveland men who developed the speed meter said the only comparable scientific marks were made in 1917. Walter Johnson threw the ball 134 feet a second, Christy Mathewson 127 and "Smoky Joe" Wood 124. Their speeds were shown by a gravity drop interval recorder.
Source : Richmond (VA) Times Dispatch , June 7, 1939.
The results from the "contest for pitchers" have never been found. Since machine testing was rare and uncommon we are left with a scientific void about historical flamethrowers. Early comments about fastball pitchers can be found in many old newspapers and offer some interesting insight into who was considered fastest during this early era:
"He ( Lefty Grove ) was the fastest pitcher who ever lived." - Ford Frick
"Smokey Joe (Williams) could throw harder than all of them." - Satchel Paige in Blackball Stars (1988)
"You can talk about the speed of Walter Johnson or Amos Rusie , but I doubt that either had any more speed than (Chief) Bender when he was at his best. He was not physically as strong as some others, but he had long, tapering fingers and a peculiar whip to his arm that certainly drove that baseball through the air." - Eddie Collins
Another fascinating account of a fastball pitcher, who is often credited as one of the fastest ever, was described in great detail by baseball historian Jonathan Fraser Light. The "twist" here is this pitcher never appeared in a Major League game!
To understand how Dalkowski, a chunky little man with thick glasses and a perpetually dazed expression, became a legend in his own time...
Pat Jordan in The Suitors of Spring (1974).
The fastest pitcher ever may have been 1950s phenom and flameout Steve Dalkowski. Dalkowski signed with the Orioles in 1957 at age 21. After nine years of erratic pitching he was released in 1966, never having made it to the Major Leagues. Despite his failure, he has been described as the fastest pitcher ever.
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. Others who claimed he was the fastest ever were Paul Richards , Harry Brecheen and Earl Weaver. They all thought he was faster than Bob Feller and Walter Johnson , though none of them probably saw Johnson pitch.
In 1958 the Orioles sent Dalkowski to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a military installation where Feller was once clocked. Feller was clocked at 98.6 mph. Dalkowski was clocked at only 93.5, but a few mitigating factors existed:
1) Dalkowski had pitched in a game the day before, so he could be expected to throw 5-10 mph slower than usual;
2) there was no mound to pitch from, which Feller had enjoyed, and this would drop his velocity by 5-8 mph;
3) he had to pitch for 40 minutes before the machine could measure his speed, and he was exhausted by the time there was a reading. Other sources reported that the measuring device was a tube and that he took a long time to finally throw one into the tube.
It was estimated that Dalkowskis fastball at times reached 105 mph. Dalkowski was not physically imposing, standing only 5'8" and wearing thick glasses. He had legendary wildness, which kept him out of the Major Leagues. In 995 minor league innings, he walked 1,354 batters and struck out 1,396. He walked 21 in one minor league game and struck out 21 in another. In high school he pitched a no-hitter while walking 18 and striking out 18.
He threw 283 pitches in a complete game against Aberdeen and once threw 120 pitches in only two innings. He played in nine leagues in nine years.
In 1963 for Elmira he finally started throwing strikes. During spring training in 1964, Dalkowski was with the Major League club. After fielding a sacrifice bunt by pitcher Jim Bouton in spring training, Dalkowskis arm went dead and he never recovered. He drifted to various jobs and landed in Bakersfield, California, where he was arrested many times for fighting.
He once threw a ball at least 450 feet on a bet. He was supposed to throw the ball from the outfield wall to home plate, but he threw it well above the plate into the press box. He once threw a pitch so hard that the catcher missed the ball and it shattered an umpires mask. Dalkowski was the basis for wild fastball pitcher Nuke LaLoosh in the movie Bull Durham.
Source : The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball , 1997.
Radar guns now routinely measure the modern pitcher's performance and the magic fastball number is now set at 100 miles per hour. Scoreboards in nearly every ballpark - including High Schools - now flash pitch speeds for the world to see. Breaking the 100 mph plateau makes news that can often travel to the front office at nearly the same speed. "You should see the scouts, " said Braves speed gun handler Jim Guadagno, "They're like kids with new toys when they see that 100 light up on their guns. Three digits! Nobody else in the league can do that." The pitcher Guadagno was referring to was Mark Wohlers and since then other hurlers have joined this unique fraternity:
"100 MPH Club"
Billy Wagner 101 MPH
Turner Field | July 30, 2003
Photo by Clinton Plaza
Kerry Wood 100 MPH
Wrigley Field | August 10, 2005
Photo by Scotty0351
Justin Verlander 102 MPH
Comerica Park | June 12, 2007
Photo by Scotty0351
Rafael Soriano 100 MPH
Turner Field | May 4, 2007
Photo by WireIMAGE
Dustin McGowan 100 MPH
Rogers Centre | October 2, 2005
Image from BSTN
Radhames Liz 100 MPH
Oriole Park | August 25, 2007
Image from MASN
Jonathan Broxton 10
Citizens Bank Park | May 14, 2009
Photo by Paul Lori
Seth McClung 101 MPH
Chase Field | August 21, 2007
Image from FSN
Citizens Bank Park | April 23, 2007
Photo from MLB.tv
Citizens Bank Park | September 10, 2007
Photo from MLB.tv
Jonathan Papelbon 10 0 MPH | Fenway Park | April 22, 2008 | Image from MLB.com GameDay
Joel Zumaya 103.4 & 104.8
McAfee Coliseum | October 10, 2006
Image from MLB.com Enhanced GameDay
Neftali Feliz 101.0 | Oakland Coliseum | August 3, 2009 | Image from MLB.com GameDay
Aroldis Chapman 105.1 | PETCO Park | September 24, 2010 | Images from ESPN SportsCenter
In Order by Fastest Observed Speed
(Listing Has Only The Fastest Known Speed by the Pitcher)
Date / Box Score
Citizens Bank Park
Pacific Bell Park
Justin Verlander * †
Minute Maid Park
Pacific Bell Park
Citizens Bank Park
Pro Player Park
Three Rivers Stadium
Citizens Bank Park
Date / Box Score
* Actual picture of speed taken from the field at top of the chart.
** Actual picture of speed taken from the field at bottom of the chart.
^ Due to the large number of MLB.com Gameday additions this symbol means it was verified there.
Took place during a no hitter.
Ubaldo Jimenez 10 1 MPH | Citizens Bank Park | October 7, 2009 | Photo from MLB.com GameDay
The list above IS NOT a comprehensive breakdown of every pitcher to ever surpass the 100 mph barrier, but rather a list of pitchers we have seen on ESPN Game of the Week, SportsCenter, or in person eclipsing the century mark. If you want to share an another or provide an accurate game date for those we have in the chart please send us an email .
So who is the fastest pitcher in baseball? Baseball Almanac honestly does not know. Major League Baseball does not recognize radar speeds as an official statistic. The Elias Sports Bureau , Stats Inc and The Sporting News are all highly respected resources who publish some form of record book every season, yet none of them recognize any pitcher as the fastest ever. Nobody really knows, but we do hope this article has shed some light on the topic and at least provided you with additional material to argue with your friends about.
The Fastest Pitcher in Baseball by Baseball Almanac © 2003-2007
Tom House , the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers , was once asked if anyone would ever be able to throw harder than Nolan Ryan . House replied, "Others will throw harder, but no one will throw harder for longer."
Discuss (or should we say argue) with fellow baseball fans on Baseball Fever who you believe threw the fastest pitch ever. Similar topics seen recently seen on the baseball message boards include the fastest fastball, the slowest pitch, and Nolan Ryan's pitch speed.
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Closer Tug McGraw named his fastballs! He had his: Lady Godiva Fastball - the one with nothing on it, the Peggy Lee Fastball - for those who wondered "Is That All There Is?", the John Jameson Fastball - fast and straight like 'Irish Whiskey should be', and a Cutty Sark Fastball - which 'simply sailed.'