At the letters: Speed bumps ahead

The notion that San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg could someday throw a baseball harder than anyone else in history was an irresistible tale for Yahoo! Sports readers. Nearly 4 million of you clicked on the story. Strasburg has touched 103 mph with his fastball, and since radar guns began measuring speed, only one pitch has been timed faster – a 104.8 mph fastball by Detroit Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya in 2006. My research also indicated that two other pitchers had been clocked at 103 mph – Mark Wohlers in 1995 and Matt Anderson in 1998.

That doesn't mean, of course, that somebody else hasn't thrown a ball harder, and many readers responded with candidates, from family members to historical figures to, well, themselves.

Let's hear from them. My responses are in italics.

My brother, Ryne Duren, who was a reliever for the New York Yankees could throw a ball at 100 or over. But that was back in 1958, 1959, or 1960. However, he was so fast in high school the coach wouldn't let him pitch for fear that he might maim some of the kids! In our hometown league where Ryne first pitched, I was the scorekeeper for the team (16 years old), and I called the box score in to the State Journal (Madison, Wis.). You'll find many, many strikeouts when he pitched, and because of those box scores, the scouts came out to look at him and the rest is history as they say.

Mary Duren Hecht
Racine, Wis.

Mary, your brother was truly one of the hardest throwers in baseball history. And one of the wildest. His 20/200 vision didn't help matters, and batters feared for their lives when he uncorked a fastball. Ryne has done wonderful things since his playing days ended, touching many lives with his message of recovery from alcohol abuse. Good luck, and treasure those memories.

I attended a spring training game in the early '80s when J.R. Richard was pitching. The announcer came over the PA and said "That last pitch was clocked at 110 mph." Richards could throw five or six innings at 100 mph before tiring. His catcher (Ashby) used to put extra padding in the palm of the catcher's mitt when he had to catch for Richards. I can tell you that almost all of Richard's pitches were close to blurs when he was in his prime.

David Sampson
Marietta, Ga.

J.R. Richard rivals Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller and Walter Johnson as the most consistent hard thrower in major league history, and dozens of emails pointed that out. I could not find a radar run clocking for the 6-foot-8 Astros right-hander, who pitched throughout the 1970s before a stroke prematurely ended his career. But the dozens of witnesses who wrote made it clear Richard could sustain a 100 mph fastball deep into games.

Steve, I like your articles. Keep up the great job. But on the pitching speeds, I remember as a kid I think his name was Rudy York. It was on the back of a baseball card that he was clocked at 127. No kidding! I just wanted to let you know what I saw and remembered. Thanks.

Jim Schultz
Chicago Ridge, Ill.

Mark Koenig, a shortstop with the New York Yankees, once in relief threw at the speed of 120 mph. This info I got off of a baseball card in 1953. I am 67 years old and I had that card.

Charles Roth
Dunbar, W. Va.

Rudy York, a Cherokee Indian who played in the big leagues in the 1930s and '40s, was a first baseman. Certainly he was capable of amazing feats – he still holds the American League record for most home runs in one month with 18 – but throwing 127 mph likely wasn't one of them. Old baseball cards often printed rumors and apocryphal stories on the backs, so, Jim, you probably are remembering correctly. Same with the Koenig story, Charles. A story in Baseball Digest in the 1950s said Koenig was somehow timed throwing a ball 120 mph. However, Koenig himself said it was "humanly impossible" to do so.

Have you ever heard of Atley Donald (a relief pitcher for the Yankees in the early forties)? His pitch was clocked, before radar of course, unofficially at 103 mph. You may want to investigate this to find the method used at the time to determine this. Have fun.

Chuck Holder
Lakewood, N.Y.

Ah, old "Swampy" Donald, the pride of Morton, Mississippi. He set a record by winning his first 12 decisions as a rookie in 1939, but he struck out only 369 batters in 932 career innings, so it's hard to imagine him throwing that hard.

In the mid-50s, Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians was clocked on live TV at 110 mph. As you may know he was considered a phenom before a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald ended his career. I believe the show was hosted by Ted Mack and it may have been called "Believe It Or Not," though my memory of the show name may not be correct.

Bill Sevilla
Clearwater, Fla.

Sadly, the 110 mph you remember is the estimated speed of the ball off McDougald's bat. "Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour" was a TV show on CBS in the 1950s and '60s, and could have had a segment on Score, who before the injury certainly could have touched 100 mph with his fastball. He was the first pitcher with more than 200 innings in a season to strike out more than a batter per inning, and he did it twice.

What about Van Lingle Mungo? When I was a kid I heard he used to pitch between 110-115 mph. Has he been forgotten?

John McCluskey
Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

Nobody named Van Lingle Mungo will ever be forgotten.

I seem to recall Ewell Blackwell was clocked at 104 mph many years ago. True or false?

Gary H. Boyd
Scottsdale, Ariz.


Awwww … why no mention of Bob Feller 107.9 mph demonstration in 1946 in your Strasburg article? Enjoyed the read.

Jeff Tyler
Kentwood, Mich.

Rapid Robert had only body temperature heat that day – 98.6 mph. – according to Sports Illustrated and other sources. The 107.9 mph claim is perpetuated by Feller himself at his museum in Van Meter, Iowa, but it hasn't been verified. To be fair, by 1946 Feller had lost something off his fastball. He certainly threw 100 mph in his prime, and perhaps was the fastest pitcher ever. There's just no way to prove it.

I just read your article on Strasburg. I happened to notice that there was no mention of Kyle Farnsworth being one of the top power pitchers in baseball. I suppose you might say I might not be objective enough to comment as I am Kyle's father. However numbers are numbers. The highest velocity I ever saw from Kyle was 103 mph. He often hit 100, 101 and 102 mph. Regards,

Lynn Farnsworth
Roswell, Ga.

My brother is Seth McClung, current pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. He has been clocked at 102 during a game not only with the Brewers, but also with his former team, the Tampa Rays. Just thought you may have overlooked it for your article.

Tempest (McClung) Lowman
Covington, Va.

Farnsworth and McClung are certainly two of the hardest throwers in baseball and there is no argument that they throw 100 mph fastballs. I can't find proof that Farnsworth touched 103, although both pitchers should have been listed on the chart as having thrown 102.

I flamed out quickly, 12 years in the bigs … your an ass.

Mark Wohlers

Hi, Mark. Glad you read Yahoo! Sports. As to your allegation, guilty as charged. Wohlers had 97 saves over a three-year period, pitched in four World Series for the Atlanta Braves and earned $18 million playing baseball. Hardly a flameout. Wohlers did have injury and control problems that curtailed his productivity after 1997, which was relevant to the Strasburg discussion that most flamethrowers can't sustain the heat for very long.

Except for maybe this guy …

I can throw the ball at 102, 103 consistently, but I cannot get my accuracy down. I played in high school and was throwing in the 90s in my senior year, but I struck batters too often, so they played me at second base. I am now 27 years old. I can throw 102, 103 mph with no problems, but I cannot throw the ball where I want it to go. I always felt that if I had a shot at getting trained or coached by a pro pitcher, I would be able to make a career out of baseball. Can you help?

John Chisom
Virginia Beach, Va.

Sure, I'd watch you pitch. From a safe distance.

I, Michael Hendren, threw a pitch in college clocked 104 against Duke. You never heard about that one, did ya? Well I'm not buying into it, and if you want a real story write one about a gut who is turning 40 in April, and can still throw 97 consistently on an old jugs gun from the 80s. Yea, that me and I can prove it anytime, anyplace.

Michael Hendren
Lumberton, N.C.

A gut turning 40? Now, that I believe.

Is it April Fools Day already?

Bogdan Bilyk

Why, as a matter of fact …

Isn't it against NCAA regulations for Strasburg to already have made an agreement for representation with Boras? Just curious.

Chris Gesue
New York

College baseball players are draft-eligible after their junior seasons and are allowed by the NCAA to have a relationship with an agent as an "advisor." Whether the agent is representing the player or merely advising him is splitting hairs and beside the point. This is a rare case of the NCAA using common sense and allowing players access to the professional advice they need to make perhaps the most important decision of their lives.

Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic (and world record holder in the javelin throw – 97+ meters, 323 odd feet) had a tryout for the Atlanta Braves during the '96 Olympics in Atlanta and he threw a baseball 105 mph. No where near the strike zone but I believe that's the fastest pitch on record.

Evan Tyler
Carmel, Calif.

Javelin thrower Jan Zelezny did indeed have a tryout with the Braves. But he reached only 85 mph. Also, his first two pitches went over the backstop. Other than that, it went well.

The new college kid you mentioned may be a fast pitcher for his age but I doubt he'll ever reach the 123 mph fastball status that Al Hrabosky did when he pitched for the KC Royals.

Clinton Schmidt

The Mad Hungarian was quite memorable for many reasons, although throwing 123 mph isn't one of them.

I think you might want to read a little more about Nolan Ryan. That 100.9 wasn't a radar gun, that was very sophisticated Navy radar unit that was set up to check his speed, and that 100.9 was actually clocked in the ninth inning. Nolan said later that was definitely not one of his best nights for heat. I will stand corrected if I'm wrong, but I'm also very sure that Nolan and J.R. Richard both threw over 104 in the All-Star game when they were teammates at Houston. I think Nolan threw around 104.8 and J.R. threw right around 104.4; they could bring the heat.

Cameron Park, Calif.

Mike, you are right about the radar unit that clocked Nolan Ryan at 100.9 mph. You are also right about the pitch coming in the ninth inning. And you might be interested to learn that the radar unit timed the pitch as it crossed the plate rather than when it left Ryan's hand, which robbed the reading of at least two mph. I can't find any proof that Ryan or Richard were timed at 104 mph, but I don't doubt that either man attained that speed during their careers.

Joel Zumaya threw 104 mph in a playoff game against the A's in 2006? Yeah, right. And if you believe that, you must also believe that Barry Zito was hitting 94 mph in the same game. Anyone who watched the playoffs that year knows that Fox's radar gun was absurdly inaccurate (at least 3-5 mph too fast). Zito couldn't hit 94 with a 95 mph wind behind him. Zumaya was throwing hard, but 104? Give me a break.

Guy Lasky
Rohnert Park, Calif.

Skepticism over the speeds registered at major league ballparks is not confined to that game or that ballpark. Was the Zumaya pitch actually 104.8 mph? All we have is the reading.

You guys are idiots. My father has the fastest ball ever thrown. Herman Segelke threw the ball 106 mph when he was 18 in high school. That same year he hit a ball over 600 feet. El Camino High School [in Sacramento, Calif.]. You ask any of the scouts who scouted my father when he was in high school. I am not making this up either. He was the first right-handed pitcher in the draft. First-round draft pick.

Brian Segelke
Antioch, Calif.

The senior Segelke was indeed a first-round pick, the seventh choice overall in the 1976 draft, taken by the Chicago Cubs. He made three appearances in the big leagues in 1982 and was never heard from again. As for throwing 106 mph and hitting a ball 600 feet, we'll have to take Brian's word for it.

Just for fun, how fast was Eddie Feigner, the legendary fast pitch softball pitcher with the "King and his Court"? Wasn't he clocked at something like 115 mph? I know it's a different game, but it's still pitching.

Don White
Augusta, Ga.

Feigner, a softball showman who barnstormed around the U.S. for 50 years and died in 2007, was clocked at 104 mph, according to his obituary. So he's legit! Feigner kept his own records, and he claimed 9,743 victories, 141,517 strikeouts, 930 no-hitters and 238 perfect games. So let's give him 104 mph, too. Underhand!

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