Continuing on with our semi-regular practice of shouting out old Sports Illustrated stories that have stuck in our mind, I’d like to call your attention to this “Where Are They Now?” piece about the fabled Steve Dalkowski—a man who recently popped to mind when news of Ryan Leaf’s latest travails broke wide. The thumbnail sketch on Dalkowski is that he’s the greatest left-handed pitcher who never was—a wild fireballer who awed the great Ted Williams, yet was undone by alcoholism before he could truly make his mark in the game. As of last report, he resides in an extended-care facility, the victim of dementia caused by his longtime chemical dependence. A straight-up tragic tale any way you cut it.
What I remember most about the SI is one detail in particular—a classic example of a single observation that lays bare the essence of a character. The one about Dalkowski is the kicker to the paragraph:
At midseason in 1964, Baltimore released Dalkowski. He hung on for two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ and the Los Angeles Angels’ organizations. In Bakersfield in 1965 he married a schoolteacher named Linda Moore, but they divorced two years later. Soon he was in the California fields, picking cotton and sugar beets, beans and carrots. Dalkowski’s drink of choice was cheap wine, which he would buy when the bus stopped on the way to the crop field. Often he would place a bottle in the next row as motivation.
Makes me think that the rewards we all set up for ourselves really speak volumes about our core desires—desires that we may not wish to reveal to others, at least not overtly. When it comes right down to it, human psychology is astonishingly hamster-like.