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High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time Hardcover – March 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Intent on determining the fastest pitcher ever, Wendel (founding editor of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly) questions former and current players, managers, scouts, historians and other experts for insight into what has become one of the most prized proficiencies in all of sports. Wendel examines such high-heat icons as Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, but also brings readers along on field research: browsing, white-gloved, through documents at the National Baseball Hall of Fame; visiting a rural cemetery in search of the unusual grave marker of James Creighton ("the game's first true fireballer"); making his own fastball attempt at the American Sports Medicine Institute; and more. Wendel also reflects on the fastball's dark side, looking at the steroids era and batters struck (in one instance, killed) by high-speed pitches. Wendel's too-clever organization can muddle the narrative-chapters are arranged by the phases of a pitch ("The Windup," "The Pivot," "The Stride," etc.)-but he presents a satisfying search for the ultimate fastball pitcher, with a result that's just conclusive enough (going to the player "who persevered the most with what was bestowed upon him") while leaving plenty of room for baseball die-hards' second-favorite sport: debating other fans.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The fastball is to baseball what high cheekbones are to fashion modeling: you’ve either got ’em or you don’t. Pitchers can refine a fastball, learn to control it or supplement it with a curve or changeup, but they either have the ability to throw it 95 miles an hour or they don’t. Wendel, the author of six books and a founding editor of Baseball Weekly, sets out on a quest to understand the history and mystery of the fastball, beginning with long-forgotten names from baseball history and quickly moving to recognizable greats such as Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Bob Feller. Feller, the first of the modern-era legends and a notorious curmudgeon, sits down with Wendel and recounts the elaborate experiment (before radar guns) in which a speeding motorcycle was used to help calculate the speed of Feller’s heater. Wendel interviewed dozens of players, coaches, and team officials—past and present—including Jeff Torborg, who had the unique experience of catching both Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan in their primes. This is a really engrossing volume for baseball fans, filled with anecdotes, behind-the-scenes tales, and subjective thoughts on the mysterious activity of throwing a ball more than 90 miles per hour. --Wes Lukowsky
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1 edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818486
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,433,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tim Wendel is the author of 11 books -- novels and narrative nonfiction. His latest book is DOWN TO THE LAST PITCH (Da Capo Press). His writing has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Gargoyle, The New York Times, The Washington Post and American Scholar. He's a writer in residence at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches nonfiction and fiction. For more information, www.timwendel.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mary Collins on March 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In his latest nonfiction book, High Heat, Tim Wendel takes full advantage of the storytelling skills he's honed as a novelist and penned a book about baseball that even people--like myself--that have little interest in the sport will find compelling. For the true sports fan, the tale is packed with all sorts of amazing details about America's pastime, so he or she won't be disappointed on that count. But Wendel's tale rises to the level of the best narrative nonfiction again and again because he understands his story is about the gifted among us, and not just about his quest for the fastest fastball pitcher. Why are certain people blessed with unique talents? Why are some of them able to control and capitalize on it while others fritter it away? As the author crisscrosses the country to piece together his list of the top ten fastball pitchers of all time, he winds up really talking about art. At one point about midway through the book he even dissects a paragraph by Joan Didion, the acclaimed author of such books as In the Year of Magical Thinking, and successfully explains what the art of the writer and the art of throwing high heat over home plate have in common. Such literary flashes make this book compelling and a wonderful snapshot of American life on so many levels.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mike Robinson on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Who threw a baseball the fastest of all-time? Some assert Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Sam McDowell, Goose Goosage, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, and many of the modern flamethrowers. But countless problems arise when one seeks to discern the fastest fast-baller in baseball history inasmuch as the balls in baseball have changed in size, weight, and material. Additionally mound heights and angles have changed so attempting to discover the fastest of the fast in some sense is vain.
But herein Tim Wendel has issued a zippy and entertaining book in: "High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time."

Wendel delivers a fascinating pitch in alluring prose that discusses the bio-mechanics in throwing a baseball and the genetic aspects of the preeminent speed-ballers. He draws the reader in with great anecdotes featuring:

- Nolan Ryan (thought to have the fastest recorded pitch in history until the recent new breed of pitchers came on the scene)
- Walter Johnson (one of the first who threw real smoke)
- Bob Gibson (Mr. Intimidation)
- Steve Dalkowski (maybe the very fastest hurler of all-time)
- And numerous additional captivating research and anecdotes.

The new strong arms in MLB have recorded the following speeds over and above Ryan's (remember many factors have changed including the radar guns - so I still affirm NR as the fastest of the fast):

- Joel Zumaya 102.7 MPH on 6/30/09 (est. 100 times over 101 MPH in career).
- 102.6 Jonathan Broxton 7/3/09.
- 102.2 Brian Wilson 9/5/09.
- 101.3 Daniel Bard 7/09
- Justin Verlander 101 MPH in 9/2009.
- 101.1 Neftali Feliz 8/09.
Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By kevin on April 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It's hard for me to convey just how entertaining and informative this book is. If you are a baseball fan, High Heat is a veritable paradise of stories and anecdotes and mini-biographies about the men who could hurl the pill at break neck speeds. Mr Wendel explores the ups and downs of possessing this so-called gift, by looking at men such as Steve Dalkowski,a man said to possess that greatest fastball of them all. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the book is the way Wendel weaves in so many characters and so many different aspects of the discipline of pitching into a coherent narrative. From Nolan Ryan's early struggles to master his gift to the way Ty Cobb would hang over the plate because he was so confident that Walter Johnson would never come inside for fear of killing someone. Wendel also takes into a biomechanics lab where scientists try to disentangle what it is that gives someone the ability to compel their body to throw a baseball so swiftly. This book is a rare treat - plain and simple.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sugafoot on April 3, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Prior to the advent of steroids and human growth hormone the ability of a pitcher to throw in excess of 100 MPH was a Promethean ability; to which maybe a dozen or so pitchers could lay claim. And like Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus' lightning some of these men paid a price for this near mythic ability. In High Heat we learn that a God given fastball did not always lead to instant fame and fortune. For those baseball aficionados who have often debated the question of who threw the fastest this is a book that has been long in coming and is a must read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike Robinson on November 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Who threw a baseball the fastest of all-time? Some assert Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Sam McDowell, Goose Goosage, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, and many of the modern flamethrowers. But countless problems arise when one seeks to discern the fastest fast-baller in baseball history inasmuch as the balls in baseball have changed in size, weight, and material. Additionally mound heights and angles have changed so attempting to discover the fastest of the fast in some sense is vain.
But herein Tim Wendel has issued a zippy and entertaining book in: "High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time."

Wendel delivers a fascinating pitch in alluring prose that discusses the bio-mechanics in throwing a baseball and the genetic aspects of the preeminent speed-ballers. He draws the reader in with great anecdotes featuring:

- Nolan Ryan (thought to have the fastest recorded pitch in history until the recent new breed of pitchers came on the scene)
- Walter Johnson (one of the first who threw real smoke)
- Bob Gibson (Mr. Intimidation)
- Steve Dalkowski (maybe the very fastest hurler of all-time)
- And numerous additional captivating research and anecdotes.

The new strong arms in MLB have recorded the following speeds over and above Ryan's (remember many factors have changed including the radar guns - so I still affirm NR as the fastest of the fast):

- Joel Zumaya 102.7 MPH on 6/30/09 (est. 100 times over 101 MPH in career).
- 102.6 Jonathan Broxton 7/3/09.
- 102.2 Brian Wilson 9/5/09.
- 101.3 Daniel Bard 7/09
- Justin Verlander 101 MPH in 9/2009.
- 101.1 Neftali Feliz 8/09.
Read more ›
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