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.
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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