Greetings again from the darkness. Cheese. Gas. Heat. The crowd perks up when a power pitcher lights up the radar gun and starts ringing up hitters. As narrator Kevin Costner points out, at the core of the game of baseball is the epic battle between a man with a stick and one with a rock … the bat and ball … the batter and pitcher. Director Jonathan Hock digs into our fascination with those few who can throw a fastball at speeds that cause even the elite hitters to struggle. A 100 mph fastball gives the batter .396 milliseconds to react … quicker than the blink of an eye.
Mr. Hock structures the film for maximum enjoyment and ease of keeping up. I counted 13 chapters which such titles as “The Big Train”, “The Heater from Van Meter”, “Hoot”, “The Fastest that Never Was”, “Nolan Ryan”, and “The Fastest Pitch” . Within each chapter we are treated to a blend of archival footage, interviews with baseball legends, and input from scientists and experts. The segments contrast the athletic side with the scientific side … especially interesting given how over the past 15 years, baseball has transitioned into such a risk strategy of performance tendency metrics.
Listening to a physics expert discuss the “Magnus Effect”, while legendary hitters like Hank Aaron and George Brett describe a “rising fastball”, is quite an experience for those of us who so love the great game. There is a history lesson, complete with photos and film, on how measuring the speed of pitches goes back to Walter Johnson being tracked through some contraption at the Remington Armory; Bob Feller’s pitch racing against a motorcycle; and a young Nolan Ryan going up against a crude radar detector.
Different generations are discussed with insight from such legendary fastball pitchers as Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Nolan Ryan, Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel, David Price and Aroldis Chapman.
Unfortunately 80 year old Sandy Koufax is not interviewed, but we do see some rare video footage from his 1965 Perfect Game. There is discussion on earlier eras and pitchers such as Walter Johnson, Bob Feller and the enigmatic Steve Dalkowski (who does make a brief appearance). Gibson describing his infamous glare from the mound is itself worth the price of admission. However, it’s the great Nolan Ryan who has the most camera time, which is understandable given his unprecedented quarter century run as a power pitcher.
Just as interesting as listening the pitchers, is having the hitters discuss the challenge in hitting the fastball. The difference between a 92 mph fastball and a 100 mph fastball is broken down scientifically by the experts and real world by hitters such as Tony Gwynn, Al Kaline, George Brett and Hank Aaron. The chalkboard and video clips work together to make it clear just how difficult it is to hit the fastball. As for the “fastest pitch ever”, the mystery may never be solved.