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Grantland Rice on “Speedy Hurlers” and Fast Ball Pitching”

Long before radar guns, there were fastball pitchers . . . and fast ball pitchers. The only way to evaluate and compare the very fastest in the late 19th and early 20th was anecdotally and by observation. In 2010, Tim Wendel explored the subject in his book, High Heat. On February 12 and 13, 1925, Grantland Rice wrote on his opinion on who were the five fastest up until then.

The list must include Walter Johnson, Amos Rusie, Rube Waddell, Ed Reulbach and Dazzy Vance. Walter Johnson has been just a trifle faster than anyone else. But Rusie and Reulbach were almost as fast .And Waddell had more smoke than a burning oil well. Amos Rusie probably had the fastest curve ball ever thrown. Waddell, in addition to blazing speed, had a fast drop that few could hit. After Connie Mack had turned him over to St. Louis, the big Rube got back at Connie by fanning seventeen of his bewildered athletes near the close of his career.

Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Chief Bender and Bill Donovan were also on the speed list, and so was Smoky Joe Wood. Wood had terrific speed and might just as well be included in the list. In 1912, with the Red Sox, he came near burning up the league.

No other generation has quite matched the present in the way of super ability. Certainly no other generation has been able to show at the same time a Ruth, Nurmi, Tilden, Bobby Jones, Dempsey, Weissmuller in one parade. And to Ruth’s fame might be added that of Hornsby, who, having slipped by the Honus Wagner mark, is after further laurels. Here are just a few of the targets for the next generation to shoot for.

Ruth began his home run march in 1919. That was the year Dempsey dropped Willard. Tilden and Hornsby began their five-year march in 1920. It will be interesting to see which of the Famous Four will slip first. The present prospect is that Dempsey will drop out, for there is at least an even chance that he will never defend his title. Tilden still has another year or two of championship greatness—perhaps a longer span. And there is a first-class chance that Hornsby may equal Ty Cobb’s record of nine successive years in front. The Big Four are still around the borderland of their prime.

Grover Cleveland Alexander belongs on the list, and Ed Walsh is another who must be figured in the smoke output. Johnson, Waddell, Rusie and Reulbach are the top four and after these there is little choice among Donovan, Wood, Vance and several others, checking on back through ancient masters of the flying sphere.

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