Hitting a baseball is hard enough as it is, no matter what level of the sport you're playing. Beer league hardball can prove challenging for even the most experienced of players, although one could argue that this is the result of many years of wear and tear, deteriorating eyesight and, Father Time's favorite, the "losing of a step."
So imagine, for a moment, being a professional baseball player, and not only having to deal with the best "stuff" any better will ever have to face, but also trying to keep up with a fireball bearing down on you at speeds faster than your beat-up Honda is allowed to go on the highway.
Many will argue that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. I would amend that statement, to make it a little more specific: hitting a 100 mph fastball is the hardest thing to do in sports.
It's remarkable to think that over the history of the sport, pitchers have come and gone, whipping triple-digit laser beams across the plate while somehow managing to, for the most part, keep their arms in their sockets while consistently hovering around 100 on the radar gun. Others haven't been as lucky, as their gift doubled as a curse - the exertion on their rocket-launching pitching arms too great to sustain for much longer than a couple of seasons.
No matter how long they last, one thing is for sure - the batters who had to face these fire-ballers still feel the whoosh of the ball sizzling by them in their dreams (and/or nightmares).
*All statistics gathered from www.efastball.com
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15 Justin Verlander – 102.4 MPH (2011)
Justin Verlander may have lost the elite status he held for several years during the prime of his Major League Baseball career, but one can reminisce fondly on the prime of the Detroit Tigers' hurler's marvelous career. Verlander topped out at 102.4 MPH in 2011 during the 5th inning of a game against the Texas Rangers. Adrian Beltre was the poor soul who had to watch the jet stream that the pitch left in its wake.
14 T13. Bobby Parnell – 102.5 MPH (2010 & 2011)
Bobby Parnell comes in tied for 13th with two separate radar-shattering fastballs in consecutive seasons. Parnell has worn a number of different hats for the Mets over the years, usually near the end of games where he could close out games with his sizzling fastball. Parnell hit his top speed of 102.5 MPH in back-to-back years, the first in the 11th inning of a game against the Astros, and the second in the seventh inning while squaring off against Miguel Cabrera (unfortunately that pitch ended up being called a ball).
13 T13. Steve Dalkowski – 102.5 MPH (1958)
Surprised to see a name from the 50s on the list? You shouldn't be. Some of the games best - and fastest - pitched during baseball's heyday. While Steve Dalkowski's blazing pitch was not recorded during a game, it doesn't change the fact that the man could whip the ball at a ridiculous speed. Dalkowski's reading was taken with a chronograph, a machine that used various screen devices to measure the speed of the pitch. The pitch was a bit of an estimate, since he wasn't pitching from the same distance pitchers use today, but the "Fifty Foot Equivalent" (the equivalent of pitching off a mound) would put him at 102.5 MPH.
12 Jonathan Broxton – 102.6 MPH (2009)
Jonathan Broxton falls in the category of "power pitcher" thanks to his big arm and his big body that allows him to put a little extra "oomph" on his pitches. While you'd hope for a bit more overall consistency from a guy who can hurl it in there at over 102 MPH, Broxton has bounced around from team to team throughout his career. His "shining" fireball moment came in 2009, when he drilled a 102.6 MPH laser-beam past Kevin Kouzmanoff while closing out a game for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
11 T10. Bruce Rondon – 102.8 MPH (2013)
Bruce Rondon is one of the newcomers - not only to this list, but to baseball in general. He's still in the infancy of his MLB career, as he only debuted in 2013. He made quite the entrance, though, putting the entire league on notice with a heavy fastball. Rondon's 102.8 MPH pitch came in the eighth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians. Rondon blazed his fourth pitch past batter Ryan Raburn for a swinging strike, one that Raburn probably never even saw fly by him.
10 T10. Kelvin Herrera – 102.8 MPH (2012)
If you ask Brett Lawrie, he probably wouldn't be able to decide what scared him more: the thought of a Kelvin Herrera fastball coming anywhere near him, or the actual moment where the baseball whizzed by the back of his head.
Herrera has built himself a reputation (of late, especially) as a bit of a hothead on the mound, but that is without a doubt swirling around a batter's mind every time they step up to the plate when he's on the mound. Herrera is a fireballer in every sense of the word, proven most eloquently in 2012 when he launched a 102.8 MPH cannon out of his right hand.
9 Mark Wohlers – 103 MPH (1995)
Mark Wohlers was consistently fast throughout his twelve-year MLB career. He shone in Atlanta throughout the 90s thanks to his big fastball, which consistently hit triple-digits on the radar gun. Wohlers' claim-to-fame pitches came in a spring training game in 1995, where he reportedly cranked out several 103 MPH pitches against the Marlins. Wohlers' arm didn't shrivel up on the biggest stages, either, as he was recorded at over 100 MPH during Game 3 of the '95 World Series.
8 T7. Bob Turley – 103.2 MPH (1954)
When they start calling you "Bullet" Bob, you know you've established yourself as one of the hardest throwers in baseball and, as it turns out, one of the hardest in the history of the league.
Turley's big arm led him to over 1200 MLB strikeouts and 101 career wins, but perhaps his proudest achievement was recording a fastball that clocked in at the equivalent of a 103.2 MPH heater from a regulation mound today.
7 T7. Henry Rodríguez – 103.2 MPH (2010)
Henry Rodríguez is currently without a Major League Baseball team, and at this rate it seems unlikely that he'll be able to slide his way back into the big leagues. Even with his extraordinary velocity, Rodríguez bounced around the Majors and finished with a putrid career ERA of 4.31 in only six full seasons.
He did leave his mark on the game, though - and an imprint in his catcher's mitt - when he reared back for a 103.2 MPH screamer during a relief appearance for the Oakland Athletics back in 2010.
6 Andrew Cashner – 103.3 MPH (2012)
As if it wasn't bad enough that Andrew Cashner literally towers over most hitters as it is, his 6'5" frame casting a dark, ominous shadow towards the plate - now batters have to keep in mind that when he let's the pitch fly, it's really flying.
Cashner topped out his vicious fastball at 103.3 MPH back in a 2012 preseason game. Talk about getting a rude awakening if you're a prospect getting your first cup of coffee in the big leagues.
5 Neftali Feliz – 103.4 MPH (2010)
Some might say selecting a closer is a complicated choice for managers and pitching coaches to make. Others might make the decision fairly simple: find the guy who throws the hardest (assuming he can hit the plate, of course).
Enter Neftali Feliz. Feliz came on in the ninth inning of a game between his Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals, and he literally came out of the bullpen throwing smoke. His hardest fastball was recorded at a blistering 103.4 MPH. Feliz has never really "put it all together," but if he does, his rocket-launcher of an arm will wreak havoc.
4 Joel Zumaya – 104.8 MPH (2006)
Joel Zumaya's story is a tale of highs and lows - more specifically, were talking high pitch speeds, low durability.
It's hard to expect a guy who can sling a baseball over 101 MPH regularly to be able to hold up for that long, but it's still unfortunate that Zumaya was only able to pitch for just over half a decade. He made the most of his time, though, by engraving his name in the record books with a mind-boggling 104.8 MPH fastball he threw against Frank Thomas in his rookie season.
3 Aroldis Chapman – 105.1 MPH (2010)
Aroldis Chapman encapsulates everything that goes into being a "fireballer." The look, the attitude, the calm demeanor, the nickname (The Cuban Missile and/or Flame Thrower) and most importantly, the lethal arm. Chapman has been making batters look silly for years now, and at 27, he may still reach a new peak - even though, as it stands, he's technically already at the summit of the "fastball world."
Chapman currently holds the record for the fastest pitch record in a regular season game, clocking in at an insane 105.1 MPH during the 2010 season. Chapman might have even broken his own record in 2011 with a 106 MPH missile that zoomed past Andrew McCutchen, however, multiple different readings have made that a "disputed" number. Nonetheless, 105.1 is still good enough for the top spot.
2 Bob Feller – 107.6 MPH (1946)
Since were counting all recorded speeds, we're counting the final two on this list - and for good reason.
Another shocker here, since most of us who've seen guys pitch in grainy video from the 40s and 50s have the impression that these guys were soft-tossing the ball right into the batter's wheelhouse. That wasn't always the case, however.
Bob Feller, like Turley after him, was asked to pitch for fans in an exhibition game that was essentially a showcase, one where fans could watch in awe at the incredible speed of Feller's pitch. Feller's speed is up for debate as well, as his number is also calculated based on the distance used in today's game (since pitches today are measured at 50 feet away from the plate) - but there's no doubting that they could hurl them in there just as good back in the day, too.
1 Nolan Ryan – 108.1 MPH (1974)
No one should really be surprised by the name at the top.
Nolan Ryan is the gold standard when it comes to fastballs and fireballers, and even though Chapman has the "official" record, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who would have preferred to face Ryan. The league's strikeout king was the master of the fastball, using it early and often to send batter's right back to where they came from - the bench.
Ryan's blazing fastball was being used by the Angels to boost interest (and ultimately attendance), and the man's right arm was advertised more than the actual game between the Angels and the Tigers - and he didn't didn't disappoint.
Ryan's pitch speed is also calculated using today's "Fifty Foot Equivalent," but hey - it's Nolan Ryan. Is anyone really that skeptical?
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