White Men Can't Jump (2000) from Tuna

The movie review was written by Tuna. The Steve Dalkowski material in yellow was added by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski).

White Men Can't Jump (1992) stars Woody Harrelson as a former college basketball star who hustles money games. Part of his con is his race, and the rest is his appearance. As he says, white men would rather win than look good.

When he arrives in LA, his first hustle is Wesley Snipes, who is equally talented and as much of a hustler. After each hustles the other once, they form an uneasy partnership. Rosie Perez is brilliant as Harrelson's Puerto Rican girl friend from Brooklyn, who spends all day memorizing an almanac to prepare for Jeopardy. The tone of the film, and the cleverness of the dialogue, starts during the opening credits when you hear someone say, "Presbyterians are God's frozen people. They wouldn't swing even if you hung them."


Perez and Harrelson had two sex scenes, but they were dark. Perez showed breast flesh frequently, however, with loose night clothes.
Snipes hustles basketball to support his wife and kids. He has other jobs, but they are not doing well due to a slump in the economy. Harrelson, however, has a gambling problem at the root of his hustling. Both love "b" ball. Perez, and Snipes's wife (Tyra Ferrel) would like their men to be a lot more mature than they will probably ever be.

The magic of this film is less in the plot than in the clever dialogue and repartee between all of the characters, as they try to psych each other out. The characters interact naturally, making the relationships seem believable. It is written and directed by Ron Shelton, who also did another of my favorites -- Bull Durham. There is a similarity in style, and he clearly understands how to do sports films. He also directed Cobb, Tin Cup, and Play it to the Bone.

Writer/director Ron Shelton also crossed paths indirectly in the minor leagues with the legendary Steve Dalkowski, who contributed significantly to the character of Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham. Dalkowski finished one season at Stockton with 262 strikeouts and 262 walks, and once managed to bean an announcer up in the booth. Does that sound familiar? Ron Shelton used the announcer incident and those exact statistics in his Bull Durham screenplay.

When I was 14 years old I had the strange privilege of watching Steve Dalkowski pitch for the Rochester Red Wings. I was a baseball-lovin' kid with a chance to see the man who was reputed to have been the fastest pitcher who ever lived. By the time I saw him, after he had spent seven hard years in pro ball, drunk about a million hi-balls, and suffered an elbow injury that spring, his fastball had diminished to a mortal level of 90 mph, and I'm sorry to report that I have no good stories about that day. Dalkowski didn't do anything extraordinary when I watched him, but he did plenty throughout his career.

Unlike Tim Robbins, his screen alter ego, Dalkowski was a small guy, maybe 5'8', 160. His unprepossessing appearance belied the fact that he had a gift like nobody else ever had before or since. When he was at his physical peak, his skinny left arm could propel a fastball an estimated 105. Nobody quite knows how fast he was, but everyone agrees he was faster than anyone else.

Unfortunately, Dalkowski had two major weaknesses that kept him from great success:
  1. He was a boozer.
  2. Even when he was sober, he had severe control problems. He didn't have typical right-left problems. He could usually get it over the plate, but sometimes it was 40 feet over the plate.

In one Eastern League game, Dalkowski struck out 27 and walked 16 while throwing 283 pitches. On August 31, 1957, he threw a one hitter and struck out 24 batters in a minor league game - and lost! He also issued 18 walks in that game, hit four very unlucky guys, threw six wild pitches, and allowed 9 runs. He finished that year with an average of 18 strikeouts per game, but actually walked more than he struck out. In his minor league career, Dalkowski had 1,396 strikeouts in 995 innings, but he also issued 1,354 walks.

He had finally started to get his heater under control in 1962, after coming under the tutelage of none other than the legendary Earl Weaver, who was then managing in the O's farm system. According to Weaver, as quoted in "From 33rd Street to Camden Yards", Dalkowski had one 55 inning stretch for Elmira in 1962 when he struck out 104, gave up only 11 runs, and "didn't walk many." The following year, Dalkowski had gone to Spring training with the Orioles, and had been absolutely unhittable. He was so impressive that he had made the big club, and had even been pictured on a 1963 baseball card (pictured above). Unfortunately, Dalkowski missed his one chance at the Big Show when his late Spring elbow injury got him sent down to Rochester. He never made it back up because he was never the same pitcher after the injury.

In 1965, only two years after having come so close to the big leagues, he was picking apricots for a living.

When the O's cut him loose, he had a drinking problem, limited mental ability (according to Weaver), and no skills unrelated to baseball. He ended up toiling as a farm laborer for nearly three decades in Oildale, Calif. He moved to Oklahoma City in 1992, and when his wife died in 1994, Steve's sister and one of his former catchers, Frank Zupo, brought him home to New England. Dalkowski is still alive, living now in his home town of New Britain, Connecticut, residing in the Walnut Hill Health Centre, but he isn't well, his health shattered by all the years of alcohol abuse. Here is a 2005 interview with him.

Memorable quotes and stories about Steve:

  • Former Yankees manager Bob Lemon said his favorite Dalkowski exploit happened in Miami's Bobby Maduro Stadium when Lemon actually witnessed Steve hit a guy in the back with a pitch. What's so unusual about that? The guy was standing in line to buy a hot dog!
  • "He was the hardest thrower I ever saw, and that includes Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, all of them," said Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, who was Dalkowski's roommate at Elmira, N.Y., in 1962. "It's a shame he never made it. If this guy could have mastered it, he would have been the greatest reliever in history. He would had saved 50 or 60 games a season. The ball exploded out of his arm."
  • Dalkowski's greatest compliment came from Ted Williams. The Orioles were playing the Red Sox in spring training at Miami and Williams watched the New England phenom throw to hitters in the cage. Williams called for a catcher, had the batting cage taken away, jumped in and yelled, "Throw as hard as you can, kid." "He swung at 30 pitches and didn't hit one fair, but he fouled a bunch," Dalkowski said. Williams claimed he didn't even see the first pitch and was "damned" if he'd face the kid again, unless forced to do so in a game.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterbox. 1.85:1.

  • Clear print, excellent picture quality, but no significant extras.

  • A deleted scene has been re-inserted.

  • Trailers and music video.

  • Doug Harvey went on to become a top National League umpire and remembers working one game while Dalkowski was at Stockton. "He fanned the first nine hitters he faced and was leading 2-0. Facing the 10th guy, his first pitch was 40 feet up the screen," Harvey said. "He never got the ball over the plate after that. When they took him out it was 2-2, the bases were loaded and he still hadn't given up a hit. ... I've umpired Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Jim Maloney,Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal and Dwight Gooden. They all could bring it, but nobody could bring it like Steve Dalkowski."
  • "Steve Dalkowski was the hardest thrower I ever, ever saw," said Cal Ripken Sr. "In 1958, Dalkowski threw a pitch -- high, wide and handsome -- through the backstop of the Wilson, N.C., grandstand. I was back in Wilson in 1975 scouting for the Orioles. First thing I did was check to see if the hole was still there. It was."

The Critics Vote ...

  • General consensus: Three stars. Maltin 3/4, Ebert 3.5/4, Apollo .

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.2, Apollo voters .
  • With their dollars ... A hit. Gross of $76 million, on a $14 million dollar budget.

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