With today’s technology at all Major League ballparks, fans can immediately see the speed of a pitch on the scoreboard. Those pitches that reach or top the 100-mph mark, generally receive an awed reaction from the crowd. Numerous pitchers through the years have topped the century mark on the radar gun. But in the 150-plus years of baseball, who has thrown the fastest pitch?
Before you can accurately identify the fastest pitch in MLB history, you have to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. In the past, technology like radar guns was not readily available, so there was never a way to get a consistently accurate reading of a pitch. Fortunately, the documentary Fastball resolves this dilemma by providing scientific and mathematical analysis.
Aroldis Chapman throws fastest pitch in 21st century
In the 21st century, there is no question as to who has thrown the fastest pitch on record. It’s an actual record in the Guinness World Records and that feat belongs to Aroldis Chapman.
According to the Guinness World Records, on September 24, 2010, the Cincinnati Reds flame-thrower stepped up on the mound in relief in the eighth inning to face Tony Gwynn Jr., the son of the legendary Hall of Fame hitter.
Chapman’s fastest pitch to Gwynn was clocked at an incredible 105.1 miles per hour according to PITCHf/x. While that single pitch is recognized by many as the fastest pitch ever, solely because there was technology available to verify it, according to the documentary, there are two other pitchers who have topped that speed.
Bob Feller pitches against motorcycle
Long before anyone knew what a radar gun was, Bob Feller had his fastest pitch clocked in a most unique way—with a motorcycle running through Chicago’s Lincoln Park in the summer of 1940.
In the Major League Baseball-approved test, Feller waited as a city policeman on a Harley Davidson motorcycle raced toward him. The motorcycle, traveling at 86 miles per hour, had a 10-foot head start on Feller’s fastball when it zipped by just a few feet to the right of the Cleveland Indians’ ace.
Nanoseconds after the motorcycle blew past, Feller released the ball. The ball zoomed past both man and machine, reaching the bull’s-eye paper target approximately three feet in front of the motorcycle.
A split-second after Feller’s pitch broke its paper target, the motorcycle destroyed its target. The test satisfied multiple pre-set standards and MLB announced Feller’s fastball had been clocked at 104 miles per hour.
According to the documentary, adjusting Feller’s pitch with today’s motorcycle-less standards, it actually registered at 107.6 miles per hour.
Nolan Ryan holds record for fastest pitch
Nolan Ryan earned his nickname “The Ryan Express.” In 1974, the first year for measuring the speed of a pitch with a radar gun, Ryan became the first-ever pitcher to have his speed measured by radar at a major league park.
In a game against the Detroit Tigers on August 20, 1974, the then-Angels pitcher tossed an 11-inning complete game in a 1-0 defeat. Yes, he lost in 11 innings. Before he achieved that dubious mark, he set a more impressive one in the ninth inning when his fastball topped out 100.9 miles per hour.
Like Feller before him, Ryan’s fastest pitch speed measurement requires adjustment because at the time, his pitch was measured at 10 feet in front of home plate. With the proper adjustments, Ryan’s 100.9-mph fastball dramatically explodes to an eye-popping 108.5 miles per hour.
Regardless of the time it happened or the technology used, the pitches by Chapman, Feller, and Ryan will be remembered as three of the fastest pitches the game has ever seen. All three pitches defy what seems humanly possible, and leave us waiting to see if anyone can come along and top it.