Like its subject, High Heat emits a disarming hum. Subtitled The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time, Tim Wendel's book (Da Capo Press, $25) takes a historical, statistical and mechanical look at baseball's most sacred skill. Wendel, a former editor at USA Today Baseball Weekly, goes from A (Amos Rusie, the hell-raising 19th-century ace) to Z (current Tigers flamethrower Joel Zumaya), stopping off to detail, entertainingly, the fast times of near mythical '50s and '60s wildman Steve Dalkowski and, just as entertainingly, the morning in 1940 when the speed of Bob Feller's heater was gauged by "racing" it against a motorcycle traveling at 86 mph; Rapid Robert's toss clocked in at 104.5. Beguilingly, Wendel provides a pitching lesson in part by deconstructing a Joan Didion paragraph: "A scout ... would mark the first sentence as a quality fastball, maybe a two-seamer in the mid-90s."
A holy trinity of speed emerges: Feller, Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan, all of whom, Wendel notes, were country boys who built up their arms and shoulders, and their stamina, by doing chores. At the end you may disagree with Wendel's choice for the fastest ever. But the pages will go by quicker than a David Price aspirin tablet.