The gun brought the fastball into focus because it provided an accurate measurement of speed.
But certain pitchers have always thrown much harder than others. The players knew who threw hard.
Bob Feller threw hard. Steve Dalkowski threw harder. How hard, we'll never know. There was no accurate way to measure.
Steve Arlin threw hard. My guess is that he was the first Padre ever to approach three digits.
I once had the honor of standing behind the batting cage in Yuma when Arlin was throwing batting practice during spring training in the early 1970s. His fastball had a distinctive sound. I'd never heard that "whoosh" before. I've heard it since, but very infrequently.
Arlin also had other weapons. His pitches jumped. So much so that he had problems harnessing his arsenal. And he had little time to develop.
For when pitchers like Arlin and Clay Kirby came along with the Padres during the franchise's formative days, they were pressed into heavy-duty service well ahead of their time. Their arms and careers burned out like meteors in the night sky.
Arlin was a member of the original 1969 Padres. By the 1971 season, he was pitching over 200 innings at the age of 25. He made 36 starts in 1971 and 37 a season later. And he was out of the game by the age of 28.
As a pitcher, Steve Arlin never mastered the art of control. In 1972, en route to 21 losses, Arlin led the National League in walks (122) and wild pitches (15).
But when Steve Arlin was on, he was flat out spectacular. Over less than a month in the summer of 1972, Arlin pitched the third one-hitter in Padres history (June 23) then came within an out of pitching a no-hitter (July 18).
There was no drama of a no-hitter in his one-hitter at San Diego Stadium. Giants center fielder Garry Maddux tripled in the second and scored. The Padres won 4-1. Arlin issued three walks and struck out eight.
His no-hit bid on July 18 was a totally different matter. As we know, no Padre has ever thrown a no-hitter. Arlin should have. The lone hit came in the ninth when the Padres made a defensive snafu.
Arlin was one out away from the no-hitter in the ninth at San Diego Stadium when left-handed-hitting Phillies second baseman Denny Doyle came to the plate. Doyle was an excellent bunter and the Padres bench moved third baseman Dave Roberts to shade in on the grass.
Arlin threw two strikes past Doyle. But the Padres failed to move him back to his normal position. Doyle chopped a high-hopper to third, the ball going over the head of the drawn-in Roberts and landing where he would have normally been positioned.
The no-hitter was gone. Doyle scored on an ensuing hit by Tommy Hutton. It wasn't a no-hitter, a one-hitter or even a shutout. Arlin allowed one run on two hits and a walk.
Arlin had a 32-62 record with the Padres with a 4.19 ERA in 130 games (113 starts). He became a successful dentist. He was still living in the area when he died last week at the age of 70.
To this day, Steve Arlin remains one of my favorite Padres memories. He was scary good when he was on.
And I have no idea what was the speed of his fastball. But I will always remember the sound. It was fast.