It was early August 1988, four months into the five-month minor league baseball season. A 22-year-old undrafted free agent pitcher in his first full pro season had become his team’s closer, despite an aberrant sidearm delivery and a fastball that topped out around eighty miles per hour, and he finally allowed his first earned run of the season. It happened in his fifty-sixth inning pitched that year, three innings short of the record for consecutive scoreless innings thrown at any level of professional baseball.
The run was scored after the pitcher gave up a one-out walk, followed by an RBI double. Almost 35 years later, he recalled the incredible streak and the unwelcomed sequence of events that led to its end. “The walk was the part of this that really killed me,” Pete Delkus said.
The local TV news audience in Dallas–Fort Worth knows Delkus as the ebullient chief meteorologist at WFAA Channel 8. He’s been broadcasting the weather for the ABC affiliate since June 2005, with a persona that’s half weatherman, half stand-up comedian. He needles his on-air colleagues. He shows off his family’s new puppy. Off the air, he frequently engages with his 436,000 followers on “the tweeter” and nearly 200,000 more on Facebook.
Long before he settled into a career in front of the weatherman’s green screen, Delkus was a prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization for five seasons, making his first appearance in rookie ball on June 21, 1987. He was named the Twins’ minor league player of the year for his exploits with single-A Kenosha (Wisconsin) in the aforementioned ’88 season, when he led the Midwest League with 33 saves and finished with an eye-popping earned run average of 0.26. That’s no typo—in 68 innings pitched that season, Delkus gave up only two earned runs.
“I’ve kind of had these two really different lives,” Delkus, now 57, said during a recent conversation at WFAA’s Dallas studio. On the mound, he faced Wade Boggs and Bo Jackson in spring training. During the fall instructional league, he once spent a few innings in the dugout chatting with an older stranger “who was really nice.” Delkus’s incredulous manager told him: “That was Hank Aaron!”
The Twins’ 1988 Sherry Robertson Award is displayed in his home office in Plano, proof that he was once a pro pitcher—and an outstanding one.
“It’s a clock,” he deadpanned. “It’s very underwhelming.”
Delkus began throwing sidearm as a kid in his backyard in Collinsville, Illinois, about fifteen miles east of St. Louis, and through the years coaches never tried to convert him to overhand “because I was getting people out,” he said. He attended college close to home, at Southern Illinois University’s Edwardsville campus, where he became an NCAA Division II all-American.
“He was not only an all-American, he was the leader of our team,” said Steve Weller, the school’s sports publicist back then who now lives in North Texas and has been among the official scorers at Texas Rangers home games for 29 seasons. “He had a great personality.”
And a quirky one. Weller acquiesced to Delkus’s bizarre request one year to be listed in the media guide as majoring in thermonuclear engineering, even though the school didn’t offer that major and Delkus was working toward a TV-radio degree. “We all thought he’d make it to the major leagues, maybe not because of his outstanding pitching, but he’d talk his way,” Weller said.
But his performance on the mound and leadership abilities weren’t enough to get Delkus drafted by a big-league club in 1987 because of his lack of pitching velocity. And maybe, too, the “funky” delivery, Delkus’s college coach, Gary “Bo” Collins, called it. When the nearby St. Louis Cardinals, who’d shown interest in Delkus, passed on him, it hurt. “That’s hard to swallow,” he said.
Believing he wasn’t ready for a media job, he considered becoming an Illinois state trooper or trying to join the Secret Service after college. Until Delkus received a call from the Twins only days before the rookie league season began. The team signed him on the recommendation of former major leaguer Del Wilber, who’d watched Delkus pitch in high school and college.
Delkus debuted in the Elizabethton (Tennessee) Twins’ second game of the Appalachian League season against the rookie team of the Cardinals that he’d hoped to join. Taking the mound with both confidence and jitters, he gave up a hit and walked two in two innings but also struck out two, all without allowing a run and earning a save. Opposing manager Dan Radison grumbled afterward: “Underhand pitchers are overrated.”
Today’s Delkus predictably pounced on the dis: “Well then, what’s that say about your guys, Dan?” After the game Delkus phoned home to report what had happened, and he was particularly pleased to have beaten the Cardinals. “If nothing else comes of this baseball career, at least that happened,” he said.
Plenty more came. That rookie season was a tremendous success—an ERA of 1.19 in 21 games as the closer. That was followed by Delkus’s remarkable season in Kenosha. The Kenosha News reported that after Delkus saved a tense playoff game, manager Ron Gardenhire—who went on to manage sixteen years in the majors with the Twins and the Detroit Tigers—was asked if he’d like a Life Saver candy. What a setup. “No thanks,” Gardenhire replied. “I’ve got one—Pete Delkus.”
Through his first two seasons, Delkus allowed only seven earned runs. “I almost got a little cocky,” he conceded. “Like, ‘Well, this is easy.’ ” Delkus was again a standout in 1989 with the Twins’ double-A team in Orlando, where he finished the season with a 1.87 ERA. During the midseason break, he flashed his leadership chops by collecting money from player fines to lead an outing to Hooters, where the team’s massive order consisted of 550 wings, three platters of shrimp, two plates of clams, and 34 pitchers of beer. “Nobody pulled away from the table without a full stomach,” Delkus told the Orlando Sentinel. The O-Twins won their next seven road games.
Delkus was promoted to triple-A ball in 1990, playing with Portland in the Pacific Coast League—long known as a hitters’ league due to the size of the ballparks and high altitude of several teams’ home fields. And hit Delkus they did. His ERA ballooned to 4.18, with only four saves in 31 games finished out of 65 appearances. “You make the perfect pitch,” he recalled, “and they line it off the left center field wall.”
Delkus said he suffered a stress fracture in his rib cage during spring training in 1991 and didn’t tell anyone for fear of being demoted to double-A. After he was hit hard in two outings with Portland that season, he indeed was returned to Orlando. (One of his new teammates in Florida, pitcher Pat Mahomes—father of the superstar NFL quarterback—“was probably the best athlete I’ve ever played with.”) The remainder of the year continued to be a struggle, and Delkus ended with a 4.73 ERA as a middle reliever who didn’t pitch the final week of the season or in the playoffs.
Little did Delkus know, he’d thrown his final pitch as a pro.
Delkus finally put that TV-radio degree to use after the ’91 season, remaining in Orlando and interning in the sports department of the local ABC affiliate. During spring training the following year, he felt a twinge in his pitching elbow during an early throwing session. Surgery came next, resulting in the removal of a massive bone spur plus bone chips. After multiple attempts at rehab, Delkus realized his baseball career was over. “It’s one thing to lose your job,” he said, “but to lose a dream is a totally different thing.”
At the TV station, he agreed to serve as an emergency fill-in weatherman one weekend that summer. “I made fun of the anchors like I do now,” he said. And a new career, born with the addition of a meteorological degree, provided a disparate series of challenges and successes. Four years at the Orlando station led to nine more as the primary weatherman at Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate, which led to his hiring at WFAA.
And thus began a signature on-air pairing between Delkus and Channel 8’s polarizing, irreverent sports director, Dale Hansen. “Kathy Clements, who was the general manager, said, ‘I’ve hired a guy who’s going to play off your personality,’ ” recalled Hansen, who retired two years ago. “And that turned out to be exactly right. We absolutely hit it off from day one.
“In my forty-three years of doing television, from Omaha to Channel 4 [in Dallas] to Channel 8, there is nobody, never been anybody, that I enjoyed working with as much as Pete Delkus.”
Hansen’s praise for Delkus goes well beyond the duo’s repartee. He cited Delkus’s practice of leaving the station after the 6 p.m. newscast virtually every night to dine at home in Plano with his wife and kids. “This is the best TV dad I’ve ever known,” Hansen said. “His trips on the tollway have pretty much paid for half the highways in Texas.”
Going from clutch pitching appearances to identifying air masses of high pressure, Delkus has found deliveries that worked and stuck with them. “The guy you see on TV today who jokes and has fun, I was the same way back then,” he said.
With a smirk, Delkus corrected himself: “Not wound as tight.”