Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller lost his battle with leukemia today. He was 92.
Feller truly lived a wonderful life which began on a family farm in Van Meter, Iowa.
It was there where his father built him a field of dreams and on that field of dreams he developed that country fastball.
Feller made his big league debut with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 17 without the benefit of minor league experience. At the beginning of his career, Feller walked a lot of batters. But he had a fastball that could travel faster than a police officer on a motorcycle as well as a devastating curveball. In short order he had three consecutive 20 plus win seasons and led the American League in strikeouts for four consecutive seasons.
Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Although many major league baseball players served with distinction in WWII (Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg and Yogi Berra) immediately come to mind, Feller was the first to sign up.
Feller enlisted in the Navy and served on the U.S.S. Alabama from 1941 to 1945 where he rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer.
In all, Feller missed nearly four seasons. But his first full season back in 1946 proved to be his finest. Feller won 26 games, pitched more than 375 innings, completed 36 games (big league pitchers don’t make 36 starts in a season), threw 10 shutouts and perhaps most impressively of all struck out a major league record 348 batters. That single season record would later be eclipsed by Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.
Two years later, Feller earned his only World Series ring. The 1948 triumph would prove to be the Indians last Fall Classic triumph. Although the Indians did win the AL pennant in 1954 with a then AL record 111 regular season wins, the Tribe would be swept in the World Series by Willie Mays and the New York Giants.
Feller finished his career with 266 wins, 2,581 strikeouts and three no-hitters to boot. He would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1962 and would go around the country barnstorming well into his 70s.
To the very end, Feller was outspoken for his love of this country. In an interview Feller did with Bob Costas for the MLB Network last year, Costas told him that if not for his military service he would have easily won 350 games and struck out more than 3,500 batters. Feller replied that this country had to win the war and that he didn’t miss any one of those wins or strikeouts.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a link to that interview. But here’s an interview Feller did with Mike Wallace in 1957, the year after he retired. At the time, Feller was the President of the Major League Baseball Players Association and Wallace grills Feller hard about his opposition to the reserve clause and support for free agency. Feller was two decades ahead of his time.
Wallace also grilled Feller about sponsorship of baseball games by beer companies. It was an interesting line of questioning when you consider that Wallace’s show was sponsored by Phillip Morris.
Bob Feller was an ornament to the game of baseball and his kind will never come along again.
P.S. In 1990, my father visited the Baseball Hall of Fame to present a paper. While in Cooperstown, he had the opportunity to meet Bob Feller and got him to autograph a baseball.