By In Baseball, History, RIP

Bob Feller

One of my earliest memories was seeing Bob Feller in a jacket and tie. My father took me to some sort of morning meeting in Cleveland — a small room, in my memory, filled with metal folding chairs placed in uneven rows — and Bob Feller stood behind a lectern (and perhaps in front of a chalkboard; for some reason I see a chalkboard). I do not remember a single thing he said. I only remember him standing in the front of the room, and the awe he inspired, and my father telling me this: “That’s Bob Feller. He threw the ball faster than anyone who ever lived.”

The fastest pitcher ever. I was maybe five years old then, and the image shattered my imagination. This man in the suit? This man threw the fastest pitch ever? Of course, I believed it. Bob Feller was one of the enduring sports themes of my childhood in Cleveland, a sports childhood that was as fragile and brown as the autumn leaves dusting Cedar Road. My favorite teams were terrible. My favorite athletes were flawed. Cleveland’s past always seemed greener and richer and better than the future. I grew up on the story of Jim Brown pounding into the line, gaining five or six or seven yards, then lying on the mud and snow for what seemed forever (Is he hurt? Can Jim Brown BE hurt?). Then, finally, he would get up and jog back to the huddle line up and pound back into the line, gaining five or six or seven yards again. I grew up on the story of Jesse Owens, who won gold medals under the outstretched arm of Hitler and then returned to Cleveland where people talked often about seeing him and meeting him and shaking his hand and how it felt like shaking the hand of history. I grew up on the stories of Paul Brown and Otto Graham and Rocky Colavito and Dante Lavelli (who, I was told, never once dropped a pass) and Lou Boudreau (who invented the Ted Williams shift).

Mostly, though, there was the legend of Bobby Feller, Rapid Robert, the Iowa farm boy who at age 17 took the mound at League Park in Cleveland, threw his hardest fastballs, and scared the living hell out of grizzled baseball men who thought they had seen it all.

* * *

The Bob Feller Museum is a fairly small building that looks like a home in Van Meter, Iowa, which is 17 miles west of Des Moines. Bob Feller told me this so often — Van Meter is 17 miles west of Des Moines — that it is burned in my memory. I cannot tell you precisely how far London is from Paris or how far Los Angeles is from San Francisco. But I sure as heck know that Van Meter is is 17 miles west of Des Moines.

He told me this often because Bob Feller believed that if you are not willing to promote yourself, well, who will? This was one of the first things I learned about him. The first time I had ever talked to him was close to 30 years ago at a baseball card show. He was signing autographs. The way I remember it, he was signing them for free, though it’s possible that he was charging some absurdly nominal fee for each one, like a dollar or something. He was sitting behind this card table, and when I walked up to get my Bob Feller autograph he decided to give me a little test.

“Who is the greatest pitcher of all time?” he asked me.

I panicked. In retrospect, the answer seems pretty obvious. But I was never good at pop quizzes. And, anyway, I had been raised on the legend of Bob Feller, had been taught all about his childhood on the Iowa farm, his arrival in Cleveland as a phenom, his blazing fastball and shaky control, his titanic battles with Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, his time at war, his refusal to say what people wanted to hear. I guess I wanted to impress him with my answer.

“Sandy Koufax,” I said in a voice that was still maneuvering unsteadily through puberty.

To his credit, Feller did not seem put off by my answer. He, in fact, treated it with a measure of respect — the answer was wrong, sure, but it was more misguided than anything else. He set me straight. “How many games did Koufax win?“ he asked. “What did he win? Hundred fifty games?” There was a small stack of papers on the table, and Feller reached over and took one, handed it to me. These were stat sheets. They were put together to estimate what Bob Feller’s career numbers would have looked like had he not gone off to war from 1942-45. The estimate was that he would have won 373 games, struck out 3,651 men and thrown five no hitters. The strikeouts and no-hitters would have been records.

I have thought about that scene a lot over the last three decades. There were times, when I was younger, when I found the scene kind of sad. Here was Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, handing out what his stats might have looked like to a kid and a few other baseball fans who had made the trek to a card show in Charlotte, N.C. But as I have grown older my point of view has changed a bit. That’s because I don’t remember Bob Feller being sad at all. I don’t remember him being sad when I saw him pitching baseballs at minor league games or when he was talking baseball at whatever Optimists or Kiwanis Club meeting where he was speaking or when he was showing people what his baseball statistics might have looked like had he not enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor. He was a great pitcher. He wanted people to remember. And if you don’t promote yourself, well, who will?

* * *

In the Bob Feller Museum, there are numerous surprising artifacts — including the bat that Babe Ruth was leaning on in that famous picture of him on Babe Ruth Day in 1948. The Yankees were playing the Indians that day, and Ruth had taken Feller’s bat.

But what is easily my favorite piece of Bob Feller memorabilia is a baseball that is signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig. That comes from 1928, when Feller was nine years old. Gehrig and Ruth had come to play an exhibition in Des Moines, which you now know is 17 miles east of where Feller grew up in Van Meter. Feller desperately wanted to go to the exhibition and, more, he desperately wanted one of the autographed baseballs they were selling. The baseballs cost five dollars, which (as Feller would tell you in the grumpy tone he had perfected) was a lot of money in those days.

Here’s what Feller did: In Van Meter, in an effort to rid the town of a gopher problem, authorities were giving 10 cents for every dead gopher turned in. Feller drove his father’s truck to a gopher hole, he and a friend configured some sort of hose to smoke out the gophers, and they trapped exactly 50 of them, just the number Feller needed to buy the baseball.

The story sounds mythical. But Feller’s whole career sounds mythical. And the baseball is there for everyone to see in the Bob Feller Museum.

That same year, 1928, Feller fully understood and embraced his destiny. His own imagination had been exploded when a mail order package arrived with a Rogers Hornsby model glove, a few clean white baseballs and a full baseball uniform down to the socks. These were gifts from his father Bill, who saw his son’s dream clearly and years before his son saw it. Every day, they would play catch on the farm. The father from the movie “The Natural” seems closer to Bill Feller than just about anyone else, though Bob would often compare his childhood to a different movie.

“I had the first ‘Field of Dreams,'” Bob Feller used to say, and he did. Bill Feller one year asked his son if he wanted a baseball field. Well, what son would say no to that? Bill Feller then leveled the ground on his farm, carved out a ballpark, put up a scoreboard and bleachers, and created a team where Bob Feller could play. Supposedly there were people in town who thought Bill Feller had lost his mind (just the way the townsfolk felt about Kevin Costner in the movie). But Bill Feller didn’t seem to care. He knew his son was going to play in the major leagues.

Bob at that point still had dreams of being a hitter, but Bill knew better. He had seen the power in his son’s right arm. He had carved and whittled and sculpted for Bob a clean motion, one that would produce fastballs that nobody on earth could catch up with. Once Bill impressed upon his son that pitching was his ticket, Bob embraced the future. And when Bob Feller was 17, he signed with the Cleveland Indians for a dollar. His first exhibition game against big league players, he struck out eight St. Louis Cardinals in three innings.

When Dizzy Dean was asked to take a picture with Feller — one of those “Present and Future” kind of photographs — Dean was willing but unusually modest. “After what he did today,” he said pointing at Feller, “he’s the guy to say.”

* * *

Bob Feller was always good for a quote. He had three qualities that made him so utterly quotable:

1. He saw the world in distinct and pronounced ways — Bob Feller was not much for shades of gray.

2. He did not mind telling you what he thought.

3. He did not seem to care care much if people liked it.

Because of this, Feller was always good for a line about how pitchers were not as tough as they used to be or how much money is in the game or both. When all the hype about Stephen Strasburg built up in 2010, Feller was happy to pierce the absurdity of things (“Call me when he wins his 100th game”) or remind everyone that hype was not invented yesterday (“They broadcast my graduation from high school coast to coast, live on NBC”).

He said some things that followed him around all his life. Well that’s the cost of being quotable. And there was nothing easy about Bob Feller. He was, without question, the most famous ballplayer of his time who regularly barnstormed with black players. He and Satchel Paige were close, they were business partners, they were often great friends. And yet Feller said that Jackie Robinson would not make it as a big league player, and said that there wasn’t a Negro Leagues player who was good enough to play in the big leagues. (His famous and straightforward quote on the subject comes from 1969: “I don’t think baseball owes colored people anything. I don’t think colored people owe baseball anything either”). He railed against steroid users, the mushrooming of relief pitchers, the greed of owners, the greed of players and people who too quickly forgot their history. He offered up enough cranky quotes to leave an impression. He also said that the heroes of war are the ones who do not come back. And that America is the greatest country on earth. And that his father was the best man he had ever known.

Feller’s first start in the big leagues, he struck out 15. That was against the St. Louis Browns, who were managed by Rogers Hornsby — the man whose glove had helped set Feller’s baseball dream soaring. That game was in 1936, the day Jesse Owens returned home after winning those four Gold Medals at the Berlin Olympics. When the game ended, the home plate umpire Red Ormsby, who had been umpiring games since 1923, said simply: “That Feller showed more speed than I’ve ever seen uncorked by any American League pitcher, and that does not except Walter Johnson.”

That would be a common topic of discussion over the next 20 or so years as Bob Feller went through his Hall of Fame career. He did too many remarkable things as a pitcher to stuff into a single story. He led the American League in wins, innings and strikeouts every full year he pitched from 1939 through 1947. He threw an Opening Day no-hitter in Chicago in 1940, sparking what was always Feller’s favorite trivia question: “Name the only game in baseball history where every player on a team went into a regulation nine-inning game and came out of it with the same batting average.” That was Feller’s no-hitter. Each White Sox player came into the game hitting .000 and left hitting the same three digits.

He threw three no-hitters in all, one against the Yankees; he would sometimes call that his greatest day, though Feller had too many great days to stick with just one. That Yankees no-hitter was at Yankee Stadium in 1946 in what was probably Feller’s greatest year. He struck out 348 that season in what he thought was a modern major league record. It turned out that it was not the record — statisticians had miscounted Rube Waddell’s total from 1904 and upon recount it turned out he had 349. In any case, Feller won 26 games, and he threw 371 innings, and he proved that he was as good as ever after returning home from the war.

All the while, people tried to figure out how fast Feller threw. People often seemed more interested in that than his pitching greatness. He had his fastball tested many times. Once he was clocked at 104 mph. Another time, he remembered his fastball measured at 107.9 mph. He had his fastball measured by sensitive army equipment, and he had his fastball race against a motorcycle, and he had his fastball measured by various hard-throwing pitchers …

“If anybody threw that ball harder than Rapid Robert,” Satchel Paige said, “then the human eye couldn’t follow it.”

“Feller isn’t quite as fast as I was,” Walter Johnson said.

The second of those quotes is a bit surprising — Walter Johnson was a modest man who would often say that others (such as Smoky Joe Wood) threw harder than he did. But Johnson was nearing the end of his life when he gave that quote.Feller would later say that Koufax and Nolan Ryan didn’t throw as hard as he did. Maybe that’s age speaking. Maybe when you get older, you sometimes want to protect what you believe is yours.

Bob Feller, I suspect, always believed that he threw the fastest pitch in baseball history. He was generally pretty modest about it — his stock answer was that he belonged “in the discussion” but nobody could ever really know who threw the fastest. Still, I think he always believed that when he was just 17, when he came off the Iowa farm armed with his father’s pitching motion and the certainty of youth, he threw the fastest pitches that anyone has ever thrown.

Why do I think this? Well …

“Yes, I do think I threw a baseball harder than any man ever,” he told me once as we walked on a dirt field in Georgia. “A man should always believe in himself.”

* * *

There is a Bob Feller story I am thinking of now, one I’ve never told before. I probably talked with Bob Feller 15 or 20 times in my life. I would call him for a story. I would see him at spring training. I would show up for a Bob Feller event. I don’t know that he ever knew my name. He did a lot of interviews.

I had finished interviewing him this one time — a typically rollicking interview that included stories and gripes and directions to the Bob Feller Museum, just 17 miles west of Des Moines. And for the first and only time, I told him that I was from Cleveland, and that one of my first memories was having seen him speak. He was interested in that. He asked me what I remembered … I told him what I wrote above. I remembered only what my father had said about him.

And then Bob Feller asked me about my father. Direct questions. Did he play catch with me when I was young? I said yes. Did he take me to baseball games? I said yes. Did he believe in me deeply? I said yes.

The tape recorder was off and my notebook was put away and so I cannot write here what he said word for word. But I remember the important part. He told me that I was lucky, that what you need to succeed in this world is a father who believes in you. And he told me that his father believed in him. Funny thing, though, he said Bill Feller never once said, “Bob, someday you’re going to pitch in the big leagues.” No, there were no words. There are some things that cannot be said with words. There was only those sweaty Iowa afternoons and those chilly Iowa evenings, and the sun setting, and a baseball going back and forth. Everything he needed to know about life was in that back-and-forth.

Bill Feller died in 1943, while his son Bob was at war. He had seen his son become the best pitcher in baseball.

Bob Feller died Thursday in Cleveland of acute leukemia. He was 92 years old. He grew up on a farm in Iowa. He played catch with his Dad. He played baseball for the Cleveland Indians when he was young. And when he was no longer young, he traveled the country promoting baseball and himself and America and all the things he believed in deeply. He signed more autographs, probably, than any man in baseball history — so many that an autograph dealer once joked that a baseball without Feller’s autograph was rarer and more valuable than one with. Bob Feller leaves behind family, friends, a detailed baseball record, countless stories and little confusion about how he felt about things. And he threw a baseball harder than any man who ever lived. At least that’s what my father told me.

47 Responses to Bob Feller

  1. j says:

    When I saw that Bob Feller had passed away this was the first place I came. I know that the demands of life can be significant, which is why it is with the utmost sincerity that I want to say thank you for taking the time to write this blog.

  2. NMark W says:

    I have similar memories about Bob Feller with regards to his autograph signing at minor league games, him throwing out the game’s first pitch while the minor league P.A. guy was reading down a list of Feller accomplishments, etc. The guy was a legend even if you thought that he was a blowhard, racist or just a guy too far removed from his generational fame. Maybe the greatest #19 in US sports history…

    Oh, and one thing Joe didn’t mention about Feller…In his later years he collected antiquainted Caterpillar heavy equipment as a hobby. He might have had one of the finest collections of this type of equipment anywhere in the country. I believe it was in Gates Mills, OH and not in Van Meter.

  3. Shawn says:

    Beautiful, beautiful stuff Joe. Thank you.

    One question: fourth section, fourth-to-last graf, is that supposed to start “Johnson would later say…” instead of “Feller would later say…”?

  4. Kyle Richardson (Fargo) says:

    Great tribute, Joe…

    I met Bob Feller on several occasions, the first being Valentine’s Day, 1996, when he was in Fargo for the next day’s inaugural Fargo-Moorhead (Northern League) RedHawks Hot Stove Banquet…

    I remember his fee was to be split–half going being sent to his house, the other half going to the tractor museum in Ohio that NMark W mentioned…

    Our General Manager, John Dittrich, invited me out for Valentine’s Day dinner with him, his wife and Mr. Feller… I brought a female friend (and roommate) of mine, and I warned her ahead of time that Mr. Feller could be prickly, opinionated and terse, and not to expect much but to please be kind…

    What did we get? Bob Feller in full storytelling mode, full of life and one of the nicest people you could ever meet… I remember my friend, Carol (still a great and true friend), telling me that he reminded her of her grandfather in that he seemed caring, warm and full of love…

    I went on to see Mr. Feller several times after that during my time in minor league baseball, and it seemed he was always more opinionated, more sure of his comments than anyone I ever knew… He was a veteran and a patriot first, a Hall of Fame ballplayer second… And he was never quite as “grandfatherly” as my first dinner with him…

    But that first night? THAT is the Bob Feller I will remember most…

    Two other notes:
    –I saw Bob Feller speak once in Wichita (I always wondered how they divided up his appearance fee? LOL), and remember that Ron Gardenhire was there and took the time to say “Hello” to Mr. Feller… A former minor league teammate of his when he was with the Mets was on our team in Fargo, so we had a mutual connection… What I remember was the respect that Ron showed Mr. Feller, and have liked him ever since for his respect for the game… Too bad the Royals didn’t hire him as manager before the Twins did…
    –The last time I saw Bob Feller was in “The K” as I was waiting for a member of the Royals marketing department to meet me… It was probably the late ’90s, or maybe 2000, and he was in the Royals office with Buck O’Neill… I remember wishing I could listen to their stories for just a few hours… I bet they were incredible…

  5. e says:

    I agree with j.

    When I saw the headline Bob Feller died , there was only one place for me to come and get the story.

    I wasnt disappointed.

  6. Locode says:

    Great story. No man is ever perfect, and Bob Feller might be the perfect example of that statement.

    “Rapid Robert” is still the best nickname in baseball history.

  7. Mark from Vegas says:

    OMG! In 1986, in Fairfax, Virginia, Bob Feller was signing autographs at some function I attended. They were free.

    I distinctly remember him saying, after signing for at least two hours (remember, he was 69, and the autographs were free), one of the guys with him said it was time to wrap up. And Mr. Feller said, not till the kids here are taken care of.

    I remember it like it was yesterday. And I saw him sign for a bunch of kids.

    RIP, Mr. Feller.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Locode beat me to it. There’s something wonderful about a nickname that doesn’t bother to shorten “Robert”.

  9. Pete R says:

    Feller was elected to the Hall of Fame 48 years before his death: that’s a fair bit longer than anyone else, even Joe DiMaggio.

  10. Dave V. says:

    Thank you, Joe.

  11. Anonymous says:

    One quibble on the “same batting average before and after the game” bit:

    Batting average is calculated by hits over at-bats. If the team had 0 at-bats before the game (which they did, since it was the first game of the season), their batting averages were undefined, not .000, since you cannot divide by zero.

    Now, if they were no-hit again in the second game, they would have exited the game with the same batting averages as they had entered it.

    This “trivia” has bugged me ever since I found out you couldn’t divide by zero in grade school.

  12. Yeager says:

    bit dusty in here

  13. Anonymous says:

    Joe – You have played on my heartstrings today. My father was born the same year as Bob Feller, but died 10 years ago this month. he, too, grew up during the depression and served in WWII. Neither Feller nor my dad was perfect, but I am thankful to have been raised by a father who genuinely cared for me. Your article reminds me to believe in my sons, even if I am not perfect.

  14. Anonymous says:

    In the Hall of Fame for Nicknames That Sound Really Forced, “Rapid Robert” has to have a wing of its own.

  15. Barack Obama says:

    According to Google Maps, Van Meter is 20.8 miles from Des Moines

  16. Mikey says:

    Wonderful tribute.

    I think that if Feller’s mechanics were taught as a prototype to modern pitchers baseball would be a different and better game.

  17. Anonymous says:


  18. Anonymous says:

    Wow. I would have thought Al Gore would have posted the comment about what the internet thinks about the distance between Van Meter and Des Moines. With all due respect, Mr. President, you should defer to the late Mr. Feller.

    Good-bye Rapid Robert. R.I.P.

  19. Bryan says:

    I met him and Tommy Lasorda in Van Meter in 2000. I video taped our conversation, it was great. I have 10 minutes of him and Tommy just sitting there telling baseball stories to one another, just before Tommy ripped me a new one for having my eyebrow pierced (at the time, hey – I was in college!).

    I need to get that video on YouTube, was a very cool moment!

  20. Anonymous says:

    “Maybe the greatest #19 in US sports history…”


    Bob Feller, a legend and a superb pitcher. Decorated seaman and regular every July in Cooperstown. Greatest #19 in baseball history – without a doubt.

    Greatest #19 in U.S. sports history? No.

    Unitas, Johnny.

  21. Anonymous says:

    “I met him and Tommy Lasorda in Van Meter in 2000.”


    Bob Feller and Mr. When-The-Going’s-Good-I’m-The-Reason-And-See-Ya’-On-Carson in the same sentence?

    The first was a legend, an American hero, and one of the five finest right-handed pitchers in baseball history.

    The latter is – and will always be – a whining, self-promoting, good-for-nothing bum who worked the media and Carson when things were good and blamed his players, organization, and owners when he couldn’t win the big one. Hell, Lasorda moaned for years about the time the Dodgers sent him back to AAA instead of some lefty. What was that lefty’s name?

    Koufax, Sandy Koufax. (And, yes, the bonus rule no longer applied to Koufax.) Even that yutz, Jane Leavy, got that part of the Koufax story right in her otherwise puzzling, writer-as-victim bio of Koufax.

    Tommy Lasorda doesn’t belong in the same game, in the same country, or on the same planet with Bob Feller. Tommy Lasorda is garbage. Always was. Always will be. When that SOB dies, there will be a line of men and women from Los Angeles to Brooklyn waiting to urinate on Lasorda’s grave.

    You wonder why Lasorda disappeared from the game? Everybody hates his guts.

  22. Scotty says:

    From The Abbott and Costello Show, April 17, 1947

    BUD: …now you’ve got to get ready for the opening game…

    LOU: Yeah, I think we’re going to play the Cleveland Indians…

    BUD: Cleveland Indians, eh…?

    LOU: Uh-huh…

    BUD: Feller pitching?

    LOU: Certainly there’s a feller pitching…what do you think they’d use, a girl?

    BUD: Oh, I…I know they don’t use a girl…I said, “Feller pitching…”

    LOU: What feller?

    BUD: Feller, with the Cleveland Indians…

    LOU: Look, Abbott…there’s nine guys on the Cleveland team…which feller are you talking about?

    BUD: Feller that pitches…there is only one Feller with Cleveland…

    LOU: You mean nine Yankees are going to play against one feller?

    BUD: That’s right.

    LOU: You mean there’s no fellers in the outfield?

    BUD: No!

    LOU: And there’s no fellers in the infield?

    BUD: No…Cleveland only has one Feller…

    LOU: Well, this feller must be pretty good if he don’t need any other players but himself…

    BUD: Look, all the players will be out there helping him…

    LOU: You just said that there was only one feller on the team…

    BUD: That’s right!

    LOU: Then where did all those other fellers come from?

    BUD: Why, you idiot…when I say there’s only one Feller on the team, I mean that there is only one Feller that pitches…

    LOU: Well, Abbott…when the manager of the team wants this pitcher, what does he call him?

    BUD: Feller!

    LOU: You mean he just hollers “HEY FELLER!” and this guy knows that they mean him?

    BUD: That’s right.

    LOU: Hoo hoo…

    BUD: His name is Feller! Feller! Bob Feller! And when I say that there is only one Feller on the team that pitches, that’s it…and the feller that pitches is Feller…there’s other fellers on the team, but there’s only one Feller…

    LOU: Boy, are you mixed up…oh, you mean the feller that pitches is Feller…and there’s other fellers on the team but they aren’t fellers?

    BUD: Now you grasp it…

    LOU: Yes…I grasp it…but it keeps slippin’ out of my hands!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Cleveland will never have another Bob Feller or Jim Brown ever again. Those types of men don’t exist anymore in the sports world. I’m glad I was priviledged to have seen them both.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I remember when Dwight Gooden won 25 games as a youngster and was just mowing everybody down and people couldn’t come up with enough superlatives for him, only Bob Feller was ornery enough to throw a wet blanket on the story, grousing something along the lines of call me when he wins a hundred games, and I’ve seen more phenoms flame out than you’ve had hot meals, etc. At the time I thought he was just a bitter old man not willing to give credit where credit was due, but he proved to be prophetic, and I can’t watch any super-hyped phenom pitch anymore without hearing that cranky old voice grumbling in my head.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I had a very different experience with Bob Feller and autographs.

    Sometime in the mid 80s when I was about eight years old, my Dad took me to the Cracker Jack Old-timers Game at RFK in Washington. I brought a sheet of legal paper with me in hopes of getting some autographs (I was a baseball history nerd even then).

    So we got there early and went down to the field, and sure enough, there was Bob Feller signing for everyone. I timidly made my way into the line of people waiting to get autographs and waited. When he got to me, I held out my paper and he said, “Sorry kid, I only sign baseballs” and moved to the next person.

    I am sorry to hear of his passing, but that gratuitous slight to an eight year old boy has stuck with me. The stories of him being generous with his time just make it all worse.

  26. Ed says:

    He was signing autographs here in Charlotte in the early 90s when the Charlotte Knights were still an Indians farm team and some kid said out loud to his Dad, “Who’s Bob Feller?” Feller heard him and just chuckled.

  27. Bill C. says:

    @ Anonymous 10:29am…Dwight Gooden never won 25 games. He won 24 in 1985. As for someone calling Bob when Gooden won 100, well Gooden accomplished that in 1989 at the age of 24, after which season his record stood at 100-39. And would win 94 more games after that. He didn’t have the Hall of Fame career we all thought he would have, but I’m not sure it’s accurate to say Feller was proved to be prophetic about Dwight Gooden who got to 100 wins (I think in fewer games than Feller did) and who won 194 games in the majors.

  28. Anonymous says:

    He probably meant 17 miles from the city limit. The 20.8 miles is from the city center.

  29. Chris M says:

    Joe is to writing as Feller was to throwing fastballs.

  30. somebody says:

    for some reason growing up in the 80s/90s near Philly, the first biography i ever read was of Feller so i’ve always had a odd respect for somebody not of my region or time. Maybe i skipped a sentence, but didn’t Feller sign the Ruth/Gehrig ball as a kid destroying the value only to, you know, go in the Hall of Fame himself?

  31. Dave says:

    Great obit, Joe. And Feller’s off-the-record advice to you is beyond price.

    With Bob Feller and Ted Williams on the same side, the Axis never had a chance.

  32. Graphite says:

    Anonymous @ 7.38

    So I take it you won’t be coming to the Tommy Lasorda Appreciation Day dinner.

    OK. I’ll take you off the mailing list.

    But if you change your mind let me know.

  33. Kendell says:

    I also have a Bob Feller story. I was about 14 years old and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (at the time the minor league AAA team for the Indians) had a pregame baseball clinic for local baseball players. Bob Feller was there and helped teach me how to throw a curveball. Then when the game started he was at a table signing autographs. I got to the front of the line and he signed a ball and a picture for me (the autographs were free, but you could buy an 8×10 for him to autograph for a nominal price). There were several hundred people in line behind me. I asked him a question about a pickoff move. I asked it in a way that he could give me a yes or no answer. Mr. Feller felt he needed to give me a bit more instruction than that. So he tells me to step to the side. He got up from the table and walked around and demonstrated the move for me, and had me practice it several times, correcting me until I got it just right. He probably spend 2 or 3 minutes with me, oblivious to the long line waiting for his autograph. It still means a lot to me that a Hall of Fame pitcher made me feel that I, as a boy learning the game, was more important that all the people waiting in line for his autograph and that day will always have a fond place in my memory. RIP.

  34. Anonymous says:

    What I remember is watching an old timers game on TV, musta been late 1980s, and they brought him in to pitch. Everybody else had arc on their lobs to the plate, but his were fastballs.

  35. Anonymous matt says:

    Feller’s childhood story puts a whole new twist on the expression “gopher ball”.

  36. Marco says:

    Graphite – Save the stamp and delete me from your Lasorda appreciation meal as well. I met the man on a couple of occasions where he could have been cordial and gentlemanly or loud, vulgar and rude. He chose the latter in both instances. When I see the word blowhard I immediately think of Lasorda. Or, when I read of an old fat married man in SoCal who preaches about the “Dodger family” and not dirtying the Dodger Blue image and then the same man is found picking up an LA street hooker the vision of Tommy comes to mind immediately. Why is that?

  37. Anonymous says:

    “They were put together to estimate what Bob Feller’s career numbers would have looked like had he not gone off to war from 1942-45. The estimate was that he would have won 373 games, struck out 3,651 men and thrown five no hitters. The strikeouts and no-hitters would have been records.

    I have thought about that scene a lot over the last three decades. There were times, when I was younger, when I found the scene kind of sad.”

    I have always found this part of your story sad too, Joe, but for different reasons. It is pretty clear that Rapid Robert never understood that it wasn’t the years in the War that curtailed his stats, but the following (again from your story):

    “That Yankees no-hitter was at Yankee Stadium in 1946 in what was probably Feller’s greatest year. He struck out 348 that season in what he thought was a modern major league record. It turned out that it was not the record — statisticians had miscounted Rube Waddell’s total from 1904 and upon recount it turned out he had 349. In any case, Feller won 26 games, and he threw 371 innings, and he proved that he was as good as ever after returning home from the war.”

    Look at his stats, 1946 ruined his arm. He was 27 years old. He should have had another 10 years in that arm. But throwing 371 inning while leading the league in Ks and Walks ruined him. He probably threw between 30 and 35 200 pitch games that year. Ouch.

    If he wanted to hold a grudge about his stats being lower than they should, it should have been against Lou Boudreau, not the US Navy and/or Imperial Japan.


    • John Gale says:

      Well, you’re aware that it’s certainly possible that *both* the war and the huge number of innings he pitched in 1946 contributed to lowering his stats, right? That’s the way it looks to me.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Another telling stat about Rapid Robert is his career Hit Batsmen, 60, in comparison to his career walks, 1764. He was definitely wild, the 208 walks in 1939 is the post 1900 record, the 194 in 1941 is 4th (Nolan Ryan has #2 and #3), yet he almost never hit anyone. He hit one batter for every 29.4 walks. For comparison’s sake, Nolan Ryan walked 17.6 batters for every hit batsman. Randy Johnson walked 7.87 batters for every hit batsman.

    The point is that Bob Feller was wild, but it pretty clear he made darned sure he was wild high, or low or outside, not inside. Not to put thoughts into his head, but I suspect that he was afraid of hitting and hurting his fellow players. That is the only explanation I could have for the disparity in his Hit batsmen numbers vs. his walk numbers.


  39. Anonymous says:

    My daughter, then 10, got a photo of Feller autographed at a AAA baseball game in Fresno in 1998. She didn’t know who Feller was. I explained that he was a Hall of Fame pitcher who threw so hard that his nickname was Rapid Robert. She was a little timid at that age, so I figured this knowledge might give her a little confidence. She could impress Feller with her knowledge of the game’s history.

    I gave her $5 to get the autograph (no gophers were harmed) and she disappeared behind the stands, returning an inning or so later and looking a little less excited than I’d imagined she would.

    Me: “Did you get his autograph?”

    Her: “Yeah.”

    Me: “Did you tell him you knew his nickname?”

    She nodded and rolled her eyes at me.

    Me: “What? What happened?”

    Her: “He said, ‘Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard ’em all. “Rapid Robert.” “Bullet Bob.”‘”

    It always cracked me up that this curmudgeonly old Hall of Famer took a 10-year-old to task with his world-weariness. Might have been her first lesson that people are people, famous ballplayers or not.

    Definitely worth the $5.

  40. Dave V. says:

    I thought this was a pretty fascinating interview with Feller…from way back in 1957:

  41. Anonymous says:

    … and if my memory serves me correctly, that childhood pal who helped Feller out with the gopher eradication business was Carl Spackler, himself.

  42. BG says:

    With this:

    and the above, the past week has brought two of the best tributes Ive ever read.

    Similar men in a way….

    Thank you Joe

  43. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful article on Bob Feller. He was one of my heroes while growing up in the Cleveland area.
    When I was first married (1966) we had a house near Madison Park in Lakewood. I used to go there and watch the high level amateur games. Bob Feller was a manager of one of the teams. His son was on the team. Bob Feller was always friendly and talked to the fans.


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