Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bob Feller Pitches His Last Inning

Hall of Famer Bob Feller made the passing today. He was 92 years old, and arguably the greatest right handed pitcher ever.

Rapid Robert descended on the major leagues from Van Meter, Iowa at the ripe old age of 17. He signed with the Cleveland Indians for in 1936 for the munificent sum of one dollar, which turned out to be a wise purchase for the Indians.

In his very first exhibition game against big league hitters, he struck out eight St. Louis Cardinals in three innings.

And in his first major league start, against the old St. Louis Browns, he struck out 15 batters in a nine-inning game. At 17 years old.

Bob Feller led the American League in wins, innings and strikeouts every full year he pitched from 1939 through 1947.I say every full year because he missed the seasons between 1942 and 1945 when WWII intervened. He enlisted in the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor, the first major league ballplayer to do so. He was in it for the duration and went into combat as a sailor, rising to the rank the rank of Chief Petty Officer and ending up decorated with five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.

Without those four years serving his country at the peak of his career, his stats, already dazzling would have been even more amazing. It's estimated that he would have ended up winning 373 games, striking out something like 3600 batters and throwing five no-hitters. Those records for strikeouts and no-hitters would have still been standing. He ended up winning a mere 266 games, with 2,581 strike outs.

As it was, he threw three no hitters during his career, one of them against the 1946 Yankees, a team that included gentlemen named Joe DiMaggio, Frankie Crosetti, Phil Rizzuto, Charlie Keller, Yogi Berra and Tommy Heinrich.

Rapid Robert's fastball was a thing of legend. It was clocked at various times between 104 mph and 107.9 mph. Batters literally cringed facing it. “If anybody threw that ball harder than Rapid Robert,” Satchel Paige once said, “then the human eye couldn’t follow it.”


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