Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #85 Bob Feller

From The Official Site of Bob Feller:
This farm boy from Van Meter, Iowa was only 17 when he struck out eight members of the St. Louis Cardinals in three innings of an exhibition game. After this awesome display of pitching, Feller was advised to seek voluntary retirement from high school in order to sign a professional baseball contract. For 20 years, the teenage phenomena was known as "Bullet Bob" and "Rapid Robert." As a rookie, he struckout 15 batters in a single game, which at that time was an American League record. In 1940, Bullet Bob became the first American League pitcher to throw a complete game no-hitter on opening day.

At age 23, his career was interrupted by his four-year enlistment in the Navy. Upon entering the Navy, Feller became an anti-aircraft gunner aboard the U.S.S. Alabama and came out a highly decorated war veteran. He then re-entered Major League Baseball to regain his dominance on the mound. Even though his military career consumed four prime baseball years, Feller ranks 28th in history with 266 wins. He remains the Indians all-time leader in shutouts (46), strikeouts (2,581), innings (3,828) and All-Star appearances (8).

I never saw Bob Feller play, but I have always appreciated his greatness and the sacrifice he and other major league players made during World War II. At the height of his career, he enlisted and actually fought in the war. Incredible.

I did get to meet the man once. It was at an Indians spring training game in Florida. I've read where Bob was the first ballplayer to realize the earnings potential of his autograph. In Winter Haven he used to set up shop down in the left-field concourse selling and signing pictures for anyone who wanted to pay. As you would expect for a hall-of-famer, the line was typically pretty long and moved achingly slow. Unlike most professional autographers -- Bob would actually stop, make eye contact, and talk to the people paying for his signature. When our time finally came... Bob looked up smiled, looked straight at my young nephew said "hey kid, can you throw this garbage away for me" pointing at a pile of finished lunch refuse. It was one of those classic old school moments we have told over and over... Bob Feller had my nephew throw away his garbage. Perfect.


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