Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bob Feller Dies

They just don't make 'em like Rapid Robert anymore. At least, that's what I've been told.

"Rapid Robert" is a nickname that was given to Bob Feller, the legendary pitcher who died last night at the age of 92.

How else can you say it? His was an American story.

He grew up on a farm in Iowa. He even learned how to play baseball on an actual "field of dreams" that was built by his father on the family's land in the early 1930s.

He won 266 games as a pro, and he led the American League in strikeouts six times. He pitched three no–hitters and a dozen one–hitters.

For his career, Feller is 26th in strikeouts. No currently active player has thrown more strikeouts than he did, and it doesn't seem likely that anyone is going to match his personal achievement any time soon.

The nearest active player is 48–year–old Jamie Moyer, who suffered what is thought to be a career–ending injury last month.

(Thirty–four–year–old Javier Vázquez of the Marlins needs 208 strikeouts to pass Feller. Thirty–eight–year–old Andy Pettitte of the Yankees needs 331, and 44–year–old Tim Wakefield is 519 behind.)

In 1962, he was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame on his very first ballot with the support of more than 93% of those voting.

Eighteen months ago, at the age of 90, he was one of the starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame Classic.

Yet Jayson Stark insisted in his 2007 book "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History" that Feller was "the most underrated righthander who ever lived."

Clearly, he wasn't understood. Maybe it was because he played in Cleveland.
  • He was an American icon, writes Bill Livingston in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the newspaper that serves the city where Feller played his entire major league career.

    You seldom find an athlete in any sport anymore who spent his entire career in the same city — unless that athlete's career could be measured in months or, perhaps, a few years, not nearly two decades.

    Feller's career began July 19, 1936. It ended Sept. 30, 1956.

    Mathematicians will tell you that is more than 20 years, but Feller's playing career actually was a few years shorter than that. It was interrupted by his voluntary service in the Navy, which began the day after Pearl Harbor.

    In the next four years, many major leaguers would fight in World War II. Feller was the very first major leaguer to enlist following the Japanese attack. He had quite a distinguished military career — as a gun captain, he received five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.

  • He was the greatest Cleveland Indian, says Bob Dolgan in the Plain Dealer.

    And that's tough to argue with.

    He is, writes Dolgan, "the only Cleveland pro athlete to be immortalized with a statue." The same cannot be said of the great Jim Brown. It certainly can't be said of Lebron James.

  • Feller was a true patriot, writes Pat McManamon of Fanhouse.

    "A real natural existed before Roy Hobbs was a creation in a filmmaker's mind," McManamon writes. "A guy who learned to pitch throwing into a makeshift backstop with his father on the family farm in Iowa. A guy who would achieve greatness in baseball and willingly sacrifice some of that greatness for his country."

  • I really like what Bob Ryan wrote about Feller in the Boston Globe:

    "I’ve often imagined that if I could be one 20th–century American athlete it would be Smoky Joe Wood in 1912," Ryan wrote. "But it wouldn't have been a bad thing to have been Bob Feller in 1940. Or 1946.

    "Because to be Bob Feller in those years was to be the baseball equivalent of the heavyweight champ. There were many fine pitchers in those days, just as there were many fine boxers not named Joe Louis. But Joe Louis was boxing to the average person. He was the one and only Heavyweight Champeen of Da Woild and he didn't just defeat opponents; he knocked people out! Likewise, in Bob Feller's heyday he was pitching to the average baseball fan. He owned the preeminent fastball in the world, and he didn't just retire batters; he blew them away!"
By the way, if you crave one more piece about the life of Bob Feller, I recommend David Wade's article in The Hardball Times about the day a kid from Chicago faced Feller in a ball game while the two were in the service — and recorded a single after taking his coach's advice ("When he starts his windup, swing").

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