Hi all. While the Yankees have extended closer Aroldis Chapman and told Juan Encarnacion to go peddle his papers, I wanted to write a theme about a player I read about as a boy in amazement. I had no way of knowing I would meet him twice late in his life, and if possible come to admire him even more.
When this blog was new and themes were hard to find, birthday wishes and themes were the order of the day. Now, if I write a theme on somebody’s birthday, you may assume it’s somebody special to baseball in general, to me, or both. Bob Feller checks both boxes. He was born on this date in 1918 in Van Meter, Iowa. During the past World Series, we marveled at what Juan Soto was doing before the age of 21. Playing part of 2018 and all of this season, his radio broadcaster had already nicknamed him “The Magic Juan.” Bob Feller had pitched part of 1936 and all of 1937–39 including a game where he struck out 18 men before turning 21. The press, ready to bestow nicknames more readily than today had christened him “Bollet Bob” and “Rapid Robert.” One of the more literate members of the 4th estate called him “The Heater from Van Meter,” in the way Mickey Mantle of Commerce, Oklahoma would be dubbed “The Commerce Comet” about a decade later.
Usually playing for teams that ranged from mediocre to awful, his 266-162 record was more than a hundred games over the .500 mark. He’s known for his 3 no-hitters, one of which came on Opening Day 1940. That came against an overmatched White Sox club. Feller was most proud of firing a no-hitter against the Yankees on April 30, 1946. Above all, he took pride in getting rid of Tommy Henrich, Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller to slam the door in the 9th inning. At the time of his third no-hitter in 1951, he joined Cy Young and Larry Corcoran as the only men with 3 no-hitters under their belts.
His best shot at postseason glory was the 1948 World Series. Feller blazed to a 10–3 record in the last two months of the season. As it was, it took a playoff game for the Indians to make the World Series. Feller lost both decisions to the Boston Braves-the only two games Boston won. The first defeat came in spite of allowing only 2 hits to the National Leaguers. Game 5 was an 11-5 Boston win, the only high-scoring game that World Series would boast. Feller was 13–3 in 1954 on the Indians who won 111 games, but manager Al Lopez declared the aging star his fifth pitcher for a World Series that ended in 4 straight.
Fast forward to 1993 in New Britain, CT. where Jim Lucas and I were broadcasting the AA Red Sox. Jim called and asked me one of the world’s silliest questions–he asked if I wanted to interview Bob Feller. I turned that one on its ear by asking if he was willing to be interviewed by me. I had heard one way and another that Feller had to be approached with extreme care. Years later, after the 1993 interview was a done deal, a frequent radio guest of ours who knew Feller told me of how Rapid Robert rapidly ended an autograph session. My friend told me that some youngbody demanded an autograph rather than asking “Please.” That ended that session. Knowing Feller’s military background (4 years in the Navy during World War II) I remember calling him “Sir,” and asking permission for an interview, something I rarely did. He was agreeable. Like my interview the next year with the Mets’ Bob Murphy, I can’t remember what I asked Feller that night in New Britain. Unlike the Murphy interview which has survived the years, the Feller interview was lost.
Fast forward another 9 years to 2002, my last year in baseball. We were with the Charleston RiverDogs by then. It was getaway night in a series against the Lakewood Blue Claws. The game had ended and we were packing our bags when Jim found out that Bob Feller was in the house. There was no time to haul out a recorder even if Bullet Bob would have allowed it. We had to make a command decision–go hear what Feller had to say or go immediately to our waiting bus. The choice was obvious. Every media person in the area was gathered around while Feller was holding court. The great man did most of the talking. I never heard a better-behaved group of media reporters. Somehow, there was no case where two reporters talked at the same time, unlike the usual babble you hear at a press conference. Such was the respect Feller could command even as he approached 90.
He passed away in mid-December, 2010 at age 92. He lived his entire adult life where he pitched, in Cleveland. At the time of his death he had been a Hall of Famer for nearly half a century. He was elected with Jackie Robinson in 1962. A young Feller in 1945 had made one of his rare wrong predictions when he said Jackie was too musclebound to hit major league pitchers. 17 years later they entered the shrine at Cooperstown together.0