Friday, December 17, 2010

Bob Feller dies

Bob Feller is dead. Signed for $1 and an autographed baseball, he never played a day in in the minor leagues. Went straight to Cleveland where he played for the Indians his entire career. People who hit against him and Nolan Ryan both (how many of them could there be--but oh well) said that Feller threw harder than Ryan. Toward the very end of his career, someone finally clocked a Feller fastball--at 98.6 mph. Amazing. He walked tons of batters and hit more batters than pretty much anyone. But he also led the league in strikeouts 7 times (2581 for his career) and struck out 17 in a game when he was 17. He served in the Navy during WW2 and missed four season, the only Chief Petty Officer in the Hall of Fame.

Feller was very opinionated--one of those straight-talking midwesterners with many passionate views but no discernible politics. (Forced to find a label, I'd say progressive farm-state populist.) Most of the Hall boys (good old ones, typically, let's face it) think it's a fine idea to admit Pete Rose, but Feller was outspoken against it.

Bob Feller and Negro League star Satchel Paige broke racial barriers by traveling cross country on barnstorming tours that matched Major Leaguers and Negro League stars. Paige and Feller had pitched against each other going back to Feller’s days as a schoolboy amateur. Feller also had a founding role in the Major League Players Association, the union that today represents players.

I've visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown just twice--once as a child with my father, and again maybe about ten years ago with my own children, then 6 and 9. I was hoping they'd get to see Feller at least from a distance (we were visiting just prior to the Induction Weekend in the summer). Walking along those crowded little streets, we turned a corner and literally bumped into Bob Feller. Quickly bought a baseball from a store and asked him to sign it; he did and chatted with us for a few minutes. We found an old Feller card too.

Rest now, young thrower of smoke.