December 15, 2010
In a year when we've already lost way too many baseball greats, the hits keep on coming.
Actually, that's a terrible way to begin a post on Bob Feller — the hits rarely came when one of history's best pitchers was on the mound — but it's quite a blow to learn that "Rapid Robert" died on Wednesday night from acute leukemia. He was 92.
Feller was one of the unique baseball characters of all time. He made the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians at 17 and remained in the public eye up until his death. He was an upper-echelon Hall of Famer, a World War II hero, an outspoken and visible personality, not to mention a larger-than-life tie to an era gone by.
Feller was placed in hospice care after falling ill last week and our own Ian Casselberry did an excellent job of explaining why he's regarded as such a giant in the game.
Feller pitched 18 seasons for the Indians, compiling a 266-162 record and 3.25 ERA. That win total is the highest in franchise history. Feller also is the team's all-time leader in innings pitched (3,827), strikeouts (2,581), complete games (279) and games started (484). He threw three no-hitters in his career and 12 one-hitters.
Additionally, Feller also holds Indians single-season records for complete games (36), strikeouts (348), innings pitched (371 1/3), walks (208) and shutouts (10).
The man was so good that he earned not one, not two, but three nicknames. He was called "Rapid Robert" for a fastball that was estimated to reach 104 miles per hour. (Feller claimed to once throw even harder than that.) But this was before the advent of radar guns, so unusual methods were sometimes deployed to gauge Feller's fastball. Such as racing it against a motorcycle.
And he accomplished all of these feats despite missing three seasons while serving in World War II. He enlisted in the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. After returning from the war, Feller went on to pitch for 12 more seasons.
Feller was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. His No. 19 was retired by the Indians in 1957, one of only seven numbers given that honor by the team.
In a way, it seemed as if Feller lived his life with an eye toward making sure he left a lot of great stories behind. We'll be reading them in the obituaries and tributes in the days ahead and every accolade we come across will be deserved. Rest in peace, Mr. Feller.