Taking My Hacks

Bob Feller – A Legend Passes On

Joe Orlando

On December 16, 2010, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history - Bob Feller – passed away at 92. This is a man who was active in the same decade as Babe Ruth, though Ruth retired before Feller could face him. Rapid Robert lived a very long life and, up until the very end, Feller maintained that fiery attitude that some say made him not so well-liked in hobby circles. No matter how anyone rates Feller's charm, no one could dispute the strength of his arm.

At only 17 years of age, Feller entered the Major Leagues and continued to pitch for two decades, baffling hitters with one of the best fastballs of all-time. Some will tell you that the honor belongs to Nolan Ryan or Walter Johnson or any number of great power pitchers but Feller is always in the conversation. Even when the legend was asked this question directly, Feller was never shy about touting his exploits.

Feller won 266 games in 18 seasons for the Cleveland Indians. He also posted a 3.25 ERA for his career, fanning 2,581 batters in the process. This 8-time All-Star and 1948 World Series champion was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. Perhaps Feller's most amazing statistic is, in addition to throwing three no-hitters, he threw 12 one-hitters! He won 20 games in six different seasons, with a high of 27 in 1940. Feller also became youngest pitcher to win 20 games in season at the age of 20 in 1939.

For all of his greatness on the field, the greatest contribution Feller made wasn't with his arm. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Feller became the first baseball player to enlist in the military – the Navy – the very next day. Much like Ted Williams, Feller lost some prime years of his career as a result. With the way Feller pitched during his best seasons, you could imagine how impressive his numbers would have been.

For starters, it is not inconceivable that Feller could have racked up around 100 victories during that span. Feller won 24, 27 and 25 games before enlisting and 26 in his first full season back in 1945. So, you can certainly see why some baseball historians contend that Feller could have won 350 or more games during his career.

While Feller made his mark in the game, he also made quite an impression on the hobby circuit. As a young collector, I can remember seeing Feller at a baseball card show. It was during the 1980s and I was just a kid at the time. I noticed an older man, sitting by himself at a plain-looking table, back in the corner of the room. There was a handwritten sign on a piece of cardboard that said "$3 for an Autograph" and the rest of the table was bare.

As odd as this setup appeared, I told myself that he must be someone important. It was Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, sitting by himself and asking for $3 per autograph. It saddened me a bit, to see such a legend doing that. It wasn't quite like the autograph scene from the movie The Wrestler but it just didn't seem right.

Over the years, some hobbyists have been very critical of Feller for doing this. Regardless of how you feel, we all have to remember that baseball players didn't make much in those days. If this is how Feller chose to earn a living or make some money on the side, who am I to tell him that he can't or shouldn't do so? He was a living legend and served his country during World War II.

So, instead of remembering Feller for his occasional brashness or his card convention escapades, I choose to remember him as the fireballing right-hander who once threw a baseball harder than anyone in the league... and his legend lives on.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
SMR Editor In Chief