Robert William Andrew Feller (November 3, 1918 - December 15, 2010) was considered “the fastest and best pitcher I ever saw during my career” by Boston Red Sox Ted Williams, who himself has been referred to as the one of, if not the greatest hitter of all time. Not only was his fastball purportedly clocked at 107.6 miles per hour (the second fastest pitch recorded), but he also held the record for most no-hitters at the time of his retirement (3) and still holds the American League record for most one-hit games with 12. (Nolan Ryan also posted 12, with four teams in both the AL and NL.) Feller grew up on a farm in Van Meter, Iowa where his father built a baseball diamond on the family farm so that Bob could continue to improve as a pitcher, already pitching in American Legion Baseball as a 10 year old. At Van Meter High he was the center for the basketball team, but after he went 19-4 with his Farmer Union American Legion team, the Cleveland Indians swooped in to sign the 16-year old in 1936. Uniquely, Bob’s fastball had exceptional movement darting and wiggling around as opposed to the more common straight-line heater. Though originally slated for minor league assignment, Feller bypassed the minors due to a snafu between Indians management and MLB bylaws, thereby making him a free agent if he so chose. But, Bob remained with Cleveland began his career with a 15-strikeout performance against the St. Louis Browns for his first Major League win. He was 17.
A few weeks later he struck out 17 Philadelphia Athletics, tying the Major League record at the time. Feller went 5-3 with 76 Ks and a 3.34 ERA in 14 starts. By his third year in the big league, Bob was well on his way to being the most dominant hurler of his era leading the American League in strikeouts for the first of seven times with 240, and the first of four straight seasons (1938-1941, 1946-1948). He also earned his first of eight nods for the MLB All-Star Game, two of which he started. Feller threw three no-hitters in his career, including an Opening Day no-no against the Chicago White Sox – the only no-hitter on Opening Day in the history of Major League Baseball. From 1938 to 1941, Bob led the AL in strikeouts four times; wins, walks and innings pitched three times; games, starts, complete games, shutouts and batters faced twice and once in ERA (1940) and finished among the top three in MVP voting in the latter three seasons. He won the pitching Triple Crown in 1940 leading the AL in wins (27), strikeouts (260) and ERA (2.61).After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Feller was the first professional athlete to enlist joining the United States Navy and serving 3-1/2 years during the prime of his career.
When the Heater from Van Meter or Rapid Robert, as he was dubbed, returned from service, he took up nearly where he left off as he led the AL in wins (26), starts (42), complete games (36), shutouts (10), walks (153) and batters faced (1,512) while setting a then-American League strikeout record with 348. In 1948, Feller and fellow future Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige and 20-game winner Gene Bearden helped Cleveland win 97 games, the American League pennant and then the World Series in six games over the Boston Braves. It was the first pennant and World Series title for the Tribe since 1920. Bob continued his dominance of AL hitters in the coming years and in 1954 he was a part of one of the great starting rotations the Majors has ever seen pitching alongside Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and Art Houtteman. The Indians won a remarkable 111 games and the AL pennant the year before falling to the Willie Mays-led New York Giants in the World Series. Bob Feller finished his career with a 266-162 record, 2,581 strikeouts, 279 complete games, 244 shutouts, 22 saves and a 3.25 ERA in 570 game appearances and 484 starts. He was the first president of the Major League Baseball Players Association (1956-1959) and in 1962 was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.