When I started to write something this week, I started to write about the biggest news of the off season: Cliff Lee agreeing to a discounted deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
It was only natural, being a Phillies fan, that I write a few hundred words gushing about how sneaky and brilliant (Phillies GM) Ruben Amaro Jr. is, or how great Cliff Lee is for taking less money and years to come to Philly, or how incredible it’s going to be to be throwing Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Cliff Lee out on the hill four out of every five days.
And then I got home last night, and I heard the news: Legendary Indians pitcher Bob Feller had passed away at 92-years old, and everything changed.
This shouldn’t have been a shock, but it was. It shouldn’t have been so sad, but it was. The man lived a great life and was a true American hero (for reasons other than his athletic accomplishments.) Feller was 92-years old and battling leukemia. It shouldn’t have been so hard to swallow, but it was.
Feller, born in 1918, signed with the Cleveland Indians at the ripe old age of 17. What did he sign for? Well, it wasn’t quite the $120 million the Phillies just handed Cliff Lee; Feller signed for $1 and an autographed baseball from scout and fellow Iowan Cy Slapnicka.
Soon after signing, Feller was brought to Cleveland without ever putting on a minor league uniform. During his entire 18-year career, he spent it all with the Cleveland Indians. During his career, Feller racked up 266 wins, 2,581 strikeouts, and posted a 3.25 earned run average for his career. Impressive numbers, no doubt, but even more impressive when you consider that he missed out on four full seasons during the prime of his career.
On December 8, 1942, just one day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller gave up baseball and enlisted in the United States Navy, becoming the first baseball player to leave the sport to serve his country after the attack. While in the Navy, Feller served as a Gun Captain on the USS Alabama throughout World War II.
Upon returning from the war, Feller returned to baseball looking better than ever. During the 1946 season, his first season back, “Rapid Robert” posted a 26-15 record with a 2.18 ERA, amassing an incredible 348 strikeouts.
It is estimated that Feller missed out on more than 80 wins and an unthinkable number of strikeouts due to his military service, which would have made his already incredible numbers even more amazing.
Also referred to as “The Heater From Van Meter,” Feller threw three no-hitters during his career, and holds the MLB record for the most one-hitters, with twelve. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, in his first year of eligibility. Feller was also the first pitcher to have a 20-win season before his 21st birthday.
Seeing a legend like Robert William Andrew Feller leave this world is always tough. Things are so different now, and it’s safe to say that, unfortunately, there will never be another like him. Everything about the man was likeable, from the way he signed his first contract to his enlistment in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, Feller seemed like a genuinely good person, someone that, unlike most sports stars today, you could feel good about kids looking up to.
“Nobody lives forever and I’ve had a blessed life. I’d like to stay on this side of the grass for as long as I can, though,” Feller said earlier this year.
I think we all would’ve liked that, Bob.