He was a superstar of the first order. He had talent. Personality. Oversized accomplishments. A Hall of Famer.
Bob Feller, the legend with the uncommon fastball and a gloveful of nicknames, is gone. He died Wednesday at the age of 92.
For the post-war generation, Bob Feller was baseball’s premier pitcher. Three no-hitters. A fastball clocked at 100 mph.
He was Rapid Robert. Bullet Bob. The Heater from Van Meter (he was born in Van Meter, Iowa).
He was every youngster’s hero. Every lad who ever played catch in the back yard with his father wanted to be the next Bob Feller.
He was 16 when the signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1935. When he debuted with the Indians one year later, without a day in the minors, he was the youngest player ever to appear in a big-league game.
By the time he was 19, he won 17 games in 1938 and was named to the All-Star team. Over the next three seasons, he won 24, 27 and 25 games. Then, on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy.
He served aboard the battleship USS Alabama as an anti-aircraft gunner, rising to the rank of Chief Petty Officer while receiving five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars by the time he was discharged in August 1945.
He returned to the Indians in September, just in time to win five games. He won 26 games the following year. He pitched the Indians into the World Series in 1948.
He was a superstar before there was a name for it.
Beyond the strikeouts, beyond the dozen one-hitters, another memory, one less thrilling, lingers. It was 1954. The Indians won 111 games that year. Feller won 13. Two years before he was to retire, Feller was the fifth starter on a staff made up of Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon and Art Houtteman.
Still, Bob Feller was going to the World Series, to face the New York Giants and Willie Mays.
The sad thing was, even after all these years it’s still hard to fathom, Bob Feller did not pitch in the World Series that year. The Giants swept the Indians, four games to none.
Years later, Feller brushed aside the World Series snub. Some of his fans never did.
Feller routinely made visits to Oklahoma as one of baseball’s most endearing goodwill ambassadors. He relished the opportunity to talk baseball. Especially when the talk turned to his own exploits.
But Bob Feller always had a comment, always had a theory, always had an observation.
The man with the fastball that always found the strike zone also had a mind and a mentality that never missed the mark.
Bob Feller was a great pitcher. He was a first-rate guy, as well. He was good for the game of baseball.