BASEBALL

What Was Fireballer Bob Feller’s Greatest Achievement?

“Baseball is a man maker.” — Al Spalding

AT&T Park, San Francisco. Photo by John Ruddock on Unsplash

When I came home from the hospital after I was born, there were four teddy bears in my crib, named after the starting rotation of the Cleveland Indians. Three of these became Hall of Famers — Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Bog Feller. The fourth, Mike Garcia, twice led the league in ERA and was a 20 game winner the year I was born.

Like the 1980s and 90s Atlanta Braves, the Indians were loaded with pitching talent. Premiere among them was an Iowa farm boy who in his prime threw a nearly unhittable fireball, Bob Feller.

I’ll interject here that of my four teddy bears, Feller and Lemon were my favorites, in that order. Both were black and stuffed bears. Feller had a white torso with skinny black arms and legs, and black head with button eyes and pinched face. If you see pictures of toddler holding a teddy bear at their side with the hand gripping an arm, that would have been me and Feller.

While thinking about our Major League Baseball season that’s gone AWOL this year, I began reflecting on some of the baseball memories of my youth. This led me to looking up stats whereupon I came across a webpage dedicated to Bob Feller. Or more correctly, it was a 2010 poll that asked readers to choose what they considered his greatest achievement. Mike Peticca is listed as the author.

Bob Feller. Public domain

Frankly, I am always impressed when young people achieve big things early on and somehow keep it from getting into their heads. Bob Feller was a smoking hot pitcher from the start, going to work on the mound for Cleveland while he was still in high school, age 17. In his first start he struck out 15 batters. Before the season ended he went back to high school, but not before typing the major league single-game record for strikeouts in a single game: 17.

I can picture the first day of school. “So, what did you do this summer, Bobby?”

At the end of his school year his high school graduation in the spring of 1937 was broadcast nationally by NBC Radio. As a parent one might worry all that celebrity would go to the kid’s head. Somehow he hung in there and went back to work with zeal. The following year, before he had even turned 20, Feller became the first pitcher in the 20th century to strike out 18 batters in a game.

Now, let’s get into the meat of it. What was Bob Feller’s greatest pitching achievement? What would you choose?

__ A 5–3 record, 3.34 ERA, 76 strikeouts in 62 innings, a record-tying 17-strikeout game, in 1936, before his senior year in high school.

__ Winning 107 games, with 54 losses, at age 22, before enlisting in the U.S. Navy and serving in World War II.

__ Leading the majors in wins (27–11 record) and strikeouts (261) and leading American League in ERA (2.61) at age 21 in 1940.

__ A 26–15 record, 2.18 ERA, a then-record 348 strikeouts, 36 complete games, 10 shutouts, four saves in 1946, his first full season after World War II.

__ Leading American League in wins five straight years (1939–41, 46–47), not counting the nearly four seasons he fought in World War II.

__ Leading majors in strikeouts in each of his first seven seasons (1938–41, 46–48) as a full-time starting pitcher.

__ Retiring as first pitcher to throw three no-hitters in the 20th century, and tied with Nolan Ryan for most one-hitters (12).

THE ANSWER

According to Mike Peticca: “Feller’s greatest achievement, though, was that he gave up nearly four prime years of his baseball career to serve the United States in World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Dec. 9, 1941, the first major leaguer to join the military after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor that Dec. 7.”

The Sporting News called him the greatest pitcher of his time. Ted Williams said he was the fastest and best pitcher he ever faced. But his enlistment and service on the USS Alabama in the South Pacific theater speaks much about his character that goes beyond his record as a fireballer.

Here is a link to the original article:
https://www.cleveland.com/tribe/2010/12/bob_feller_what_was_the_greate.html

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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