Bob Feller Was a True Baseball Immortal
There are always people you meet during the course of your life that seem to click with you. It can be a piece of their personality that makes you notice them, or even something as simple as a moment of respect and courtesy shown to you that puts them always in your mind. I felt that way about former Indians great Robert William Andrew “Bob” Feller.
I felt compelled to listen to him any time I saw him after those years whenever the MLBPA Alumni players their games either in St. Petersburg, or up at BrightHouse Field in Clearwater, Florida. Always dug into a seat just out of the crowd hoping to hear another Feller original story from either the past or present about his Indians.
I always admired Feller for so many reasons. For signing at a young age with Cleveland scout Cy Slapnicka for just a $1 and a baseball. The impression that Feller left on Slapnicka stayed so sharp in his min d that when Salonika was given the GM position in Cleveland, he tried to by-pass Feller’s time in the minor leagues and bring him straight to the Majors, which was a violation of the MLB rules at that time.
Legendary MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis conducted a 3-month investigation into the quick acceleration of Feller’s rise through the Indians system from Fargo-Moorhead to New Orleans to the Majors without Feller having even stepped within either minor league clubhouse concluded that it was a violation of MLB rules, but ruled for Slapnicka and Indians owner Alva Bradley even though he did not believe the team acted with good faith. Some say that the testimony of Feller and his father to Commissioner Landis helped pave his way to Cleveland.
Even if that tale is an urban legend, it solidified the legend of Feller being the ultimate team player. But how can you argue with a man who played 18 years for the same Indians franchise posted 266 victories with 2,581 strikeouts and threw three No-Hitters and 12 1-hitters during his career. Or maybe it was the exclamation point to his career of throwing a No-Hitter on Opening Day in 1940 against the Chicago White Sox that even today stands as the only No-No ever thrown on Opening Day in Major League history.
In the end I finally found out what attracted me to Feller. It wasn’t that Feller was once clocked officially throwing 107.6 mph in 1946 after returning from a few years of military service in World War II. It was for the level of respect and pride Feller had for the game and anyone who ever pulled on a pair of cleats.
I truly admire Feller for helping to formalize a petition along with fellow Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams that was then submitted to the Commissioner of Baseball back on January 14,1998. The document is signed by both Feller and Williams and went about asking for the reconsideration of a lifetime ban or a pardon for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson so that Jackson could be rightfully examined by his baseball peers for possible future selection by the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee for consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I would have loved to see Feller pitch in his heydays, but I have only seen him in his later years at MLBPA Alumni charity exhibition games when fun had more of his attention that barreling that ball in there close to the ribs at his peak speed of 100 plus mph. What a joy it must have been to be a Indians fan back in the late 1940′s or even one of the Cleveland faithful today who ever got the opportunity to have a long and important discussion with such a baseball icon at an Indians home game.
People want to throw out poetic phrases and resolute adulation at a time like this, but Feller was more than baseball. He was a war veteran, a father and a true image of everything that is right with the game of baseball. It saddened me a few weeks ago to hear of Feller being transferred from the esteemed Cleveland Clinic to a hospice unit after battling an invisible foe, leukemia for most of the 2010 season.
Feller passed away from pneumonia finally losing the most important fight of his life. But I want to remember Feller for his virility and strength back in June 2009 when he was one of the starting pitchers in the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic at 90 years of age.
I want to remember him as the player who’s Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa was built by his own son Stephen, an architect. I want to remember him for buzzing the tower of “Mudcat” Grant during one of those MLB Alumni games then staring Grant down at the plate. I want to remember Feller as a fighter, a competitor, but most of all as a true baseball immortal.