Bob Feller Was a True Baseball Immortal

 

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Photo:Answers.com

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 first met him at a MLB Players Association Alumni game at Al Lane Field several years ago and was immediately drawn to him like a firefly to a night light. Maybe it was the way he treated the kid of all ages who came down before and after the game to get his autograph and hoping to hear the story about how the Tribe won their last World Series title in 1948. And all three of his nicknames from the “Heater from Van Meter”, to “Bullet Bob” to his most infamous “Rapid Robert” only speaks to the legend that was 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.

 
 

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Photo: Commons.wikimedia.org

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.
 

8 Comments

The world can use a few more Bob Feller’s

—Mark Gauthier
http://cubden.mlblogs.com/

He will be missed. He was THE class of the Big Leagues.
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

Mark,
I could not agree with you more. Feller will be missed for his grace and class as well as his warmth and compassion for charity and the youth of our Nation.
Did not know this, but Feller was the MLBPA’s first President. Just shows you another layer of the Feller onion and what he was willing to do for this great game.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Jeff,
Can you imagine having your high school graudate be the subject of a radio show, and that multiple stations would want to cover it? Bob Feller can, and did have his High School graduation broadcasted on the radio and was on the mound less than a week later and struck out 18 batters from the St. Louis Browns.
JUst speaks to the levels of greatness this member of baseball royalty obtained during his 92 years on this great big blue marble.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlbloga.com

Really nice tribute to Feller, who, as you said, was one of the greats on many levels. And how wonderful that you got to meet him!

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

Jane,
Got to tell you, going to those MLBPA Alumni games have been a great joy. Got to meet my all time idol Brooks Robinson at one, and always tried to say hello to Bob Feller.
It has been a bad year where a few of our great stars of the past have extinguished, but this one really hurts because of the man Feller was off the field as well as on.
Going to miss him this Spring at the MLBPA event in Clearwater, Florida.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Cliff,
Wonderful tribute to Bob Feller! I got to see him from a few feets away at the MLB FanFest at Anaheim. I was in line but the way he kept talking to everyone and the lines being so long, I did not get to talk to him.
Emma
http://crzblue.mlblogs.com

Emma,
I am sorry you did not get that chance. Believe me, he would have been worth any time or effort to speak with him. There was something about the guy ********* in that period. Feller, ex-slugger Frank Howard, who used to be a Rays farm Coach/Instructor. They always seemed to have a ball or spent a extra amount of time with the fans.
Sometimes I wish this generation took to that vein of remembering their play may make them famous, but the fans can make the immortals.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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