If Zeus were a pitcher, he’d be jealous of Bob Feller. After getting noticed by Cleveland Indians scout and fellow Iowan Cy Slapnicka, Feller left the family farm to mow down American League opponents instead of grass. Beginning his career as a teenager in 1936, Feller earned the nickname “The Heater From Van Meter” because of his blazing fastball and his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa.
Feller might not have played with the Indians had his father not taken action, though. Written by Richard Goldstein, Feller’s 2010 obituary in the New York Times states, “The owner of the independent Des Moines minor league team, which had coveted him, contended that Feller had been acquired by the Indians in violation of baseball rules that governed the signing of amateurs. The baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, could have made Feller a free agent who would have commanded huge contract offers in a bidding frenzy. But Feller wanted to stay with the Indians, and his father threatened to sue if Landis did not allow that.”
Feller spent his entire career in a Cleveland Indians uniform, pitching three no-hitters in his career. The first one happened on April 16, 1940 in the Opening Day game at Comiskey Park against the Chicago White Sox. Feller’s career took a side turn toward the Pacific Theater in World War II. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the United States Navy. Because of a sense of duty, honor, and patriotism, Feller put his career on hold during his early 20s, arguably the time of peak physical condition for an athlete.
Returning to the Indians in the latter part of the 1945 season, Feller prompted cheers from the Cleveland faithful. In the 1946 season, it was as if he never left the pitching mound—Feller struck out 348 batters and pitched a no-hitter against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium; Feller’s third no-hitter came in 1951 against the Detroit Tigers.
Also known as “Rapid Robert,” Feller was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, the same year of Jackie Robinson’s entry. Selected on 150 of 160 ballots, Feller used his induction speech to talk about the history of baseball’s origins. “I was just thinking a moment ago that occasionally, when you’re in some outlying community outside here, there’s been a little controversy whether the first baseball game was ever played in Cooperstown, or elsewhere,” said Feller. “I’m not concerned where the first one was played as long as it was played, and it certainly made a great deal of difference in the lives of most all Americans.”
In addition to his three no-hitters, Feller racked up other statistics that place him at the top of the pitching pyramid, including thrown 12 one-hitters, winning 20 games six times, and leading the American League in victories six times. Feller’s career ended in 1956.
Finding a parallel to Feller in Indians history is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, an apt metaphor considering Feller’s farming roots. He set the standard for excellence under Chief Wahoo’s aegis, hence the Bob Feller statue outside Progressive Field. No hurler for the Indians ever matched Feller’s speed, accuracy, and endurance—except, perhaps, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 1, 2014.
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