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Bob Feller, one of the most remarkable pitchers ever to take the mound, has died at age 92.

Feller's story defies belief. He came out the cornfields of Iowa - really - and in July 1936 he made his major league debut. He was 17 years old, still in high school. He made his first start about a month later, and fanned 15 St Louis Browns to collect his first major league win. A few weeks after that he struck out 17 Philadelphia A's. This tied Dizzy Dean's modern record for most strikeouts in a game, while also achieving a bizarre and thoroughly unprecedented feat - the number of men Feller struck out that afternoon was the same as the age of the pitcher striking them out.

And when the season was over, he went back to high school.

You can't make this stuff up. Not anymore.

He led the league in K's for the first time with 240 at age 19. He wasn't a great pitcher yet - he also walked 208 batters that same season. But in 1939, at age 20, he got enough of a handle on what was essentially a two-pitch repertoire (the Dwight Gooden-Nolan Ryan formula of a blazing fastball and a knee-buckling curve) to utterly terrify AL hitters for the next three seasons. He won 24, 27, and 25 games leading the league each year - he fanned 246 to 261 hitters (also leading the league each year). He was 22 years old by the time this was done.

And then came Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. Feller, who had a military deferment to care for his father, enlisted in the Navy on December 9. He wouldn't pitch again until August 1945. He made his return with Authority, beating the Tigers 4-2, with 12 Ks. And in 1946, his first full season in five years, he struck out 348 batters (in 371.1 IP).

That was his last totally awesome season. He hurt his knee the following season, and while he didn't miss any action, he was never the same again. He would never strike out 200 hitters again, although he still led the league in 1947 and 1948. He finally got into a WS that second year - he lost the Opener 1-0 on one of the most famous controversial plays in WS history. In the eighth inning of a scoreless tie, the Braves had pinch-runner Phil Masi on second base. Feller attempted a pick-off. Most observers thought Lou Boudreau applied the tag before Masi returned to the bag. But he was called safe, and scored the game's only run on a subsequent single. After losing to Johnny Sain in Game 1, Feller lost to Warren Spahn in Game 5. But the Indians won the other four games to take the Series.

In his 30s, Feller declined into a somewhat above-average pitcher. He managed to win 22 games in 1951. He was still around, aged 35, on the Cleveland team that was swept by the Giants in the 1954 Series. Feller was an effective spot starter (13-3, 3.09) on that team, working behind Wynn, Lemon, Garcia, and Bearden. He didn't pitch in the WS. He finished up with the Indians in 1956.

At his peak, he was the original Nolan Ryan - except better. A whole lot better. He didn't last anywhere near as long, of course.  And he lost almost four seasons out of his prime because he went off to serve his country. It's easy to assume that he might have won close to another 100 games had history not intervened, which would give him somewhere around 350 for his career. Or he might have blown out his arm along the way.

They don't make them like that anymore. They never made them like that in the first place. Bob Feller was one of a kind, and they broke the mold when they were done.

"The best pitcher I ever faced."
 -- Ted Williams

Bob Feller | 7 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
raptorsaddict - Thursday, December 16 2010 @ 08:06 AM EST (#227694) #
I had no idea he'd lost that much time to the war.

I did know this long ago though: he's the anchor of my Strat-O-Matic team, and he's almost as unhittable as Cy Young.

Magpie - Thursday, December 16 2010 @ 08:24 AM EST (#227695) #
Feller, who gave his opinion on Stephen Strasburg last summer, played against players I remember quite clearly - Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson. But he was probably the last man standing who had actually pitched to Lou Gehrig. Which ties up a pretty big chunk of the game's history, don't it?

I remember Bill James wondering, in his first Historical Abstract (circa 1986), if there might be anyone still around who had seen Cap Anson play baseball. Twenty-four years on, the answer is certainly "not anymore." There may still be some centenarian somewhere who, when he was a little boy, may have seen Honus Wagner at the end of his career. I hope so, anyway.
eudaimon - Thursday, December 16 2010 @ 11:13 AM EST (#227717) #

Checked out Cap Anson's (great name) stats. He hit 5 home runs in his first 13 seasons, and then hit 21 home runs in his 14th season. Is this a statistical anomaly, due to a rule change, or did Cap telegraph his apothecary asking for some of the good stuff?

Alex Obal - Thursday, December 16 2010 @ 11:34 AM EST (#227725) #
Nice summary.

Over the long-long-long-long-LONG run, strand rate (LOB%) is a pretty good measure of Unhittable Stuff. From 1938 to 1941, Feller was the LOB% champ by a comfortable margin. (Fangraphs has multi-year leaderboards now. Pretty cool.) Of course, the strikeout totals speak for themselves, too. But Unhittable Stuff helps in more ways than just strikeouts.

Magpie - Thursday, December 16 2010 @ 12:05 PM EST (#227733) #
[Anson] hit 5 home runs in his first 13 seasons, and then hit 21 home runs in his 14th season.

It's a BallPark Effect. In 1884, the White Stockings moved to Lake Front Park. The LF line was 180 feet. That's one-hundred eighty. They only spent one year there, but in that time Anson seemed to pick up a taste for hitting the occasional Big Fly, and he'd hit from 7-12 a year over the next seven seasons.

They were also beginning to play longer seasons - 1884 was the first time in his career that Anson played 100 games in a season. He was already 32 years old.
ComebyDeanChance - Sunday, December 19 2010 @ 03:29 PM EST (#227907) #
Nice article in the NYT today about Feller, from an interview of him done 24 years ago. Interesting to think, as he apparently imagined, what he would have done in the bigs had he not done service in his prime.
Mike Green - Monday, December 20 2010 @ 05:12 PM EST (#227953) #
It's been a bad month.  First basemen Phil Cavarretta and Walt Dropo have died within the last couple of days.  Their career paths could not have been more divergent.  Cavarretta won an MVP award in his mid-20s when he hit .355 in 1945, but overall his career was something of a disappointment as few players have hit better than he did before the age of 20.  Walt Dropo won the Rookie of the Year award at age 27 in 1950 and fell off from there. 
Bob Feller | 7 comments | Create New Account
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