22, 2001 -- There’s an old, smallish snapshot somewhere in a
file cabinet among scores if not hundreds of other photos. It
shows a middle-aged man, dressed neatly in a blazer, tie, and
slacks, flanked on either side by two small boys. One of the boys
is my brother Michael, aged 4, maybe 5 at the time, the other is
your humble reviewer, aged 3, maybe 4. The middle-aged man is
baseball pitching great Bob Feller, who, while strolling the 1964
World’s Fair in New York City’s Flushing Meadow, encountered
my father and posed for a picture with his sons.
mixes statistics and personal anecdotes about these baseball gods,
in the process bringing more than a touch of humanity to what
would otherwise be a dry numbers recital..."
there’s not a single recollection of that moment of meeting one of
baseball’s Hall of Fame giants, although there are sporadic memories
of that World’s Fair, one of the last of that breed of international
expositions. But during his career, there were likely few who would
forget facing “Rapid Robert” Feller, a fireballing Cleveland Indians
ace who, were it not for missing most of four seasons to WWII, would
surely have vaulted toward the very top of each and every pitching
category. As it is, he’s still among the elite hurlers who ever played
Major League Baseball, and no statistics or understandable lack thereof
can lie about that.
Without the War -- 400 Victories?
threw 3 no-hitters in his career, including one against the DiMaggio-led
Yankees at Yankee Stadium; he’s tied for all-time 1-hitters with 12.
There was no Cy Young Award while Feller pitched, but he would’ve
likely won it 3 times in his career, more one speculates if the war
didn’t intervene. And while Feller didn’t reach the twin statistical
plateaus which signify “greatness” for pitchers, 300 wins and 3000
strikeouts, rest assured, Bob Feller is clearly and comfortably among
the game’s all-time greats. His
likely plateaus without the war would’ve been 400+ wns and 4000+
strikeouts. Feller won his only World Series with the Cleveland Indians
in 1948 (the Indians won the AL pennant on the last day of the season
against the Boston Red Sox, and they stayed in town to start the World
Series against the NL’s Boston Braves).
Feller also pitched for the Indians team that one 111 games in
the ’54 season, won the AL Pennant, but lost the World Series in four
games to the Willie Mays’ led New York Giants.
Feller's Personal Feelings About Players
his Little Black Book, Feller
writes with personal feeling about many of the greats he played with and
those who preceded him on the ballfield and whom he was lucky enough to
see play. A sampling (among many others) includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig,
the aforementioned Joe D. (Feller was there the night Joe D’s
incomparable 56-game hitting streak ended against the Indians), Jackie
Robinson, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, and Larry Doby (who
played with Feller on the Cleveland Indians as the first black American
Leaguer, just weeks after Robinson broke the Major League color
barrier). Feller fondly recounts the career timing that allowed him to
enter the Hall of Fame with Robinson in 1962.
mixes statistics and personal anecdotes about these baseball gods, in
the process bringing more than a touch of humanity to what would
otherwise be a dry numbers recital. Feller also describes throwing the
fastest pitch as measured against a speeding motorcycle, where his pitch
was timed at 104mph+; and in more controlled conditions where he once
hurled the horsehide at a blazing 107mph. About
the only guy he speculates could hit such a pitch was Ted Williams.
Of course, Bob couldn’t throw it 107 every time, but he
didn’t have just the heater – he had one of the game’s best
‘hooks” or curveballs, too.
latter portion of Little Black
Book of Baseball Wisdom concentrates on the “wisdom,” with
Feller relating some of the methods that brought him so much success.
He recalls the hard manual farm labor he undertook as a farmboy
growing up in Iowa, and how that, combined with the countless hours of
playing catch with his Dad built his arm strength a fearsome degree.
He is not a great fan of over-exercising, but of doing what’s
comfortable, and above all staying limber and fit.
Feller himself pitched 270 complete games.
baseball fans and for the younger aspiring baseball practitioner,
Bob Feller’s Little Black Book of Baseball Wisdom is a fine
addition to their store of knowledge.
It’s a neat primer on how the greats of the game played and
comported themselves, blended with some understated and sage baseball
lessons, which, coming from a Rapid Robert Feller, likely will apply for
as long as the game of baseball fascinates its players and fans alike.