Book Reviews


Bob Feller's Little Black Book 
of Baseball Wisdom

By Bob Feller and Burton Rocks

Review by Rich Sheppard

 

August 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.  

"...Feller 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..."

 

Regrettably, 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?

Feller 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

In 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.

Feller 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.

The 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.  

For 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.