There was a lot of news splashed across the sports pages last week about the “lying to congress” trial of Roger Clemens. In one of the articles that I read, it said that Clemens might be the greatest right-handed pitcher in all of the history of baseball.
With no due respect, because in my opinion he doesn’t deserve any, Clemens can’t even be compared to the GREAT Bob Feller. Not as a pitcher, not as a hero, and not as a true ambassador to the game of baseball.
Feller burst upon the scene of major league ball back in 1936, straight off of the farm in Van Meter, Iowa. He was 17 years old when he made his major league debut. Young in years, but not young in baseball acumen. And boy, could he bring the heat. When he first came up to the “bigs,” only the legendary Walter Johnson was compared to Feller in the speed in which he could bring the fastball. Throughout the ensuing years, maybe only Nolan Ryan could throw as hard.
Bob Feller’s career spanned the years of 1936-1956, all pitching for the Cleveland Indians. He had a career record of 266 wins, and 162 losses. Good, but not great you say?
If you are somewhat familiar with American History, you know that the worst armed conflict in the history of the WORLD started in 1941 for the United States. That conflict would be World War II.
When the 1941 baseball season ended, a season in which Feller won 25 games and threw 343 innings, he was one of the first Major League players to enlist in the armed forces. He became part of the United States Navy. He didn’t ask for any special treatment, like quite a few athletes and entertainers would do. He went straight to serving his time on battleships that were in the thick of battle mostly in the Pacific. He served his time honorably.
When the war finally ended in 1945, Feller had missed all of the 1942, 1943, 1944 seasons, and most of the 1945 season. These were prime years of his baseball career. Believe me when I tell you, he never once regretted how he had spent those years defending his country. I’m not going too much out on a limb when I say that he would have won 100 more games if he had not missed those years.
Back in Spring Training of 2009, my friend Bruce Frazier and I had the opportunity to attend a game between the Indians and the Texas Rangers out in Arizona. About the second inning, we noticed someone sitting over at a table on the concourse along the third base side. He was signing autographs. We went over to investigate.
It was the great Bob Feller.
I’m even choked up now as I write this as to how honored I was to meet him. We all chatted for a bit, and had our pictures taken with him. We ended up going home, and I had the pictures printed out. Bruce went back a few weeks later, while Mr. Feller was still signing, and had our pictures signed. I proudly display the picture in my home.
Unfortunately, though Mr. Feller was in pretty good health when we met him, later in 2010 his health deteriorated quickly, and he passed away in December of that year. He was 92 years old.
Bob Feller, baseball history, American history, baseball hero, and a true American hero. Rest in peace Bob.