I can’t believe that a lot of people don’t know who Bob Feller is. I suppose if you’re not a baseball fan, then there’s some excuse as to not knowing that one of the greatest athletes in baseball history passed away yesterday at the age of 92, after struggling with leukemia, and succumbing to the effects of pneumonia.
I just want to spout some facts about this national treasure, who may still be one of America’s best kept secrets:
Long before LeBron, who was post-Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and a host of other athletes who came out of high school to compete at the professional level, there was this young kid from Van Meter, Iowa, who entered the bigs at the age of 17 in 1936. He was a phenom: “The Heater from Van Meter,” and “Bullet Bob” were a couple of his most popular nicknames.
He once struck out 17 batters in a game at the age of 17. At the age of 19, he struck out a then record 18. Hitters who faced both he and Nolan Ryan, have long said that Feller threw harder than Ryan–Feller would consistently hurl at a velocity of 102 mph. His fastest pitch ever recorded occurred in 1946 at 107.6 mph. In 1940, he recorded the only no-hitter on opening day in Major League Baseball history.
He was an All-Star on the field, but it was the decision he made on December 8, 1941, that made Feller a national icon and a hero in the eyes of his peers. He enlisted in the United States Navy, volunteering for combat duty. He served for four years during WWII, and is the only Chief Petty Officer in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Feller returned to the bigs after his military service and continued to play until 1956. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.
Bob Feller didn’t go away after retiring from professional baseball. He was a longtime ambassador for the game, full of life and stories. I was blessed to be in his presence over the past several years, hosting a venue at MLB’s All-Star Fan Fest. He would set huge exhibition halls abuzz by simply being there. Conversations with fathers and sons would go something like this:
“Who’s Bob Feller?”
“He is the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of. He struck out 17 batters in a single game when he was 17 years old!”
“17!? I want his autograph!”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Robert William Andrew Feller as they celebrate his life and mourn their loss.