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Rapid Robert rocked 'em

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Feller was phenom, war hero
By Nick Acocella
Special to

Signature Game
April 16, 1940 - Bob Feller created the trivia question about which team ended a game with every player holding the same batting average he had entering it. The Cleveland Indians' 21-year-old righthander did it by no-hitting the White Sox in Chicago - the only time a major league hurler has accomplished this feat on opening day.

Feller, who already has pitched three one-hitters, began the day by complaining of a stiff arm and jokingly told catcher Rollie Helmsley that he expected to be knocked out. Instead, he gave a knockout performance in winning 1-0 before some 14,000 fans, including his parents.

Strong winds in Comiskey Park forced Feller to rely exclusively on his fastball. As a result, Cleveland infielders had only seven assists. Feller finished with eight strikeouts and walked five (four in the first three innings).

The only tense moment came with two outs in the ninth when Taffy Wright hit a ground ball that Indians second baseman Ray Mack knocked down, chased a few feet into short rightfield, and threw to first for the 27th out to secure the first of Feller's three no-hitters.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • In 1939, a 20-year-old Feller saved the American League's 3-1 victory over the National League in the All-Star Game by pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings.

  • In his only All-Star start, Feller pitched three scoreless innings in 1946 to gain the victory as the American League romped, 12-0.

  • Feller led the American League only once in ERA, at 2.61 ERA in 1940 when he led the majors with a career-high 27 wins.

  • He was one of the leaders in the insurrection against Cleveland manager Ossie Vitt that year. But the move initially backfired when fans pelted the dissidents with fruit and the press labeled them the "Cry Baby Indians."

  • In 1946, when Feller racked up 348 strikeouts, the only regular in the American League he failed to whiff was Philadelphia Athletics outfielder Barney McCoskey. Eight years earlier, Feller had struck out McCoskey three times in pitching a one-hitter against Detroit.

  • Feller's fastball once raced a Harley Davidson motorcycle traveling 86 miles an hour down a Chicago street. The ball beat the vehicle by three feet - even though the cycle was 10 feet in front of Feller when he released the pitch. The fastball was timed at 104 mph and sailed through a bull's-eye set up 60 feet, six inches from the pitcher.

  • Among the toughest hitters he faced, Feller always mentions singles hitters like Bobby Doerr, Tommy Henrich, Roy Cullenbine, Stan Spence, and especially Taffy Wright, who made the last out in the opening-day no-hitter.

  • Despite pitching a two-hitter in Game 1 of the 1948 World Series against the Boston Braves, Feller lost 1-0. The lone run scored after Feller appeared to have Phil Masi picked off second in the eighth inning only to have him called safe on a controversial call by National League umpire Bill Stewart.

  • When Feller retired in 1956, he held the major league record for most walks in a career. Four pitchers - Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro and Early Wynn - have allowed more than his 1,764.

  • He still holds the 20th century record for most walks in a season, 208 in 1938, and only two 19th-century pitchers - Amos Rusie in 1893 and Cy Seymour in 1898 - ever walked more.

  • At the end of his career, he was third - behind Walter Johnson and Cy Young - on the all-time strikeout list. Since then, more than a dozen pitchers have past his 2,581 strikeouts.

  • Feller led the American League in innings pitched five times, with a high of 371 1/3 in 1946.

  • In 1958, Feller told a Congressional committee that major league baseball was so badly managed at the executive level that it should be subject to anti-trust laws.

  • Feller was placed in financial trouble when he tried to help out his wife Virginia, who became ill over the years and developed an addiction to barbituates.

  • Later, Feller would divorce Virginia and marry his present wife Anne.

  • When Feller was chosen the greatest living righthanded pitcher during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of baseball in 1969, Feller told a press conference, "I don't think baseball owes colored people anything; I don't think colored people owe baseball anything, either." The comment precipitated a feud with Jackie Robinson that lasted until the latter's death in 1972.

  • Feller says Pete Rose does not belong in the Hall of Fame because of his betting on baseball.

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