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Published: Thursday, 12/16/2010

Bob Feller, 1918-2010: Pitcher regarded as one of the best

CLEVELAND -- Bob Feller, the brilliant pitcher who is the only professional Cleveland athlete to be immortalized with a statue, died Wednesday night of complications from leukemia. He was 92.

The Hall of Famer hurled 266 victories, most in Indians history, from 1936 to 1956, despite losing almost four years at the peak of his powers after enlisting in the Navy during World War II.

Before free agency, great players such as Feller could spend their whole careers with one team. Feller spent most of his life with the Indians. He put on an Indians uniform for the first time at 17 when he made his big league debut in 1936. He was still wearing one as late as June, when he attended an old-timers game in Cooperstown, N.Y. Every March he threw out the first pitch to start the Indians' spring training schedule.

The Indians have had great players throughout their history, but none greater or more enduring than Feller. He was always around the ballclub. Spring training never officially began until he walked into the press room and told reporters, "It's time to go put on my monkey suit."

During the season, he was a fixture in the press box at Progressive Field for home games. When he wasn't, he was touring the country signing autographs and making speeches. He was always on ... always Bob Feller, Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer.

He visited Toledo many times, often signing autographs and telling stories at Mud Hens games.

Feller died in a local hospice after entering the Cleveland Clinic last week with symptoms of pneumonia. He endured a series of health problems since being diagnosed with myeloid leukemia in August.

Bob Feller in March 2010. Bob Feller in March 2010.
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After receiving chemotherapy for the leukemia, Feller had trouble with vertigo. In October, he had a pacemaker installed.

Lou Boudreau, his teammate and manager for much of his career, called Feller one of the five best pitchers in baseball history. In the baseball centennial year of 1969 he was voted as major league baseball's greatest living right-handed pitcher.

Feller was baseball's foremost pitching prodigy. From the time he came to Cleveland at age 17, he was a sensation with his blazing fastball and biting curve. He was just wild enough to frighten batters. His 208 walks in 1938 are still the big league record.

In 1939, he became the first pitcher of the 20th century to win 20 games in a season before he was 21 years old. By the time he was 22, he already had three 20-game seasons and 109 victories, another mark.

He was almost immediately known as The Strikeout King, or Rapid Robert. At one time he held the records for most strikeouts in a game (18) and season (348).

The high-kicking hurler threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters, both baseball records at the time of his retirement.

Feller fired baseball's only opening day no-hitter on April 16, 1940, when he stifled the White Sox in Chicago. On April 30, 1946, he no-hit New York in Yankee Stadium.

In the late 1940s Feller ranked with Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial as the highest-paid players in baseball, all around $100,000. At one point, he was considered the game's top drawing card and received a bonus based on attendance.

That was a long way from the Van Meter, Iowa farm on which he was raised after his birth on Nov. 3, 1918. His father encouraged Feller in his pitching, often warming him up behind the barn. Feller was a big star in Iowa high school and amateur baseball, sometimes striking out more than 20 batters in a game.

Cyril "Cy" Slapnicka, the Indians chief scout who later became the team's general manager, heard about him and signed him for $1 and a baseball autographed by the Indians.

Feller never played minor league ball. Slapnicka brought him to Cleveland in 1936 and had him pitch for Rosenblum Clothes, a top team in local Class A sandlot baseball, which was big then. He hurled two games for the Rosenblums. A crowd of 20,000 saw him strike out 15 batters against the Poschke Barbecue team at Brookside Park.

His first test against major leaguers came in an exhibition against the St. Louis Cardinals at League Park in 1936. Feller worked three innings and struck out eight batters.

Feller made his first official big league start on Aug. 23, 1936 against the St. Louis Browns. When Feller went to the mound, Indians manager Steve O'Neill sent veteran Denny Galehouse to the bullpen to warm up in case Feller had trouble. After Feller struck out the side in the first inning, Galehouse sat down. Feller struck out 15, one short of the league record, in a 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Browns.

For more of this story, visit www.cleveland.com.



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