BY SAMANTHA CARR
Many high school boys dream of one day playing in the major leagues. Bob Feller was playing in the bigs while in high school.
Feller, who won 266 games for the Cleveland Indians despite missing almost four seasons while serving his country during World War II, died Wednesday, Dec. 15 at the age of 92 after a battle with leukemia.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, and at the time of his death was the museum’s longest tenured living Hall of Famer.
“We are all saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Feller,’’ said Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark. “He represented the National Baseball Hall of Fame longer than any individual in history, as 2011 would have been his 50th year as a Hall of Fame member.
No one loved coming back to Cooperstown more than Bob, which he and Anne did often. Bob was a wonderful ambassador for the Hall of Fame, always willing to help the Museum. Watching him pitch just shy of his 91st birthday at the Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown will be a memory that we will always treasure. He will always be missed.’’
Feller grew up on a farm in Iowa, learning how to pitch by playing catch with his father, Bill Feller. Between the family house and the big red barn, Feller learned his famous windmill windup, his blazing fastball and the killer curve.
“(My father) made a home plate in the yard, and I’d throw to him over it. He even built me a pitching rubber,’’ said Feller. “When I was 12, we built a ball field on our farm. We fenced off the pasture, put up the chicken wire and the benches and even a little grandstand behind first base. We formed our own team and played other teams from around the community on weekends.’’
While still in high school, Feller struck out eight in three innings with the Indians and then left school to play major league baseball full time.
He set an American League record as a rookie when he struck out 15 batters in a single game.
In 1937, he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and in 1941, he was the first major leaguer to enlist in the military following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He spent four years in the Navy as a highly decorated anti-aircraft gunner onboard the U.S.S. Alabama and then came back to win 26 games in his first season back with the Indians in 1946.
“It wasn’t until you hit against him that you knew how fast he really was, until you saw with your own eyes that ball jumping at you,’’ Hall of Famer Ted Lyons once said.
Feller played his whole career in Cleveland, winning 266 games with a 3.25 ERA and 2,581 strikeouts. He was selected to eight All-Star Games, won the pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, strikeout and earned-run average) in 1940 and was named the Major League Player of the Year that year as well.
He was also named Pitcher of the Year 11 years later by the Sporting News. “Rapid Robert’’ led the league in wins six times, in strikeouts seven times, complete games three times and shutouts four times. He threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters, and won 20 or more games six times. He won the World Series with the Indians in 1948.
At the age of 90 in 2009, he started the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown, facing three batters.
SAMANTHA CARR is the manager of web and digital media at the Baseball Hall of Fame.