Bob Feller was one of the true greats of the game of baseball. He started off in humble beginnings throwing a baseball at the side of his barn in Van Meter, Iowa. From that farm upbringing he came to have one of the best arms ever in baseball. He was clocked at over 100 mph several times with one unofficial reading of 107.6. I think the last one may be inflated, but he was fast. He had many nicknames, but ‘Rapid Robert’ may be the one that has persevered more than any other over the years. He was signed at 17 for one dollar and an autographed baseball. He never played a day in the minors, and played all eighteen of his Major League seasons with the Indians. He pitched an opening day no-hitter against the White Sox in 1940. I had him inscribe that feat on the ball in the above picture. He is still the only player ever to throw a no-hitter on opening day. That kind of sets the bar high for the rest of the season. That was one of three no-hitters that Bob threw in his career.
Even more impressive than his major league career is his military career. The day after Pearl Harbor in 1941 he enlisted in the Navy. He was a gun captain on the USS Alabama during World War II. His military service caused him to miss four seasons of baseball. He did his country a great service, but think of what his record would have been had the war not interfered. At the peak of his career he missed four seasons. He retired with 266 wins and 2,581 strikeouts. As with a lot of the players that played during his time you have to wonder what his numbers would have been had he had a full career. He did a great service to his country though. He was the first major league player to sign up after the country was attacked.
Part of what has drawn me to Bob is his fame in Iowa. When we started taking trips to Colorado to go skiing we used to see the sign for his museum just after we passed Des Moines. I always wanted to stop, but that is at a point where you want to start making good time. When I moved to Iowa in 2003 I knew that the museum was going to be high on my priority list. The company I worked for kept me so busy that I didn’t make it to the museum until the following spring. When I did go I was surprised at how friendly the staff was. The staff is made up of volunteers who of course donate their time. The woman who showed me around the museum could not have been nicer. Bob often made personal appearances at the museum, and I was able to meet him twice when he was there. He was very friendly, and seemed to enjoy meeting the public. He brought in other former ball players whenever he came back. I enjoyed the museum so much that I posted about it on here a while back. You can find the post here. The town of Van Meter was changed by the fact that Bob came from there. If you are ever on Interstate 80 going through Iowa make a stop at the Bob Feller museum. You will be glad that you did.
Bob was placed in a hospice earlier this month after being diagnosed with leukemia. He went into the hospice on December 8th sixty nine years after enlisting in the Navy. This time he was enlisting in a different fight. He died today in Cleveland from his illness. I am sure that the town of Van Meter will be in mourning for quite a while. I am glad that I had the chance to meet this legend of baseball. He will certainly be missed. I have many signed photos in my collection. Only three baseball players hang on the wall. One of them is Carlton Fisk, one of them is Buck O’Neil, and the third is Bob Feller. He was a great player from a different time. He was outspoken, but fair. This is a sad day.