Last night, Major League Baseball and the city of Cleveland lost a legend.
Bob Feller, legendary pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and member of both the Baseball Hall of Fame and United States Navy, passed away due to complications arising from leukemia, pneumonia, and thrush. He was 92 years old.
“Rapid Robert” Feller was a remarkable pitcher and by all accounts, and an even better human being. As a member of the Cleveland Indians from 1936 until 1956, Feller set records, won championships, and became one of the legitimate superstars of the early era who would help build Major League Baseball into the game we know today. He was the dominating force of his era, a once in a lifetime phenom that would do things no one had ever seen before on a baseball diamond.
Bob Feller was special from the very beginning. He made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1936 at the age of 17 without having ever played in a minor league game. Even more impressive, he hadn’t even graduated from high school yet. In fact, due to his rising popularity, Feller’s graduation the following year was nationally broadcast live on NBC Radio, something not unlike what we see in today’s athletes.
Over the course of the next 20 years, all Feller would do is be named an all-star 8 times, win a World Series, pitch the first and only opening day no hitter in the history of Major League Baseball and pitch 3 no hitters total as well as 12 one hitters, become the first pitcher to win 20 games before the age of 21, set the single game record for strike outs twice, lead the league in strike outs 7 times, lead the league in wins 6 times, and become the winningest pitcher in the history of the Cleveland Indians with 266 victories. There are other records and highlights, but those a just a small sampling to help you understand just how incredible a pitcher he really was.
However, the most amazing aspect of Feller’s career is the fact that he lost 4 full seasons in his prime to serve in the Navy. Feller was the first professional baseball player to enlist in the WWII war effort following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He served as Gun Captain aboard the USS Alabama from 1941 until 1945. Despite all of the awards and accolades Feller won throughout his career, he often pointed to his service in the military in support of our country as his proudest accomplishment. He truly was a great American. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and as of today he is still the only member to serve as a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy.
So while the city mourns the loss of a hero, Feller will carry on as quite possibly the greatest Indian ever. There is a statue dedicated to him as fans enter the ball park. His iconic number 19 hangs in right field. Fans everywhere can be found sporting retro jerseys with his name and number adorned across the back.
All of these things spark conversation. They make children ask their father’s questions like “who is that?” or “what did he do that is so great?” Every time this happens the memories of his life and career will be carried on. Each time a new generation of fans will learn about the greatest Cleveland Indian to ever put on a uniform and take the mound. In fact, there’s probably a uniform, a cap, and a glove waiting for him in the locker room of the great big all-star team in the sky. If we’ve learned anything over the years, you can never have too much pitching.
It’s a sad day for the city of Cleveland, quite possibly one of the saddest in recent memory. But we need to remember one important fact. Even though Bob Feller may be gone, Rapid Robert’s memory will live on in this city for generations to come.