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A jolly good Feller

August 31, 2010

My mother, who never passed up cultural opportunities for her kids, took me to meet Cleveland Indians legend Bob Feller at a book signing in St. Louis when I was a young teenager, and he’s been one of my favorite non-Cardinals ever since. Word came this weekend that Feller was being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. Thus far, the 91-year-old Hall of Famer seems to be holding up well, which isn’t surprising, as it’s frankly tough to conceive of the Heater from Van Meter being mortal. (A friend saw him pitch at a Cleveland Indians Fantasy Camp when he was somewhere around 80 years old, and reported that his fastball still had zing on it. As Feller himself said in a television interview a few years ago, “I throw the ball as hard as I ever did—the ball just takes longer to get to home plate.”)

Check out this clip of Feller in 1946, clocking his fastball with a Lumiline Chronograph from the Army Ordnance Corps—and note that the ball is moving at a speed of 98.6 miles an hour when it reaches the plate.

More Feller facts:

  • He tried to recruit his sister to his high-school baseball team. She became a basketball standout and ping-pong champion instead.
  • His signing bonus was one dollar and an autographed baseball.
  • He won 266 games in the big leagues between 1936 and 1956. Imagine what that total might look like if he hadn’t spent four years in the military during the prime of his career, having been the first player to volunteer for combat service after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
  • Asked a few years ago to name the one moment in his baseball life that he’d most like to relive, Feller answered without a second thought, “Playing catch with my dad between the red barn and the house.”

Get well soon, Mr. Feller.

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