Tag: Bob Feller

Hall of Famers at War: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg

Those of us who are baseball fans generally know statistics for the greatest players of the game.

But sometimes we fail to consider how some of the greatest had altered statistics because they served their country during times of war.

Let’s consider four Hall of Fame Players whose numbers could have been so much greater.

Ted Williams is generally regarded as the greatest hitter ever to play baseball.

Williams finished his career with a lifetime average of .344. He had 521 home runs and 2654 hits.

But what many fans of today fail to realize is that Ted Williams missed almost five full seasons because of military duty in World War II and the Korean War.

Williams was trained as a pilot but saw no combat duty during WWII.  But when he returned to active duty during the Korean War, he flew combat missions. He played only 6 games in 1952 and only 37 games in 1953.

During his first military service Williams went in when he was 24 years old. After the Korean Conflict, he was still only 34 when he got out. So he was missing during the prime of his career.

Proof of this is that in 1954 when he played his first full year after the war, he hit .345 and had 29 homers.

In a 162 game average season, Ted had 188 hits and 37 home runs for his career. Let’s apply those numbers to the years he lost to military service.

If one could give Ted back the five years he served our country, he would have had 940 more hits and 185 more home runs. He would have finished his career with 3594 hits and 706 home runs.

In addition to the statistical bashing Williams took, he also suffered financially by serving his country. Controversy involving his initial draft status in 1942 cost him a major commercial contract with Quaker Oats.

He also lost his salary for three years in WWII after he had made $30,000 in 1942 playing for the Red Sox.  By the time he went to Korea he was earning a reported $100,000 per year.

The player of his era to whom Ted Williams was most frequently compared was Joe Dimaggio.  Dimaggio lost time to service in WWII as well. He served the same three years from 1943-1945 as Ted Williams.

Dimaggio was assigned as a physical education instructor and served in California and on the east coast. He never saw combat.

Dimaggio had a relatively short career of only 13 seasons primarily because of the three seasons he missed during the war.

For his career, Joe D hit .325 and finished his career with 2214 hits and 361 home runs.

Over an average of 162 games Joe averaged 207 hits per year and 34 home runs.

So if you gave him back the three years he was in the Army, Joe would have finished with 2835 hits and 463 dingers.

More realistically, Dimag would probably have hit more home runs and garnered more hits in the three years he was gone, because he was also in his prime. In 1943, the first year he lost, he would have been 28 years old.

Dimaggio also lost financially.  According to Baseball Almanac, Dimaggio made $43,750 in 1942 and 1946 when he returned. So he lost $131,250 during the War.

Bob Feller was one of the greatest pitchers ever to climb up a major league mound.  Feller lost virtually four full seasons during WWII. He came back to pitch in nine games in 1945 but he won 26 games his first full season back in 1946.

Feller enlisted in the Navy and saw combat as a Gun Captain aboard the USS Alabama.

When Feller went to military service he was only 23 years old. In the previous three seasons he had won 24, 27 and 25 games respectively.

For his 18 season career Feller won 266 games while losing 162.  He had 2581 strikeouts for his career.

If we could give him back the almost four years he lost he would have at least 63 more wins and 609 more strikeouts. But that is based on his 162 game average.

If you take his averages for the three years immediately before his service he would have won 96 more games and had 963 more strikeouts. 

Using these numbers Bob would have finished his career with 362 wins and 3544 strikeouts.

According to Baseball Almanac, Feller lost $160,000 during WWII.

Hank Greenberg earned his Hall of Fame credentials as a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers.

Greenberg was actually drafted in 1940 and was able to play only 19 games for the Tigers in 1941. He missed the next three full seasons and most of 1945 due to his military service.

Hank served in the Pacific Theater spotting bombing locations for B-29s.

Greenberg’s stats for the Hall of Fame saw him finish with a .313 career batting average and he averaged 187 hits per year for his career. His final numbers included 1628 hits and 331 home runs.

But his military service probably cost him at least 150 home runs and 750 hits.  Hank Greenberg would probably have finished with 480 home runs or more and 2400 hits if he had not served during WWII.

Based on salary figures from Baseball Almanac, Greenberg lost about $220,000 in the four years he served our country.

And Hank served in the military when he was older than the other players mentioned here. When he began the 1946 season he was 35 years old and his best years had been lost.



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MLB Opening Day: Bob Feller and the 10 Most Amazing Opening Day Performances

On Thursday, March 31, baseball will make its long-awaited return with its traditional Opening Day.  It will be a day when fans just sit back, relax and enjoy the game before the divisional rivalries cause battles in the bleachers.  With the epic pitching matchup of CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander kicking off the season, it’s sure to be a great 2011.

In other games, careers will be made while others may end due to injury.  Fans will laugh, cry and cheer as their favorite players have (hopefully), amazing first games.

Some Opening Day performances have been good enough to be marked in the annals forever, including one notable one by Bob Feller (pictured at left).  To celebrate this long-standing tradition as well as Feller’s accomplishment, here are the top 10 most amazing Opening Day performances in history!

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Cleveland Indians: The Greatness of Bob Feller, to This Kid Anyways

Bob Feller.

It’s hard to talk about the Cleveland Indians and not mention the name of Bob Feller.  There were several years when there was nothing else to talk about as Cleveland Indians fans than their greatest player of all time, but it was always so much more than that. 

Feller was always both larger than life and the regular guy next door.  The legend was scary to walk up to, but the stories he would tell were always worth the risk.  He was Bob Feller.  The greatest pitcher to wear an Indians jersey, the ambassador for a team that didn’t have any, the guy that could throw harder than maybe anyone to step foot on a baseball field.

It’s hard to describe what Mr. Feller meant to me as a kid growing up on the West Side of Cleveland in the 1970s.  You see, the Cleveland Indians of that era weren’t very good, which may be overstating the case.  I didn’t know any better.  As a Tribe fan, finishing in fourth place was always a fantastic year.  There were quirky, blue-collar players that many second division teams are famous for that I followed, like Charlie Spikes, Buddy Bell, Andre Thornton and Duane Kuiper, but there weren’t any icons you could hang your hat on.  The closest thing to a legend was Gaylord Perry, who was known as much for hiding K-Y jelly as he was for winning a Cy Young in Cleveland.

But there was always Bob Feller.

My first memory of Feller wasn’t of a strikeout, a victory, a trip to the Pacific or an Opening Day no-hitter.  No, my first memory of Bob Feller came from my dad, a devout New York Yankees fan to this day. 

I’ll never forget the story my dad told me right before bed, when as a five year old, I was still trying to figure out what that silly game of baseball was all about.  Normally, he sprinkled me with stories of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, and was, in all likelihood, trying to steer me towards his childhood team and away from the painful heartache of becoming a Tribe fan.  But even Dad couldn’t help himself.

There came the day that Dad mentioned Bob Feller.

While I don’t remember what my father specifically said about Feller that night, I do remember the main event of the conversation.  You see, Bob Feller threw faster than a motorcycle.  Today, pitchers are routinely clocked at stadiums through the use of radar, but to a five year old, 100 miles per hour might as well be 10 or 1,000.  It was all relative.  But, you see, Bob Feller could throw the ball faster than a speeding motorcycle.

The next day, I told the story to my neighbor, and we set about creating the same test.  Out came the big wheels, the Schwinns, the mitts and the tennis balls.  The test was on.  Which kid could throw faster than any of the vehicles that we all brought out to the street in front of my house.  First against the big wheel with a worn wheel.  Then, against the gold Schwinn that everyone swore was the fastest bike this side of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.  The Green Machine was also tested.  Today, I don’t know who could throw faster than what, but that fateful summer afternoon, a kid with a sore arm and a few scrapes became a lifelong baseball fan, and Bob Feller became his hero.

Over the years, I would learn more about the greatness that was “Rapid Robert”.  I remember listening to an old timer at a game in Cleveland in the early 80s telling the 12 people sitting in the entire section about how Feller had told him that his dad had mowed over part of his Iowa farm to build him a baseball field.  Can you imagine that?  A father building his son a ball field in the middle of his cornfield!  I was a little more than torqued when my father refused to bulldoze the forest behind our house for a ball field of my own.  I was even more ticked off a few years later when Field of Dreams came out. 

I still wonder, did Feller get a cut of the movie’s proceeds?  If you think the ball field was a dedicated move for his son by Bill Feller, Bob’s dad, how about Dad getting rid of ALL the corn, to instead grow wheat, because it would allow him to focus more energy on teaching his son how to become a major leaguer.  He’d create a team of local ballplayers, and they’d play other teams during the weekend.

I remember reading about Feller, as a high school junior, making an ungodly jump from high school baseball to the major leagues.  That’s right, he never played a second of minor league baseball before finding himself pitching for the Indians after his junior year in high school.  Feller went back to high school after the season and finished his senior year with the help of tutors on the road during his second year.  He still made it to his graduation however,  and it was broadcast on radio from coast to coast.  Think about it.  Most kids DREAM of playing in the majors in high school.  Feller did it.  But that’s was always his M.O.

I remember watching Jack Morris throw a no-hitter on the first Saturday game of the week on NBC way back in 1984.  While I don’t remember much about the game, I do remember Vin Scully and his broadcast partner Joe Garagiola.  In painting the picture of Morris’ brilliance that day, they kept referring to one Bob Feller, who was the one and only pitcher to throw a no-no on Opening Day.  While Morris was already making his second start for his no-hitter, Feller had done it on Opening Day in 1940 when he was all of 21 years old.

Then there are the numbers, and there are just far too many to get into them all here.  As a 20 year old, Feller would win 24 games in 1939.  As a 21 year old in that no-hit year of 1940, he would lead the majors with 27 wins and 31 complete games.  As a 22 year old in 1941, he would win 25 games.  That was Feller’s sixth year in baseball.  In today’s game, he’d be about to enter his first unrestricted free agent year.  I wonder what kind of deal a 22 year old coming off three 24+ win, sub 3.15 ERA seasons would get…200 million…300 million…perhaps his own island and a kingdom of his own?

Obviously there wasn’t free agency in the 40s, but Feller still offered up his services to something else: the U.S. Navy.  I’ll get to that in a second.

Feller would return late in the season in 1945 for a few starts but would return for a full season in 1946.  He promptly won 26 games with a 2.18 ERA.  He had 36 complete games, 10 shutouts, pitched in 371 1/3 innings and struck out 348 batters in that remarkable season.  In 1947 Feller would win 20 games.  During that five year playing stretch, Feller would win 122 games, lose 59, pitch 129 complete games and throw 30 complete game shutouts.  Overall, Feller would go 266-162 with a 3.25 ERA and 2,581 strikeouts.  He’d throw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters.  In other words, he was otherwordly.

As a kid, I couldn’t stand seeing that four year block of empty games in the early 1940s.  Surely Feller couldn’t have wanted to miss part of the prime of his career.  I mean, imagine the numbers had he stayed healthy.  Based on the five year average from the three years prior to his service and the two years after, he’d have averaged 24 wins a season.  Figuring in the five wins he DID win in 1945, that would be another 91 wins, another 1,000 wins, a lower ERA. 

Of course, Feller wouldn’t have had it any other way.  It wasn’t about numbers, wins or even playing baseball.  He enlisted in the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor, after waiving a deferment because his dad was ill, leaving Feller as the sole provider for his family.  Feller’s father would die while he was serving during World War II.  Feller never questioned it.  It was his duty.  While there have been many references to “Chiefs” during the existence of the Cleveland Indians, Bob Feller was a legitimate one.  He was baseball’s only Chief Petty Officer elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see Feller on several occasions, and I even talked to him briefly a couple of times, because the guy went everywhere in the name of baseball.  No, I’m by no means saying that I created a friendship with the guy.  Not a chance.  He wouldn’t have been able to pick me out of a lineup.  That’s not my point.  My point is simply that I got to meet Bob Feller. 

My most memorable meeting was back in the late 80s, when Feller was a young man in his early 70s.  Feller was throwing BP for a bunch of sportswriters at a small ball field in Erie prior to a minor league game.  I was standing in the outfield shagging fly balls.  You got it, I was on the same team and field as the great Bob Feller, at least that’s the story I’ll always tell.  Anyways, I didn’t have to shag many balls that day.  Why?  The fireballing 70 year old was busy making the sportswriters look like morons, blowing the ball by them even at his old age.

My most humorous time seeing Feller was at a Winter Caravan meeting a year or two after that.  He signed my ball cap, and I asked him if he remembered me from the two years prior, the day I was shagging fly balls.  Feller, ever the honest, said, “Hell no, I meet a million kids every year, how am I supposed to remember you?”  Then, he looked over at my dad, who was wearing a Yankees cap, and said, “Who let him in?”  I didn’t get a chance for a follow up because of the massive line for autographs. 

I saw him at minor league games, major league games, Spring Trainings, All-Star Games, Hall of Fames, World Series’ and basically everywhere in between.  You see, Feller loved baseball, and it was his job to do it some good.  It was the same mentality he had playing the game with, and the same mentality he had in serving his country.

I loved listening to him talk about ballplayers.  I recently heard Tim Kurkjian telling a story about Feller watching Willie Mays making that catch against the Indians in Game One of the 1954 World Series.  According to Kurkjian, Feller said, “We all knew he was going to catch it.  It wasn’t that tough a catch.”  He was loaded with up-front comments like that.  It didn’t come from a guy out of touch, it came from a guy who played baseball better than most.  Perspective, you see, is different when you are standing in the clouds to start with.

Ted Williams said Feller was the best pitcher that he’d ever seen:

“(Feller was) the fastest…pitcher I ever saw during my career. . . . He had the best fastball and curve I’ve ever seen.  Three days before he pitched I would start thinking about Robert Feller.”

Yeah, Ted Williams said that…

You see, Bob Feller was a hero.  He’d never admit that he was.  Feller would likely grunt that he was just “doing his service for his country, and doing his job playing baseball.”  That’s exactly what he did….his job…and better than most anyone else that ever did it. 

He was Sandy Koufax (albeit a righty) before Sandy Koufax. 

He was Nolan Ryan before Nolan Ryan. 

He was Randy Johnson before Randy Johnson. 

He was Roger Clemens (minus the steroids) before Roger Clemens. 

Was he better than all of them?  That’s up for debate.  Is he in the mix?  Of that there is no doubt.

It’s funny really, looking back.  I had never seen Feller pitch to major league ballplayers.  I was born fifteen years after he threw his last pitch for the Tribe, and thirty-five years after he threw his first pitch.  But he was always there, talking about the game that he loved.  He was the Tribe’s connection to the great barnstorming teams of the 1930s, when Feller would travel the country with Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. 

He shared the same field as Dizzy Dean and pitched against Lou Gehrig. 

He fought against the likes of Joe Dimaggio and forced Teddy Ballgame to sweat three days before pitching against the Red Sox. 

How many players can say they struck out Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, and stood on the same field as Babe Ruth the last time he was in a stadium.  Ruth used Feller’s bat as a cane during his last public appearance at Yankee Stadium.

He even shared the field with me….or I should say…I shared the field with him…

….and he could throw faster than a motorcycle.

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Bob Feller Gone: Baseball Loses a Legend

Baseball and America lost a legend on Wednesday when Hall of Fame pitcher and World War II hero Bob Feller passed away. Feller was 92 years old.

Feller, who played all 18 years of his Major League career with the Cleveland Indians, won 226 games, struck out 2,581 and had a 3.25 ERA. His numbers would have been even better if he didn’t serve his country in World War II in the prime of his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.

I had the opportunity to meet Feller when he was a guest speaker at one of my classes back when I was a senior in 1999 at the University of Massachusetts. Every week we had a guest speaker in the class and those guest speakers included Buck Leonard, Joe Morgan and other baseball greats. It was a pretty awesome class.

Even though we had one baseball legend after another come into this class and speak, it was Feller that really stood out to me. He just had this presence about him and I knew I was in the company of a legend.

I remember Feller telling some great stories about Satchel Paige and their barnstorming days. I also remember him making a comment that his wife wasn’t too thrilled with his “Rapid Robert” nickname. It was pretty funny.

Feller was a great ambassador to the game of baseball and a great ambassador of America. I feel privileged just to have met him.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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Bob Feller: “The Heater From Van Meter” Goes Home for the Last Time

“The Heater from Van Meter,” as Bob Feller was commonly called, passed away Wednesday night at the age of 92 from acute leukemia.

This man is the definition of a true American. Born in the American heartland of Iowa, he went on to sign with the Cleveland Indians when he was 17 and stayed with the same team for the duration of his career.

But loyalty to his team wasn’t his only attribute. As a true American, he signed up for World War II right after Pearl Harbor, making him the first Major League Baseball player to do so.

After serving his country for four years in the Navy, he returned to Cleveland to have a stellar career. Even with his baseball hiatus, he still leads the Indians organization in shutouts, innings pitched, walks, complete games, wins and strikeouts, according to the Associated Press.

While his health deteriorated in recent years, he still managed to attend Cleveland games, hoping for a World Series. The last time the Indians won the World Series, Feller was on the team—in 1948. 

“Just a reminder, fans, comin’ up is our ‘Die-hard Night’ here at the stadium. Free admission to anyone who was actually alive the last time the Indians won a pennant.”—Major League

I met Bob Feller a few years back at a Charleston, South Carolina RiverDogs game that I attended with my dad and my grandfather, who was also in the Navy during World War II. They were having a special day where people got to attempt to hit against the great Heater. I was a little kid and didn’t remember much.

Then, last spring, I found myself traveling across the country in a Jeep. After leaving around five p.m. and driving all night, we found ourselves in Van Meter, Iowa as the sun started to rise on the American fields of gold. We saw the sign for Feller’s museum and decided that this would be our first roadside, unplanned stop.

Unfortunately, the museum was closed, but Feller became our unsung hero after that. We kept hearing his name everywhere. I’m sure his name will continue to live on, long after the heat has cooled down and the sun has set. 

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Bob Feller: Perspectives And Observations From an Outsider

Yesterday, the baseball world lost a legend.  Due to leukemia and pneumonia, plus other health problems, Hall of Fame pitcher, war hero, and Cleveland Indians icon Bob Feller passed away at the age of 92.

Being a New York Yankees fan, I never knew much about Feller’s career growing up.  Honestly, my only experience with him prior to writing this article was meeting him on a summer camp field trip to a minor league baseball game when I was 14 or 15.  I remember fans mobbing him before the game, and he was more than happy to sign autographs.

When I passed him my baseball glove, he of course signed it.  Yet, his attitude wasn’t one that I would have expected of a baseball Hall of Famer: he smiled, asked me my name, shook my hand, and even asked if I did well in school before handing me my glove back and telling me to enjoy the game.

To this day, I can’t remember experiencing that same feeling any other time.  A Hall of Fame pitcher had just taken the time to talk to a kid he’d almost definitely never see again.  Where was the arrogance?  Where was the “just going through the motions” look on his face? 

As he threw out the game’s first pitch (and after learning more about him in the past week), I saw a simple man.  He loved the fans, he loved his life, he loved his country.  But most of all, he loved baseball.

I could go on and on about Feller’s career stats.  266 wins (probably could have hit 300 if not for military service), 162 losses, career ERA of 3.25 and 2,581 career strikeouts. But, instead, I’m going to talk about Bob Feller the man.

Ever since his days growing up on an Iowa farm, Feller seemed to love baseball.  His family even built a baseball diamond on their property so he could practice outside of school, where he was the ace of the team’s pitching staff.  He was drafted by the Indians at age 16, making his debut two years later in 1936.

He of course made an immediate impact and remained humble about his success, but showed a whole new side of himself after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  Immediately after hearing about it, Feller became the first MLB player to voluntarily enlist! 

In four years with the U.S. Navy, he reached the rank of Chief Petty Officer.  To this day, he is the only member of the Hall of Fame with that title.  When asked why he enlisted, his answer was simple: “I don’t consider myself a hero. I did the job that most Americans should have done, and most of them didn’t do. Serving my country was the proudest moment of my life.”

Even after retiring in 1956, Feller stayed close to the city that had embraced him for nearly 20 years.  He and his wife lived in the Cleveland suburb of Gates Mills, and even after his playing days were over, Feller remained involved with the Indians organization.  His number 19 was retired in 1957 and just this past season, at 91 years old, Feller threw out the first pitch at the Indians’ first spring training game.

So, Chief Petty Officer Feller, what can I say that hasn’t already been said?  What honor can I bestow upon you that you haven’t already received?  Eight All-Star berths, one World Series ring, your number retired, and being possibly the most beloved athlete in Cleveland sports history.  That’s quite a list.

I was never an Indians fan.  Heck, most of the time I was cheering for them to lose badly!  Yet, my one short encounter with you proved to me that you weren’t like all the rest.  You loved your work, you loved your country, and most importantly you loved your fans. 

And I’m going to say, if there is “another side,” I hope to see you there someday and would be honored to have a catch with you.  That all being said, Mr. Feller, I salute you!

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Bob Feller Is Gone, but Not To Be Forgotten

Major League Baseball lost one of its special people Wednesday night. 

Bob Feller lost his fight with Leukemia and has left the baseball world in mourning.  Feller was not only one of the all-time greatest pitchers, but a great man as well.

Feller, who pitched for the Cleveland Indians for 18 seasons, left baseball to go serve in the Navy during World War II in 1941 at the age of 23. Feller made the decision to join the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed and served for four years.

He became Crew Chief of the USS Alabama and five Campaign Ribbons and eight Battle Stars

Feller’s list of accomplishments in baseball is a very lengthy one.  The Hall of Famer finished his career with 266 wins, including 46 career shutouts. 

Feller was a part of the 1948 Indians team that defeated the Boston Braves in the World Series for Cleveland’s lone World Series title.  The Indians signed him when he was 17 years old out of Iowa for $75 a month with a signing bonus of $1 and an autographed Cleveland Indians baseball. 

In Feller’s first major league start in August of 1936, he struck out 15 St. Louis Browns.  A few weeks later, he struck out 17 Philadelphia A’s to tie the major-league record at the age of only 17.  In 1938, he broke that strikeout record by ringing-up 18 Detroit Tigers

That record stood until 1974, when it was broken by Nolan Ryan.

Feller won 20-plus games three seasons in a row, including 27 wins in 1940.  He was the first player to win 20 games before the age of 21.  Feller threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters. 

The fire-baller was said to have been clocked at 104 miles per hour.  He finished his career with 2,581 strikeouts.  Feller also led the American League in strikeouts seven times.

The Cleveland legend was an eight-time All-Star, led the American League in wins six times and pitched 279 complete games. 

The Indians retired his No. 19 jersey in 1957 and Feller was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  Feller is also enshrined outside of Jacobs Field in Cleveland in his patented windmill wind-up. 

“Rapid Robert” leaves us at the age of 92, but his memory will live on forever.

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Bob Feller: Legendary MLB Pitcher Dies After Long Health Battle

Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers in major league history and a true icon in Cleveland sports, has passed away.

The 92-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia in August and underwent several additional health problems before moving to a hospice and passing away last night.

“Bob Feller is gone. We cannot be surprised,” said Indians owner Larry Dolan. “Yet, it seems improbable. Bob has been such an integral part of our fabric, so much more than an ex-ballplayer, so much more than any Cleveland Indians player. He is Cleveland, Ohio.

“To say he will be missed is such an understatement. In fact, more to the point, he will not be missed because he will always be with us.”

Here is a brief tribute to the fabled right-hander.

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Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller Enters Hospice Care Center

Wednesday evening, Cleveland Indians vice president of public relations Bob DiBiasio announced that Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller has been transferred from the Cleveland Clinic to a hospice care center for the terminally ill. 

The 92-year-old Feller recently entered the Clinic suffering from pneumonia.  The illness was the most recent health issue for the Hall of Famer.  In August, Feller was diagnosed with leukemia, a month later a pacemaker was installed.

Signed by scout Cy Slapnicka for $1 and an autographed baseball, Feller made his debut with the Indians in 1936 at age 17.  Following the season, he returned home to Van Meeter, IA to complete his senior year in high school. 

“Rapid Robert” would go on to pitch 18 seasons with the Tribe, making eight All-Star games.  He missed three of the prime years of his career while serving in the United States Navy during World War II.

Feller led the Indians in most major pitching categories, including wins (266), innings (3,827), strikeouts (2,581), complete games (279) and starts (484).  He threw three career no-hitters including Major League Baseball’s only Opening Day no-hitter in 1940 against the Chicago White Sox.

Feller’s No. 19 was retired by the Indians in 1957, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  At the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston, Major League Baseball named Feller one of its 100 All-Century Players.  Since retiring, he has remained very active with the Indian organization as well as the City of Cleveland.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to meet Feller several years ago while attending spring training for the Indians.  He is a class act and a wonderful ambassador for both the game of baseball and City of Cleveland.

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The Cleveland Indians All-Time Starting Rotation

The Cleveland Indians All-Time Starting Rotation

There is an ultimate fantasy league starting up, and it falls to you to pick the all-time rotation for the Cleveland Indians.  You can select pitchers from any era of the team since its beginning in 1901.  Who would you pick?  How would they fare against the best of other teams selecting their fantasy all-time rotations?

Here are the guidelines.  First, your starting pitchers need to have logged 1000 innings for the Indians to be considered eligible for this team.  Secondly, any relievers selected must have appeared in 250 games to make the team.  The pitchers will be only as effective as they were for the Indians, if they pitched for other teams.  Their performance in the fantasy league will follow how they pitched for the Indians alone, not their whole careers.

The Early Years –

Cleveland had baseball before the inception of the American league in 1901.  The team of the mid 1890s had been one of the best and won an early version of the world Series, the Temple Cup in 1895.  They had featured Cy Young as their ace pitcher.  But the team was contracted by the National league, and no replacement had been planned.

Ban Johnson, the president of the newly forming American league,  jumped on the opportunity to place a team in Cleveland.  He moved his Western league Grand Rapids team to Cleveland in 1900 and called them the Lake Shores.  They played in the same place the old Blues and Spiders had played, League Park.

For the opening of the new major league in 1901, the team borrowed the nickname from the National league team, the Blues.  (This was short from the official name of “Bluebirds”, and for their all-blue uniforms.)

The players, not too keen on being called the Bluebirds, opted for the Broncos for the next year.  That is when fortune smiled on the Cleveland franchise, as Napolean Lajoie was being forced to play outside the state of Pennsylvania, and landed with Cleveland.  In a poll, the fans voted to call the team the Naps, after their new star.

When Lajoie left the team after the 1914 season, the fans again voted and arrived on the name we know today, the Indians.

Napolean Lajoie was not the only star of the team that first decade.  Addie Joss was establishing himself as one of the top pitchers in the new league.  (These would have included Cy Young, Rube Waddell, Eddie Plank, Ed Walsh, and Addie Joss.)  Joss was an exquisite pitcher, winning 20 games four years in a row beginning in 1905, and establishing the second lowest career ERA (1.89)in baseball history.

He developed a form of meningitis which ended his career quickly and all too soon.  Joss died in 1911 at the age of 31.  Players from around the league came together to play an exhibition game to raise money for his family.  This was kind of a first all-star game, but it was done against the wishes of the league president.  The players went ahead with the game, and the president recanted his threats.

By the late teens, the team traded for new player/ manager Tris Speaker and pitchers Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby.  The fortunes of the team began to turn around with the new leadership, and by 1920 the Indians had won their first pennant, edging out the White Sox and the Yankees.  They proceeded to win the World Series against the Brooklyn Robins, 4-2.

Stan Coveleski was the pitching star of the series, winning three complete games.  He was known for his pinpoint control and his spitball.  He was one of 17 pitchers allowed to continue to throw the pitch after it was outlawed.

The Indians didn’t win another pennant until 1948.  But their teams were usually pretty good, around .500 or better most seasons. They had a fine starting staff in the 30’s.

When Mel Harder came up to the major league team he wasn’t yet 20-years-old. He pitched is entire 20 year career with the Indians before becoming one of baseball’s most revered pitching coaches for another 20 years.

Harder won 20 games twice and pitched in four all-star games.  He is the only pitcher to have logged more than ten innings and never have allowed an earned run in all-star game history.  Harder was also a fine fielder and led the league in put outs four times.

As a pitching coach (1949-1963) he was responsible for working with the Indians’ great pitchers, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, Early Wynn, Herb Score, Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Tommy John.  He is truly a Cleveland legend.

The leading pitcher of the early 30’s for the Indians was Wes Ferrell. He won 20 games four consecutive years (1929-’32) before being traded to the Red Sox and winning 20 two more times.

Before the team could get through the summer of 1936, a 17-year-old corn fed farm boy was toeing the rubber for the Indians.  Rapid Robert Feller was turning scouts and player’s heads watching his fastball whiz by.  The Indians let him pitch 62 innings that first summer. 

By ’37 he was a sensation, striking out over a batter an inning – something no pitcher had ever done in the history of the game – not Rube Waddell, not Walter Johnson, or Smokey Joe Wood. 

By 1938, he led the league for the first time in strike outs with 240.  He led the league in Ks for his first seven full seasons he pitched.  Before his peak was over, he had led the American league in every important statistic – Wins five times, ERA, shutouts four times, complete games three times, innings pitched five times, WHIP twice, H/9 three times, K/9 four times, and K/BB.

After the ’41 season he left baseball to fight in WWII.  He left most of four seasons without hardly playing, which would be right at what should have been his peak.  In later interviews he has stated he had no regrets, knowing he did what was most important, and said the life lessons he gained made him the player he was later.

We’ll never know what could have been baseball-wise, but Bob Feller will always be an American hero for his contribution to the war.

In 1946, his first full season after the war, he began making up for lost time, seemingly. He completed 36 games while pitching 371 innings, winning 26 games, and pitching 10 shutouts.  He finished with 348 strike outs, one short of the single season record of Rube Waddell’s, set in 1904

By the end of the next season, though he began to lose the zip on his fastball, and had to find other ways to get batters out.

In 1948, with the addition of Bob Lemon to the staff, the Indians won the pennant and World Series, only their second title.

The Early Year’s Rotation –

1 – Bob Feller – 1936-1956 – 266W; 44 SHO; ERA+ 122

2 – Mel Harder – 1928-1947 – 223W; 25 SHO; ERA+ 113

3 – Stan Coveleski – 1916-1924 – 172W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 129

4 – Addie Joss – 1902-1910 – 160W; 45 SHO; ERA+ 145

5 – Wes Ferrell – 1927-1933 – 102W; 8 SHO; ERA+ 127


In 1949 Mel Harder came on as pitching coach, and the team switched into high gear.  The team added a young Early Wynn and Mike Garcia to the starting staff.  Few teams have boasted a starting rotation like the one the Indians possessed for the next several years.  Feller, Lemon, Wynn and Garcia are one of the great starting staffs in baseball history.

From 1950-1955 the team won 92 or more games each season.  They set an American league record in 1954 with 111 wins.  Only the Yankees dynasty at its peak kept them from winning multiple pennants.

In 1955 the Indians brought up an incredibly talented rookie, named Herb Score.  He possessed a blazing fastball and a drop off the table curve.  His stuff was like none had seen since a young Bob Feller some 20 years before. 

Score won the rookie of the year award in ’55 and followed it up with a 20 win season in ’56, but then ran into arm trouble, and never was able to compile a complete season again.  He finished his career with 55 wins.

Early Wynn came home in ’63 to win his 300th game.  It was a nice gesture by the club to give him that opportunity.  Wynn was a battler on the mound.  He found a way to win games.  He had a good fastball as a younger pitcher, but later relied more on guile.  He once said he would brush back his grandmother if she came to the plate.

He won 20 games five times for the Indians, and had more strike outs than any other pitcher during the 50s.  He was traded to the White Sox after a ’57 season that seemed to signal his decline.  However, he wasn’t finished, and led the ’59 Go-go Sox to the pennant in ’59.

The Indians were not finished producing great pitchers.  During the 1960s Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant mowed down batters at alarming rates.  “Sudden Sam” McDowell became one of the great strike out artists in baseball history, twice topping 300 Ks in a season.  In ’68 Tiant won 20 games, posted an ERA of 1.60 and allowed only 152 hits in 277 innings!

The Indians traded McDowell for Gaylord Perry in the early 70s.  Spit balling Perry pitched a huge  amount of innings over the next three and one half seasons for the Indians during his considerable peak.  But the team was heading into a prolonged funk.

Not until 1993 did the Indians show any signs of life.  They even became the subject of the humorous movie series “Major League”.

During the mid to late 90s the Indians hopes were resurrected and they built a new park – Jacobs Field.  They boasted one of the most potent offenses in baseball history with stars like Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, catcher Sandy Alomar, center fielder Kenny Lofton, and defensive whiz Omar Vizquel at shortstop.

Their pitching was not so dominant however, but allowed for team success.  They featured the rebuilt arm of Orel Hershiser , Charles Nagy and later Bartolo Colon.

Since appearing in the World Series twice in the 90s, the Indians have had intermittent success.  Their last run fell just short of the World Series in 2007, behind CC Sabathia.

The Modern Rotation –

1 – Bob Lemon – 1946-’58 – 207W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 119

2 – Early Wynn – 1949-’57, ’63 – 164W; 24 SHO; ERA+ 119

3 – Mike Garcia – 1948-’59 – 142W; 27 SHO; ERA+ 118

4 – Sam McDowell – 1961-’71 – 122W; 22 SHO; ERA+ 119

5 – CC Sabathia – 2001-’08 – 106W; 7 SHO; ERA+ 115

The spot starters – Luis Tiant – ’64-’69, Gaylord Perry – ’72-’75, Bartolo Colon – ’97-‘02

The Relievers – Bob Wickham – ’00-’06 – 255 games; 139 saves; ERA+ 138

                             Doug Jones – ’86-’98 – 295 games; 129 saves; ERA+ 137

                             Set-up – Eric Plunk – 373 games; 26 saves; ERA+ 141

This is not a particularly strong relieving corps.  It’s passable, but probably belies the attitude of the team towards relief pitching throughout its modern history – just get somebody to fill the role.

The All-Time Starting Rotation and Staff –

1 – Bob Feller – 266W; 44 SHO; ERA+ 122

2 – Addie Joss – 160W; 45 SHO; ERA+ 142

3 – Stan Coveleski – 172W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 129

4 – Bob Lemon – 207W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 119

5 – Early Wynn – 164W; 24 SHO; ERA+ 119

Spot Starters – Mike Garcia, Sam McDowell, Mel Harder

Relievers – Bob Wickman, Doug Jones, Eric Plunk

In Conclusion –

The Indians have a rich history of pitching from 1901-1975.  The rotation includes interesting and very effective pitchers from each represented era.  They are all Hall of Fame pitchers. There aren’t many 300 game winners filling in as fifth starters! 

For two generations Mel Harder’s career was intertwined with the Cleveland Indians.  It was toward the end of this time that I felt the team had found a self identity, and a sense of striving for excellence.  He deserves a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to this team.

The Indians need to recommit to their roots of fine pitching in order to reach again the heights the team knew in the 50’s.  The model today is to accomplish this from within.  The team is not without talented players.  Much could be accomplished in a short time with the right teachers and focus.

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