When I was down in Phoenix for spring training, I met Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. I found him sitting under the stands, signing autographs with Ferguson Jenkins and two other former players.
They were signing autographs to raise money for Fergie Jenkins’ Foundation which supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Red Cross and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and others. Bob had quite a crowd around him.
I worked my way up to the front, paid my $20 (most of which went to the Foundation), and watched as he signed a pristine ball, put it in a plastic display case and handed it to me. I told him that I was taking this home to my husband, Ralph, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, listening to Cleveland Indians games on the radio or watching on TV.
The volume was always cranked up in the Hylinski household because another game was also on in the other room. Mr. Hylinski–that sounds so formal but I never met the man–positioned Ralph in the room with the radio, with strict instructions to remember exactly what happened in that game, while his father was glued to theTV in the other room.
I told Bob that his was the only player’s name my husband could remember from those years, when Ralph was forced to listen to baseball games when he’d rather be outside or at the Paramount Theater in downtown Toledo. Feller was my father-in-law’s favorite player on his beloved Indians.
A huge smile broke out on Bob Fellers face. He took my hand and held it saying, “Thank you so much for telling me that story. It means a lot.” Our eyes held for a few seconds before he let go of my hand.
I remember Bob from my childhood also. He was pitching mostly in relief when I saw him in 1955, as he was nearing the end of his career (he retired after the following year).
Number 19 still had good stuff, but his fastball had lost some of its zip. The A’s radio announcers often talked about how good Bob was when he was in his prime, so he was a familiar figure to me.
Of course, the A’s were terrible during their first few years in Kansas City, and were called a farm team for the Yankees. (There is some truth to that, according to a recent book by Jeff Katz, entitled The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s.)
Some have said Feller threw harder in his heyday than Nolan Ryan ever did.
Did you know that Bob is the only pitcher ever to throw a complete-game no-hitter on Opening Day (April 16, 1940)? And did you know that in the prime of his baseball career he enlisted in the Navy during WWII was a highly decorated anti-aircraft gunner on the USS Alabama? Or that he came back from the war was as great a pitcher as ever? In fact, his best season ERA (2.18) was in 1946, his first full year back from the war.
The year before the no hitter, Bob’s parents were in the stands Chicago on opening day when Bob took the mound. Bob went the full nine innings but his mother was not so lucky. The White Sox third baseman, Marv Owen, sliced a line drive foul into the stands that hit his mother in the face. She was rushed to the hospital where she stayed for 2 weeks with two black eyes and various cuts and bruises. What’s worse, it was Mother’s Day.
So it was with much apprehension that Mrs. Feller attended opening day in 1940. If that had happened to me the previous year, I don’t think I would have gone back to Chicago for opening day, especially as it was a fiercely cold and windy day. As Bob says, “The only people in the whole ballpark who were warm were the pitchers and the catchers.” But his mother fared much better than she did the year before. No foul balls came her way and her son dazzled her and the other Cleveland fans in attendance with a no-hitter.
Bob was an 8-time All Star, he lead the American League 6 times in wins, 5 times in innings pitched, 7 times in strikeouts, and was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, receiving 93.8% of the votes.
Feller’s 4 years of military service meant that he won only 266 games and recorded only 2581 strikeouts. If he hadn’t enlisted, he could have won 350+ games and might have struck out nearly 3500. So those of you who look only at his overall numbers and think he wasn’t all that good, remember he voluntarily fought for his country for 4 years during the height of his baseball career. Hardly anyone does that sort of thing in today’s world.
Bob threw out the ball that day in Phoenix when I met him, and he threw what looked like a strike from where I sat. Not bad, as he is 92 years young. So if you run in to him at an autograph signing (he’s very generous with his time) or at the Bob Feller Museum in his home town of Van Meter, Iowa, tell him I send my regards.
Quote and other material from: “Now Pitching Bob Feller,” by Bob Feller and Bill Gilbert, Harper Perennial, 1990
(Editor’s Note: There is a glitch in the Movable Type program that MLBlogs uses for this website. Inserting pictures changes the size of the typeface in the paragraphs before and after a picture. I apologize for the varied type sizes.)
The A’s Great Start: I have held my breath and refrained from doing a blog post, afraid I would jinx the A’s, who are off to their best start in many years. Alas, last night the Mariners, whom they had beaten 4 times this year already, found their bats and shutout the A’s 3-0.
The 0-0 tie was broken by a 3-run homer by Milton Bradley in the bottom of the 8th off Brad Ziegler, who got tagged with the loss.
But let’s put this in perspective. The A’s are now 6-3 on the season. That means they are on pace to win 108 games. Wishful thinking, I know. It probably won’t happen, but losing last night is not the end of the world.
One bright spot last night was a phenominal play by Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of 7th inning. Ziegler uncorked a wild pitch far off the 1st base side of the plate, sure to slam into the backstop. With Chone Figgins on 2nd base, Kurt lunged to his left, somehow stabbed the ball out of the air, spun around and fired a rifle shot to 3rd, right on the bag.
Kevin Kouzmanoff was waiting for it and tagged the speedy Figgins out. Bob Geren said, “I don’t think there’s another catcher who makes that play. That was flat-out amazing.” .
It was the second spectacular play Kurt has made against Seattle this year. 5 days earlier in Oakland, he tracked a foul flyball to the steps of the visiting dugout and caught it as he slid down the dugout steps. ”He continues to do amazing things athletically, acrobatically,” said Geren. “He’s revolutionizing that position. He’s athletic as a catcher can get. It’s really fun to watch.” The play made ESPN’s 10-best plays of the day highlight reel last night, coming in at #2! You’ll probably get to see a replay tonight during the rubber game of the series with Seattle.
So the A’s are off to a great start. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the rest of the campaign. It is certainly a better first week of the season than we’ve seen in a long time.
Next Article: Meeting Bob Feller
If you watched the Comcast Sports Central show you saw this, but here’s what President Obama said in the Broadcast Box at the Nationals game last night after he threw out the first pitch :
Could’ve fooled me!
Since my last post, I spent a week at spring training (March 17th-23rd). The cold rainy weather that plagued much of February and early March in Arizona disappeared right before we arrived. Mid-70′s during the day, and low 60″s at night made for a very pleasant experience watching the Green and Gold get ready for another baseball season.
The A’s Looked Good: The guys won 3 of the 5 games I attended.
If you could extrapolate that out to a 162-game season, they would win 97 games. Most pundits see the AL West as being a very competitive division, and they say that anywhere from 85-92 wins could take the division.
Now before you get all over my case, let me acknowledge that spring training is not same as games during the season, it doesn’t count for anything, lots of minor leaguers get playing time, etc. It’s a good dose of wishful thinking. But what I saw looked promising: Ben Sheets pitched a very good 4 innings, as did Justin Duchscherer against Seattle in Peoria (4 innings, 2 hits, 1 walk), Coco Crisp hit a home run in his first game back from injury, Eric Chavez made an outstandingly-difficult play on a ball between 1st and 2nd and threw it to Ellis who stepped on 2nd and gunned it to first to Dallas Braden covering, but Dallas dropped the ball so, alas, the double play wasn’t turned. Chavvy made his part look easy.
I also got a look at some of the young minor league pitchers in the Seattle game: Jared Lansford (Carney’s son), Ben Hornbeck, Fernando Hernandez and Jason Ray. I met the Jason’s grandparents 2 years ago. They traveled to spring training that year even though Jason was rehabbing an injury and didn’t play much. Now that’s dedication. I was happy to see him pitch out of some trouble without giving up a run.
Minor League Camp: My friend Sandy and I spent a morning at the Minor League Camp at Papago Park, not far from Where the Big Team plays. It’s fun to watch the young guys learning how to be major leaguers. Some of the hopefuls we saw were Jemile Weeks (left) and Corey Wimberly (right), both wearing the number 3.
I also checked in with 2 of the young pitchers I interviewed at the Arizona Fall League: Justin Friend and Mickey Storey. Both were having a good spring.
So how will the A’s do this year? If I could be at all confident, I’d give you a prediction, but I’m not. There are so many unknowns at this point. The big question is will guys stay healthy? We also have so much depth this year that some guys who have major league time in will have to be sent to the minors, and there may be some surprises. One problem for the team is that infielder/outfielder Eric Patterson and infielder/catcher Jake Fox are out of options. That means if the team wants to send either one to the minors, they have to put them on waivers. It is likely that some other team would pick them up. The A’s don’t want to lose either one of them. Both had good springs.
The Injury Bug: Also, there are a few players that will start the season on the DL. Reliever Joey Devine’s road back from elbow surgery has taken longer than expected and he may not be available until late April or even early May. Michael Wuertz, another reliever, missed a lot of the spring with shoulder soreness and will start the season on the DL, but hopefully will be back in a few weeks.
Josh Outman underwent Tommy John Surgery June 30, 2009. Most pitchers take a full year or more to recover from that surgery, so it’s likely he won’t be back until mid-summer.
Bay Bridge Series: This weekend’s Bay Bridge Series has taken its toll. Coco Crisp fractured his little finger yesterday and should be out 4-6 weeks. And in the already-decimated bullpen, Andrew Bailey delivered a pitch, landed awkwardly and limped around the mound obviously in pain, and was taken out of the game as a precaution.
You may remember that Andrew, the reigning Rookie of the Year, had problems with the same knee last year. Let’s hope it’s just a strain and not something more serious. He’ll likely be listed as day to day.
Opening Night is Monday. Ben Sheets will face off on the mound against Felix Hernandez. The M’s starting rotation is without 2 of its stars: Erik Bedard has left shoulder inflammation and his return date is uncertain. Their big Free Agent acquisition, Cliff Lee, has a right abdominal strain and is day-to-day. Neither pitcher is expected to face the A’s in the opening series, but either could make an appearance against the A’s in the next 10 games, as the A’s play Seattle in 7 of them.
So keep your fingers crossed. I am cautiously optimistic. Dallas Braden says he’s “Excited.” So let’s hope that the injury bug gets banished and the guys can live up to their potential. With terrific pitching and all the speed we now have, this could be a fun year to watch.