Farewell to Rapid Robert Feller, 92

By Hal McCoy
FOX Sports Ohio
Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

They didn’t have speed guns when I was a kid, so my dad could drive his 1951 Packard at excessive speeds and regale me with tales of how hard Bob Feller could throw a fastball.

“This guy throws every fastball over 100 miles an hour, and some hit 107 and 108,” my dad told me.

I believed him. Father knows best, and my father loved Rapid Robert Feller, the hay-slinger from Van Meter, Iowa, who could throw a fastball through an operating car wash without getting it wet.

Although I was a devout Cleveland Indians fan, I never had the pleasure of watching Feller manipulate hitters with his fastball and mind-bending curve.

“As hard as he threw, his curve was even better,” Dad said. “Hitters had no chance.”

I envisioned a guy who never lost, a guy who struck out every batter he faced. And I wasn’t far from the truth.

Feller and my father both were born in 1918, both served in World War II (costing Feller three years of prime playing time), and my father was a semi-pro pitcher who threw very hard.

The best thing about my induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2003 was the fact my father was in Cooperstown to see it. He met Feller in person and Feller was gracious to him, spending nearly a half an hour answering questions from my starry-eyed dad. It was one of the highlights of his life.

Despite losing those three years in the service, Feller pitched for 18 years for mostly bad teams, going 266-162 with a 3.25 ERA, 279 complete games, 44 shutouts, 2,581 strikeouts and three no-hitters. He pitched in one World Series in 1948 and was 0-2 during the six-game victory over the Boston Braves.

But the numbers don’t do him justice. He was mythical.

One of those no-hitters was on Opening Day in 1940, and Dad was there, and one of the things he left me was the scorecard from that game. Feller autographed it for him in Cooperstown.

When Feller was in his late 80s he still was attending most Indians home games, and when the Cincinnati Reds played interleague games in Cleveland, I always made certain I sat and talked with him. He made me feel young again, and not just because he always called me “young fella.”

He loved to rhapsodize about the good old days and his stories were fascinating. Even at that age, other than a full head of gray hair, Feller remained youthful and trim.

And he went to spring training every year, donned uniform No. 19 and played catch with a batboy in front of the home dugout before every game, still throwing very hard.

Some of the younger writers made fun of that, thinking of him as an old man still seeking attention. To me, it always brought back memories of my father and his stories about Feller, the guy who threw harder than anybody in the history of the game — harder than Walter Johnson, harder than Nolan Ryan.”

Fortunately, not all media members are that crusty — many regarded him with awe and deference. There is one media member who touches his statue every time he enters the stadium.

Dad would have nodded slowly when Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman was clocked several times above 105 mph this year and would have said, “Yeah, but he doesn’t throw as hard as Bob Feller. Nobody did.

And I still believe my dad.