A Kid Named Feller

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A Kid Named Feller
Jun 6, 2017

With MLB pitchers regularly throwing  today in the high 90′s, not since  Shirley Povich favorite Walter Johnson had the game seen anyone as fast as 1936 Cleveland Indians’ rookie Bob Feller. Povich was in awe of Feller’s pitch speed — in an era when radar guns did not exist. His August 1936, column reflects that admiration.

If there is any secret to the amazing speed with which Bob Feller turns a baseball loose, then young Feller didn’t know it.

Baseball’s new pitching sensation who arrived in Washington yesterday with the Cleveland Indians to find himself something of a curio, broke down and confessed that he couldn’t explain his 15 strikeouts against the Browns last Sunday.

“I just reared back and let it go,” said the 17-year-old Feller after obliging newsreel men and still cameramen in a half hour demonstration of his pitching form.

The beardless youth who in his first start in the big leagues struck out as many batters as Walter Johnson was ever able to strike out in the prime of his 29-year pitching career, is just a bit bewildered by his sudden fame.

And well he might be. Six weeks ago he was a candy butcher in the grandstands of the Cleveland park, daring not to hope that one day he’d wear a big league uniform. He had pitched a little, had been pitching for three years, in fact, with various sandlot teams in Iowa and Cleveland, but organized baseball was another world to him.

Out in Van Meter, Iowa, he used to play pitch and catch with his dad, a former semipro player, and when he got a chance to play with a kid team he started as a shortstop. But first basemen used to complain about the way he hammered the ball across the diamond into their mitts and to keep peace on the team he turned pitcher.

He was a pretty good pitcher, too, good enough to pitch his team into the national semipro tournament last season at Dayton, Ohio, where he struck out 18 in a night game and gained the attention of C.C. Slapnicka, Cleveland Scout. Cleveland signed him to one of their New Orleans farm contracts, brought him to the Cleveland lots, and gave him a job selling peanuts and candy during the summer.

As part of the show during an exhibition game with the Cardinals last July 7, they called him out of the stands, gave him a uniform and let him pitch for three innings. You know what happened – how he struck out eight Cardinals in those three innings and found his name in screaming headlines.

Even then Cleveland club officials did not permit themselves to elate too much. In fact, Feller wasn’t even invited to take the Eastern trip with the team that next day. Then changing his mind a week later, Manager Steve O’Neill sent for the lad.

He found his way into his first regular ball game at Griffith Stadium a few days later when he went in with the bases full, hit one batter to force a run across and then escaped with only one-run damage by striking out buddy Lewis and making Joe Kuhel pop up.

He had pitched a couple of other relief shifts before O’Neill consented to start him at Cleveland against the Browns last Sunday. But there was no intimation that he would even win his game, to saying nothing of bettering the season’s strikeout mark of 12, held by Buck Newsom, by three strikeouts.

But things began to happen immediately. St. Louis hitters moved up and away from the plate with great regularity, swinging and missing third strikes. He struck out at least one hitter in every inning but the eighth. Twice he retired the side on strikeouts. By the end of the seventh inning he had struck out 14, an average of two per inning.

They weren’t standing there taking called strikes, either. Umpire Harry Geisel, who worked the game behind the plate, reported here yesterday that only two of Feller’s 15 strikeouts were called third-strikes.

And Feller was working, too, with a rookie catcher as his battery-mater. Behind the bat was young Charley George who was catching the second game of his life in the big leagues.

The consistency with which young Feller was striking ’em out finally began to wear the nerves of the Browns. Anyways, in the ninth, when Ed Coleman was sent in to pitch hit for St. Louis, he approached the plate warily.

“I s-ss-say, H-h-harry,” Coleman stammered to Geisel, “is-iss he r-re-al-l-ly f-f-fast?”

Geisel agreed the young Feller was fast and after the game he ended all dispute about the lively ball.

I saw the lively ball that day,” said Geisel. “I never saw a ball come up to the plate any more lively than those balls that kid was chucking up there.”

He’s got control, too, apparently. Last month at Cleveland when the Yankees and Indians staged a pre-game field day, they set up a small hoop at which pitchers of both teams aimed in an exhibition of control. In five throws young Feller threw five bull’s-eyes. The nearest any other pitcher came to that record was three bull’s-eyes by Mel Harder

– August 26, 1936

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