Having met Bob Feller just once, back in the 1980s, I was impressed by his clear memory, how in touch he was with the game at that time, and how critical — perhaps even bitter — he was toward the current players. Don’t get me wrong, I found him to be respectful, just not impressed.
It was impossible not to be impressed with Feller’s exploits as a player. But far more impressive to me is his service to this country. On Dec. 9, 1941, the day after the bombing ended at Pearl Harbor, he proudly enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was the first major leaguer to enlist and unlike many major leaguers at the time, his service was not spent under the protection of administrative or publicity duties. He served on the battleship Alabama and was awarded eight battle stars.
In 1936, after winning the first start of his career, his next two starts came at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. I can only imagine what it was like for the 17-year-old from Van Meter, Iowa, to stare down a lineup of Yankees that featured Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig hitting 3-4.
I don’t know if Bob Feller really ever threw 100mph. But I do know he threw hard enough and well enough to strike out 76 major league hitters in 62 innings before he turned 18.
Without missing time for his three-plus years serving in World War II, Feller could easily have moved into the top seven all-time in wins, shutout and strikeouts.
At the time of his death, Feller had been in the hall of Fame for 46 years, longer than any other living player.