Lot of death this week. Here are some random thoughts aboutthe passing of Rapid Robert:
– One of the first autographs I purchased as a kid was an 8-by-10 signed by Feller. The price? $3. When I showed it to Dad, he noted that it must be a fake, since the cost was so low. However, he talked to one of His Guys about it later and found out, no, that was about the going rate, since Feller had recently been in town. “It’s Bob’s mission in life to make sure that every man, woman, child and pet has a copy of his signature,” the guy explained. Even though he was said to not like crowds or social functions, he was apparently fairly free with the pen.
– Feller was left off the All-Century Team because he “only” amassed 266 wins in his 18-year career. The number was disingenuous to say the least. The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the Navy. He never regretted the four years he spent serving his country, calling it “the right thing to do.” By any stretch of the imagination, Feller would have easily won an average of 20 games a season, giving him 346 at a minimum. Given that he once threw 35 complete games in a season, chances are pretty good he would have exceeded that 346 total.
– During World War II, Feller served. And I mean he served. He was a Gun Captain on the USS Alabama. He earned five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. He could have easily been a figurehead sports star, raising money at USO events or selling war bonds. Instead, he went out into the field. And he actively distained the players who took the easier path. He also never traded on his actions as a vet: “I’m no hero,” he once said. “Heroes don’t come back. Survivors return home. Heroes never come home. If anyone thinks I’m a hero, I’m not.”
– Never ask Bob Feller what he thinks if you’re looking for a softball answer. When Michael Jordan took a shot at baseball, someone asked Feller about Jordan’s likelihood of success. “He couldn’t hit a curveball with an ironing board,” Feller responded. When they asked him about the modern players, Feller noted, “Nowadays, they have more trouble packing their hairdryers than baseball equipment.”
– In the days prior to integration, Feller took fellow major leaguers and Negro League stars on barnstorming tours during the offseason. Unlike his peers who saw black and white, Feller only saw the players themselves. And, of course, the greenbacks he got by drawing fans to the ballpark on these tours. Still, he once noted, “I don’t think baseball owes colored people anything. I don’t think colored people owe baseball anything, either.” In short, human worth is human worth. No one is owed anything, nor do they owe anything.
To Feller, life was baseball and baseball was life. He still pitched later in life, serving as the starting pitcher for the old-timers’ day game at the age of 90. You can’t say he left too soon, as 92 is more than a ripe old age. Still, he left us with a hole where common sense used to be.
Perhaps my favorite Feller quote (other than the Jordan and the curveball thing) is this:
“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”