Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #19 Bob Feller

Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Bob Feller.

By Vince Guerrieri

A high school phenomenon came to Cleveland. He blew people away with his prodigious talent and garnered national attention.

LeBron James? That’s one person. But before LeBron there was Bob Feller, who was signed by the Indians at 17 and never played a day in the minors before making his debut on July 19, 1936, in relief against the Washington Senators.

While he was 17, Feller struck out 17 batters in a game, the only pitcher to strike out his age until 20-year-old Kerry Wood did it for the Cubs in 1998. In the 1938 opener against Detroit (Nobody started more openers for the Tribe than Feller, with seven), “Rapid Robert” fanned 18, setting a major league record. On Opening Day 1940, Feller threw a no-hitter against the White Sox.

Feller lost four prime years of his career serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was the first major league player to enlist, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

When Feller retired, he held the record for no-hitters in a career with three. The mark was eclipsed by Sandy Koufax, who threw four, and then obliterated by Nolan Ryan’s seven no-nos. Feller still holds team marks for wins (266), strikeouts (2,581), shutouts (46) and innings pitched (3,827). He was named to eight All-Star teams, starting two Midsummer Classics, and still holds the Tribe single season record for strikeouts (348).

For everything Feller did in his career, one achievement eluded him: He never got a postseason win. He was on the 1948 team that won the World Series, but he lost Game 1 on a controversial pick-off play. Phil Masi was called safe at second, and came around to score the only run of the game. Feller fared even worse in Game 5, getting shelled and taking the loss in an 11-6 Braves win. In 1954, Feller was on the team, but wasn’t the pitcher of record in any of the four straight losses to the Giants.

Feller’s number 19 was the first one retired by the team, a year after his retirement in 1956. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1962. Feller remained a Cleveland institution, and could be seen in the press box at Progressive Field through 2010, despite undergoing treatment for leukemia. Feller died of complications of leukemia on Dec. 15, 2010.

Photo: CMG Worldwide Agency

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