June 25, 1948
This is not the Bob Feller Indians’ fans have grown accustomed to over the last decade.
Last night, Feller lost his fourth decision out of his last five and his record has dropped to 6-8 with a 3.78 ERA. This isn’t the star who arrived in Cleveland when he was 17 years old in 1936 and was a 19-year-old All-Star in 1938.
Feller has never had a losing record and has won 20 or more games in the last five full seasons he has played, but right now he does not look like the Heater from Van Meter we’ve watched grow up. He doesn’t look like the flame throwing ace that once threw a ball faster than a racing motorcycle. He doesn’t seem to know it though.
“I had good stuff out there today,” Feller said last night after the game. “But my control wasn’t as good as it could have been. I got behind on all three of those batters who hit homers and then had to come in there with the ball. Instead of being able to pitch to their weakness I had to throw to their strength and they hit the devil out of the ball.”
Opponents have been hitting the devil out of the ball much more often this year. Feller already has allowed 12 home runs this year. In 1947, he only allowed 20 for the season. Two years ago, when he was 26-15 in 371.1 innings, he only allowed 11 round trippers. There isn’t much about this season that’s similar to 1946, though.
The only change Feller sees between this year and ’46 is the fault of Mother Nature.
“I think the best year I ever had was in 1946,” Feller said earlier this month. “I worked consistently every fourth day. In fact, I didn’t miss a turn until August. Last year you know what the weather was like early in the season, just as bad, if not worse than this.”
When Feller pitches with three days rest, he carefully plans a physical condition program between assignments. The day after he works he loosens up his arm lightly and runs in the outfield until he breaks a sweat. The second day he works hard, often pitching batting practice. The third day he tapers off with just enough running to sweat again. The fourth day, he feels ready to pitch again. When it rains, that routine is interrupted.
This season, Feller has had his scheduled start washed out by rain six times. Certainly, Mother Nature has had some affect on Feller’s soggy performance.
“I’m not any different than any other pitcher in that respect,” Feller said. “Any pitcher must work his regular turn and get his in-between exercising in some sort of a regular pattern to pitch his best.”
Upon returning from their last east coast road trip, Indians personnel — including president Bill Veeck — met with Feller to discuss his workout regime and suggested he lighten up his routine between starts. With a manager who is just a year older and has less big league experience and new pitching coaches in Bill McKechnie and Mel Harder, it’s hard to say how much Feller regards their opinion or suggestions. The day after the meeting, he still threw batting practice.
Some scouts, fans and media members believe Feller has lost some zip on his fastball. Despite being only 29 years old, certainly his arm has many more innings already logged than that of a normal pitcher his age. Most pitchers aren’t in the big leagues before they earn their high school diploma. Opponents seem to think Feller is just fine, like he does.
“As far as I’m concerned Feller pitched a great game out there today and had plenty of stuff,” Joe Dimaggio said after the Yankees hit three homers and defeated Feller 4-0 last night. “He was fast and had a good curve.”
“He allowed only five hits and struck out eight. That’s very good pitching I’d say. He had the tough luck to have three balls hit for homers.”
Tough luck. Dimaggio has hit three home runs off Feller this season, and five against the Tribe. One of the best hitters in the big leagues doesn’t need luck on his side too often.
Whether something is wrong or not, the results aren’t what they are supposed to be and he’s no longer the ace of the Tribe’s staff. After last night’s game, Indians manager Lou Boudreau announced Feller will not start this weekend, but instead have four days of rest and start in Detroit next Tuesday. Bob Lemon — the outfielder transformed into the new ace — will start tonight. Bob Muncrief will pitch Saturday and Gene Bearden and Sam Zoldak will throw in the doubleheader on Sunday.
With the changes on the mound and with the ace status, one has to wonder what the confidence level is in Rapid Robert from Indian coaches if they are using four starters between his outings. Just weeks ago Boudreau was getting the former flame-thrower to the mound as often as possible.
Boudreau has stated several times that Feller is the key to the Tribe’s pennant hopes and a World Series birth. A year ago, that would have sounded like a great strength.
But now, could Feller be a Tribe weakness?