October 3, 1948
The Baseball Gods sometimes have a twisted sense of humor, but this time it looks like fate got it just right.
This afternoon Bob Feller will walk to the mound in Municipal Stadium with a chance to send the Cleveland Indians to the World Series for the first time in 28 years. One of the greatest pitchers in the franchise’s history has the chance to add a special line to legacy with a win this afternoon.
“He’s as good a pitcher right now as he has ever been,” Lou Boudreau declared. “Maybe he’s better than ever. I believe he’ll win. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t start him.”
Few would have agreed with Boudreau’s statement in the middle of August. On August 22, Feller dropped to 12-14 after allowing five runs in five and one-third innings to the lowly Chicago White Sox. The loss was part of a weekend that the Tribe dropped three of four to Chicago and found themselves just a half game ahead of Boston. They’d lose their summer-long first place lead the next day in Fenway Park.
But since that defeat, Feller has been unbeatable, winning seven straight decisions in nine starts. After a summer of discussions about his work out schedule, whether fans have the right to boo him at the park, his flights home between starts to see his wife (who had an operation last spring) and declining an All-Star invitation, Rapid Robert made some adjustments to his approach on the mound with pitching coach Mel Harder. Since then, he’s been worthy of the invitation he declined in July and the crowd has applauded his efforts.
The blazing fastball that set down 348 hitters just two years ago seems to be gone. He and Harder worked to establish better control and placement of pitches. Tight spots can no longer be fixed by reaching back for an extra flame on his fastball, evidenced by 20 home runs this season. Since refining his control, however, Feller looks as dominant as the man who won no less than 24 games a season from 1939-1941.
And now Feller can add to his budding Hall of Fame career. Already among the discussion of greatest Indians pitchers with Addie Joss, Stan Coveleski and Harder, he can pitch them to the World Series this afternoon. Joss never played in the Fall Classic during his shortened career. Coveleski was 3-0,with a 0.67 ERA in three starts in Cleveland’s 1920 championship run. Feller passed him in career wins on September 6 in Chicago against the same team that embarrassed him just two weeks prior.
Feller is already second on the Indians’ all-time wins list with 177 victories. Only Harder, the man who fixed his mechanics and changed his mindset over the last six weeks, is ahead of him on the Tribe’s all-time list. Feller has 46 more wins to go to tie Harder.
Feller can write another chapter of history for both the Indians and himself this afternoon and continue to differentiate himself from other Tribe greats. He’s a different pitcher than fans have seen over the last decade, but Boudreau may be right – he could be as good as he’s ever been.
At 29 years old, Feller has pitched in the American League since he was 17 in 1936 and served in World War II for the Naval Academy. Considering the stress he’s put on his body since his debut on July 19, 1936, it’s no wonder his fastball may have aged before him.
But a different Feller is just nine innings away from somewhere he’s never traveled. And if he sends the Indians to their first World Series in 28 years this afternoon, he’ll likely celebrate like the kid he was when he could out-throw a motorcycle.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project