Feller Hinted at Greatness to Come with Exhibition Debut

The day before the 1936 All-Star Game, the Indians played an exhibition game at home against the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Exhibition games during the season were a regular occurrence until the Major League Baseball Players Association effectively ended the practice, and the Cardinals had just come off a doubleheader in Cincinnati, while the Indians had completed a twin bill in Chicago. League Park was on the way for both teams headed to the Midsummer Classic, which would be at Braves Field in Boston.

The story going into the game for the Indians was the return of George Uhle, a pitcher who was signed off the Cleveland sandlots in 1919 and had a lengthy if not always distinguished pitching career. Uhle was the Indians’ pitching coach, but the team was in such dire straits that he was making a comeback and would be placed on the active roster.

But after the game, all anyone wanted to talk about was the 17-year-old phenom making his debut in an Indians uniform.

Bob Feller had been signed by the Indians in July 1935, and after finishing his junior year of high school, had come up to Cleveland. He pitched a pair of games for the Rosenblums, a semipro baseball team named for the local store that sponsored it (they also sponsored an early Cleveland entry into pro basketball) before being put in uniform for the exhibition game – his first major league experience. In fact, Feller was so green, Plain Dealer Sports Editor Sam Otis said that he took his glove with him into the dugout between innings – and didn’t leave it on the field, which was tradition at the time.

Feller had acquired a reputation for a blazing fastball in his home state of Iowa, and he quickly acquired a similar reputation in his first outing. Allegedly, Cardinals player-manager Frankie Frisch took himself out of the lineup when he saw Feller warm up, and Feller put the fear of God into the indomitable Leo Durocher. In his first at-bat against Feller, Durocher allegedly took two strikes and then sat down. “You’ve got one more,” the umpire yelled. “You can have it!” the Lip replied. “I don’t want it.”

In his second at-bat, he said he felt like a clay pigeon at a shooting gallery.

Uhle pitched the first three innings, giving up one run on two hits, with two walks and two strikeouts. He then gave way to Feller, who in three innings struck out eight, giving up two hits and a walk. Both players would be on the Indians’ roster within a week.

After the game, someone asked Dizzy Dean, the ace of the Gas House Gang pitching staff, if he would take a picture with Feller. Dean was in the middle of what would turn out to be his last good year, as arm injuries and a broken toe in the 1937 All-Star Game would take their toll.

“If it’s all right with him, it’s all right with me,” Dean said. “After today, he’s the guy to say.”

Photo: Louis Van Oeyen/Weste/Getty Images

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