Thursday, April 15, 2021

1986 Sportflics Decade Greats Bob Feller


The player: Moving into the 1940s with the decade's best pitcher, Bob Feller. Feller had a sensational rookie season in 1936 at the age of 17; in eight games he went 5-3 with a 3.34 ERA, striking out over a batter an inning in an era when batters tried to keep strikeouts to a minimum. He immediately became one of the biggest stars in baseball. After the season he returned to his high school for his senior year; his graduation in 1937 (while recovering from an arm injury) was broadcast nationally by NBC Radio. From 1938 to 1941 he struck out over 240 batters a year and one 20+ games three times. Feller, the first American athlete to enlist in the military in World War II (two days after Pearl Harbor), undoubtedly lost the best years of his career to the war, seeing combat in the Pacific instead of on the mound. In 1946 he returned with a flourish; his 348 strikeouts stood as an American League record until broken by Nolan Ryan years later. He started slipping noticeably in the early 1950s, with down years in '52 and '53. In 1954 Feller went 13-3 despite low strikeout numbers; Manager Al Lopez did not use him in the World Series as Cleveland was swept by the Giants. He retired in 1956 with 266 wins and 2,581 strikeouts.

The man: Feller served on the USS Alabama, earning six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars, and was discharged as a Chief Petty Officer. In 1947 he and Satchel Paige organized a series of barnstorming exhibitions that pitted Major League vs. Negro League players, designed partially to show that the skill of Negro League players were equal to those of Major Leaguers. Participants included Stan Musial, Phil Rizzuto, Buck O'Neil and Hilton Smith. After his retirement he became the first president of the Major League Baseball Players Association and was an early advocate for free agency. Feller was one of the first professional athletes to sign autographs at conventions, and baseball write Rob Neyer has estimated that Feller signed more autographs than anyone in history.

My collection: I don't have any playing-days cards of Feller. His last card as an active major leaguer was 1956 Topps #200.

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