“Rapid Robert” had lost a lot of speed on his fastball by the time I saw him play in Chicago. That’s nearly sixty years ago. He was still formidable but he was crafty and mixed in change-ups that made his strike-out pitch look faster than it really was. He left baseball in 1956.
Feller was signed right out of high school and skipped the minor leagues. In a memorable game that first year, Bob Feller truck out seventeen batters. He was seventeen years old.
A few years later, on opening day at Comiskey Park in Chicago he no-hitted our beloved White Sox. That was in April 1940, three months before I was born.
Feller claimed that his fastball in mid-career was clocked at 106 mph. I’ll be that hurt when it snapped into the catcher’s mit.
He was joking around at the small store in Chicago which had arranged for him to come in and sign autographs. Forty years ago, it was still a novelty to pay for a baseball player’s autograph but I wanted my book signed, one of his books on how to pitch. I think he charged five dollars for a signature.
When he walked into the store he held up over his head, a baseball covered with autographs of the players who had played in an old-timer’s game the day before at Comiskey park. There were a handful of people waiting.
“The first thirty-five dollars takes it,” he said. I didn’t hesitate.”I’ll take it,” I said. Before I knew it he tossed the ball to me –overhand. He was maybe fifteen feet from me. I caught it! I thought: “I just caught a ball thrown to me by Bob Feller!”
The ball is long gone and so is the book. But, it’s a good feeling to know that I met this great baseball player. He’s not just an obituary to me.
I am sure no one will mind if I pray for him today.