Feller remembered as patriotic, larger than life
VAN METER, Iowa — In his tiny hometown, Bob Feller was the farm boy who never forgot his roots.
The flags that defined him _ those representing the United States, the Navy and the Cleveland Indians _ flew at half-staff on a snowy Thursday morning at the Bob Feller Museum, a day after he died of acute leukemia at the age of 92.
"It's such a great loss. Bob was a guy who was a little bit bigger than life," said museum member Ed Brown, who stopped in to drop off flowers. "He had a lot of pride about being an Iowan and about the game of baseball."
Feller's path toward the Hall of Fame began to take shape at age 16 when he caught the attention of an Indians scout. In 1936, he made his first major league start two months before his 18th birthday, showing off a rocket right arm he claimed was strengthened by doing chores at home.
Soon, every sports fan had heard about "Rapid Robert." They also knew of his "Heater from Van Meter" _ hard to say whether they all realized the nickname came from this dot of a town west of Des Moines.
Feller won 266 games in 18 seasons with the Indians despite missing three full years and most of a fourth for service during World War II. He was the first pitcher to win 20 games before he was 21 and was chosen for eight All-Star games.
Elected to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility, he enjoyed more than half his life as a Hall of Famer.
Feller is still the Indians' career leader in wins, strikeouts, innings, shutouts and complete games, and a statue of him in mid-delivery stands in his honor outside of Progressive Field in Cleveland.
Scott Havick manages the museum, which is filled with artifacts from Feller's youth, time with the Navy and playing days. Among the items: the bat an ailing Babe Ruth used to prop himself up during his farewell at Yankee Stadium in 1948.
Havick said Feller was always proudest of his service during World War II. Feller enlisted two days after Pearl Harbor was bombed _ longtime lore always had it as the next day, but the museum says it was Dec. 9, 1941.
I feel fortunate that I was able to meet & hang out with Bob Feller during a baseball card show at the Grady Cole in late 1980's. Feller was the would have been your favorite Grandfather. He was joking and cutting up with the croud gathered for his autograph. Telling great stories from his baseball playing days. (One was how he got the nickname "Rapid Robert".)
Another was how wone day he got a phone call from a big wig at one of the car makers. (I can't rmemeber if it was GM or Ford.) Seems that it they wanted him to buy a dealership. (It was common for big time baseball players to get a car dealership. (Pete Rose used to have a Lincon-Mercury dealership in Covington, KY.) (During the 90's GM & Ford did the same thing with NASCAR drivers. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet, Dale Jarrett Ford, Rusty Wallace Ford, etc)
He was probably the best baseball player I have ever met.
RIP Rapid Robert. You will be missed.