With the recent departures of Charles de Gaulle, J. Edgar Hoover and Don Vito Corleone, there are not many, as they say in the eulogy trade, "giants" left on this earth. Not many of that very special, one-of-a-kind, towering eminence sort of fellow standing head and heart above the rest in his chosen field, who has it, knows it, does it, loves it and flaunts it. Not many, to be more specific, who would dare to say of himself, in a pensive moment over a nip of brandy and with great humility aforethought, "It is a good feeling to know that I am the only one of my kind in the history of the world."
Eddie Feigner said that the other day.
Uh-huh, Eddie Feigner, the former Myrle King of Walla Walla, Wash., long since and now, too, also known as The King. Eddie Feigner, the last true barnstormer. Eddie Feigner is The King, as in The King and His Court traveling four-man softball circus, magic tricks and laugh-track show—pack up the babies and grab the old ladies; everyone goes, everyone knows—and he said that. Make no mistake about it; make this one thing perfectly clear. Eddie Feigner was right. Kings are always right.
What Eddie Feigner has been doing for the past 27 years to achieve his particular gargantuan status is truly remarkable. While his game of fast-pitch softball has been dying a slow and painful death due to faulty organization and under-the-table skulduggery, while the sport was literally stripped of its birthright in small towns and hamlets across America and turned into a plaything of big industry and commercial interests, Eddie Feigner and his four-man team have been out there on the road, crossing the country in a station wagon four times a season. The King and His Court have been out there knowing, doing, loving and flaunting softball.
All these years they have been playing 200 games in 5� months. Playing hot, cold, sunburned, windblown, hurt, sick, drunk, hung over and tired, always tired. Playing in cow pastures, hockey fields, cricket grounds, penitentiaries, youth camps, hospitals, cemeteries, parking lots, playgrounds, airplane runways, rifle ranges, stockyards, racetracks, gravel patches, gymnasiums, rodeo arenas, Astrodomes and even an occasional ball diamond. Playing through rain, fog, sleet, snow, heat waves and tornadoes. Playing every day, sometimes in towns 24 hours apart and in doubleheaders that start in one county and end in another four hours away. Playing tripleheaders, for Pete's sake. Hitting, throwing, pitching, catching, running, selling. They have been out there performing their tails off, snapping out comic dialogue and trick plays, entertaining 5,000 here, 75 there; driving all night to do it; barnstorming the living daylights out of the game of softball and maybe saving it, too.
The King and His Court have played to 11 million people. They have traveled 2? million miles. They have appeared in 49 states, in eight Canadian provinces, in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, in over 2,500 towns and cities both here and abroad and probably in your own backyard. Feigner himself has made 48 foreign tours, pitched in his 5,000th game last month, struck out 85,000 men, women and children, 15,000 of them while he was blindfolded. He has thrown 1,500 shutouts, 800 no-hitters, 200 perfect games, pitched in 9,000 exhibitions, beat the daylights out of anybody you can name and made all of them look foolish, from championship nine-man teams to guys just off their tractors; from Say Hey Willie Mays to woof, woof Lassie.
He has been, as any fool for history must consider, a phenomenon in his sport—equal parts Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Cy Young and Boots Poffenberger with some flavor of Ruth and Cobb in there, too. Because, of course, Eddie Feigner can hit the ball as well as throw it. Such names long since have been mounted on pedestals, but Feigner belongs, just the same. He is that good.
Softball being what it is, the simple fact about Eddie Feigner (pronounced Fayner) remains: at 47 years of age he is the most underrated athlete of his time. A consummate showman, he has been denied the center ring all his life. He is vaudeville in the age of television, a giant only in the bushes; a king without a throne.
Still, the mind boggles at the mass of his accomplishments, and Feigner is understandably proud.
"I am the world's finest softball pitcher by at least 100%," says The King. "I mean, I can say this because I have never met or seen anybody who was anywhere near half as good as me. I have perfect control. I throw the best changeup there ever was. I throw other pitches nobody can. My in-drop and in-raise are superpitches and unique. Anyone can throw the out-drop or out-raise, but everywhere I travel pitchers ask me how to throw the others. Who else pitches blindfolded? Who else pitches from second base? I used to throw strikes from center field. I struck out a batter from center once. We figured that would never happen again, so we took it out of the show. Who else pitches from behind his back or between his legs? For strikes? My fastball was clocked at 104 mph. Check Koufax. Check Feller. I'm the fastest. There have been only three or four arms like mine ever in history. I once struck out a man on one pitch; he swung and missed three times at the same changeup.