SI Vault
 
BOB FELLER
Frank Deford
November 21, 2007
THE NATURAL: SOME 70 SEASONS AFTER HIS BIG LEAGUE DEBUT, THE SAGA OF RAPID ROBERT, THE KID WHO LEFT THE FARM TO MOW DOWN THE BIG BOYS WITH HIS FASTBALL, IS STILL ONE FOR THE BOOKS
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 21, 2007

Bob Feller

THE NATURAL: SOME 70 SEASONS AFTER HIS BIG LEAGUE DEBUT, THE SAGA OF RAPID ROBERT, THE KID WHO LEFT THE FARM TO MOW DOWN THE BIG BOYS WITH HIS FASTBALL, IS STILL ONE FOR THE BOOKS

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

In fact, no one served more willingly, and no one seems to have fewer regrets, than Feller. He wanted to be a fighter pilot but couldn't qualify because his high-frequency hearing was deficient. Instead the Navy assigned him to a physical fitness program, but he volunteered for combat and was put aboard the battleship Alabama. There, as chief of a gun crew, he first saw action in the Atlantic and then, most extensively, in the Pacific, where the Alabama fought from the Gilbert Islands and the Marshalls to Truk, New Guinea, Saipan, Guam and, finally, the great sea battles off the Philippines. When Feller finally was rotated back to the States, in '45, he told a reporter, "Baseball and malted milks and a duck-hunting trip are the things that fellows want to come back to when this thing is over."

Rapid Robert, of course, pitched before radar guns that could measure how fast a ball actually moved. A couple of primitive efforts were made to gauge how fast Feller actually threw. In 1941, for example, a motorcycle going 86 mph roared up behind him and tried to beat his pitch to the plate. The pitch won easily. Deduced from that: Feller threw at 104. At Washington, D.C.'s Griffith Stadium on another occasion, with somewhat more sophisticated equipment borrowed from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Feller's speed was measured at 98.6 mph (which, with modern methodology, would be in the 101-102 range). That was in '46, when he'd lost a smidgen off his fastball. Certainly any reasonable assessment would be that Master Feller threw a baseball above 100 mph when he first came up. If anyone, Bob Feller was one human being who could, as they say, throw a hole through the wind.

From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, August 8, 2005

1 2