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"I guess," he said quietly, "maybe now my pride is hurt."
NOT THE SAME FELLER
The awkward, fat-faced youngster moved nervously into a long windup, kicked his foot high and threw. The easy, wide-sweeping delivery sent the ball winging into the catcher's mitt with an impressive, satisfying whop, and the 9,000 people sweltering in the 90-plus heat at Cleveland's League Park stirred and buzzed appreciatively.
It was late August, and the Indians, then as now, trailed the Yankees by too many games and hoped for a miracle. On this Sunday afternoon the St. Louis Browns were in town, and Manager Steve O'Neill was gambling with a wild, fast 17-year-old who was making his first major league start.
He struck out the first batter (Lyn Lary) on three pea-size fast balls, gave up a dinky hit, then struck out two more. Bob Feller won his first major league start 4-1, and fanned 15 nervous Browns, using the erratic, white lightning of his fast ball all the way, the batters afraid to dig in.
For long after that the fast ball worked its magic on major league batters. In more than 16 summers (he spent 44 war months in the Navy) he has won 266 games (3 no-hitters) and struck out 2,573 batters. His fast ball was timed at 98.6 miles per hour.
The adolescent chubbiness has long since left Feller's face, and the easy, sweeping motion now delivers curves and sliders and the speed has gone with the youth. Bob is a poised, confident athlete and an insurance executive in the off season, and the awkward farm boy from Van Meter, Iowa is gone.
No one noticed the 20th anniversary of Feller's first major league start, not even Feller. Reminded of it, he said, "It's not that I'm old now. It's just that I got started young."
The stories on the game that marked 20 years for Feller didn't mention his name. The papers that day had a lot to say about a Little Leaguer named Fred Shapiro, who used a blazing fast ball to strike out 14 batters and win a perfect no-hit, no-run game. His fast ball travels about 65 miles per hour.