12/16/2010

Bob Is Dead

Bob Feller died yesterday. One of the highlights of my years in Denver was getting to see Feller pitch at McNichols Stadium in an "Old Timers" game. Feller was in his 70's and most of the guys in that game were either unrecognizable as athletes or in their late 30's to 50's and barely out of the game and looking to prove they were still players. Feller was a Cleveland star before I was born and he was one of the most amazing players of an amazing generation of players. When white-haired Bob Feller came up to pitch I didn't expect much, but his first pitch blew by the batter and the next three batters didn't touch him. He walked off to a standing ovation and gave the stands a tiny tip-of-the-cap.

I don't know why, but it always moves me unexpectedly when someone who was a hero to me as a kid turns out to have been a truly special person. Rapid Robert interrupted the prime of his career to join the Navy and fight in WWII. When he came back, he restarted his career and in his spare time he barnstormed the country with players from the Negro League in his off-months. His star-power was responsible for introducing thousands of white fans to men like Satchel Page, Josh Gibson, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, and the players who revolutionized the game in the late 1950's, after Feller retired and moved on to his business career. He just did the things he wanted to do and, often, what he wanted to do was the right thing.

He said what he thought and he thought more than the average person. His lack of political correctness got him labeled as racist or worse by a media that hasn't been worth noticing for at least three decades. I feel lucky to have seen Robert Feller pitch, even it if was 40 years after his prime. In his prime, he was said to have thrown a 106mph fastball. In his old age, he whipped up on men half his age and made it look easy.

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