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Disease claims Indians legend

Bob Feller was known as the hardest thrower of his era, at one point holding K records for a game and season.

Associated Press (1955)

Bob Feller was known as the hardest thrower of his era, at one point holding K records for a game and season.

CLEVELAND — Robert "Bob" Feller thrived in an era when athletes became icons on the playing fields and heroes on the battle­fields.

His humble origins in Van Meter, Iowa, and swift rise to stardom helped him attain a myth-like status as the most dominant right-handed pitcher in the majors during the 1930s and into the 1950s.

Mr. Feller, whose powerful right arm earned him the nickname "Rapid Robert" and made him one of baseball's greatest pitchers during a Hall of Fame career with the Indians, died Wednesday. He was 92.

Mr. Feller died at 9:15 p.m. of acute leukemia at a hospice, said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians' vice president of public relations.

Remarkably fit until late in life, Mr. Feller had suffered serious health setbacks in recent months. He was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in August, and during chemotherapy he fainted and his heart briefly stopped. Eventually, he had a pacemaker implanted.

In November, he was hospitalized with pneumonia, and he was recently released into hospice care.

Even as his health deteriorated, Mr. Feller continued doing what he loved most: attending Indians games deep into last season.

"Nobody lives forever, and I've had a blessed life," he said in September. "I'd like to stay on this side of the grass for as long as I can, though. I'd really like to see the Indians win a World Series."

From the time he came to Cleveland at age 17, Mr. Feller was a sensation with his blazing fastball and biting curve. He was just wild enough to frighten batters. His 208 walks in 1938 are still a record.

"When he first came up, he was wild like most kids," former Indians catcher and manager Al Lopez, a Tampa native, said in 2001. "But after being in the big leagues a year or two, he became a good control pitcher, a very finished pitcher."

In 1939, he became the first pitcher of the 20th century to win 20 games before he was 21. By the time he was 22, he had three 20-game seasons and 109 victories, another mark.

He was almost immediately known as the Strikeout King. At one time he held the records for strikeouts in a game (18) and season (348.)

The great Ted Williams once said: "Three days before he pitched, I'd start to think about Robert Feller. … I'd sit in my room thinking about him all the time."

The high-kicking hurler threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters, both records at the time of his retirement.

But statistics tell only part of Mr. Feller's story.

He spent nearly four years in the Navy during World War II. His service kept him from 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts; he finished with 266 and 2,581.

"I'm not too much concerned about my baseball career," he said years later. "I want to be remembered as a good American citizen, who enjoyed baseball and farming with his dad.

"And when it was time to fish or cut bait, I signed up two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor."

Mr. Feller earned eight battle stars while serving on the USS Alabama.

He returned to have a dominant season in 1946, then helped Cleveland win the 1948 World Series. He had his last high-quality season in 1954 and retired in 1956.

Mr. Feller rarely hesitated to speak his mind. As early as the 1950s he advocated changes in baseball's reserve clause.

He remained active into his 90s, signing autographs, making speeches and talking about baseball, often critical of today's game.

"I'm a promoter," he told the New York Times in 1986. "People say, 'Well you're out promoting Bob Feller.' Well, who else would I be promoting?"

Disease claims Indians legend 12/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 12:45am]

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