April 25, 2014

Bob Feller in His Own Words

December 15, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

A few months ago I went through newspaper archives from the past 30 years or so to gather up some of Bob Feller’s remarks on his life, his baseball career, and many other topics.

Feller was one of the last surviving stars who’d played major league baseball before the U.S. entered World War II. Besides that, he was a controversial, foreground figure who hadn’t become just an old man you saw being celebrated at various baseball events: Feller didn’t retreat behind the decades-old image of him as the phenomenal Rapid Robert and quietly accept the various honors that came his way. He remained engaged and opinionated about the changing circumstances of American life, not just baseball but politics, war, and economics. It meant losing some fans who didn’t like what Feller had to say, but it made him more interesting and provocative than many aged Hall of Famers.

In the wake of his death, here, in chronological order, are some of the comments and recollections he made from 1985 to early 2010.

In 1985:
“I have never kept an actual count, but I am convinced that I have thrown more baseballs than any other human being in history. I started when I was 5 and, like an idiot, I’m still doing it.

“Of course, all that probably proves is that I am not too bright.”

In 1986:
“I can’t throw the fastball with the hop on it anymore. Can’t get my big behind around like I used to. Let’s work on the curves. I’ll need them in the old-timers’ games. The players in those game keep getting younger, you know. I’ve got to be ready for them.”

“I take good care of myself. I get my rest, drink my milk, never go near tobacco, have very little to do with alcohol.”

“My fastball once was clocked at 107.9 miles an hour. Of course, I couldn’t throw it that fast for a whole game — but I assure you I could throw it 100 miles an hour for a whole game.”

“I’m as proud of my war record as I am of my baseball records. When fellows my age talk about the war, I don’t have to stand in the back and listen. I can talk to them and with them. That’s important to me. Always has been, always will be.”

In 2005, when a fan wanted to know if Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams was tougher to get out:
“DiMaggio, to me. Ted and I had a Mexican standoff. As soon as I started to throw DiMaggio inside after the war, I started to get him out. Ted was the better hitter. Trying to throw a fastball by Williams was like trying to get a sunbeam past a rooster in the morning.”

On using steroids: “It’s very stupid. It ruins your health, your brain, your sex organs. Rules mean nothing. Instant gratification to set a record. Is it worth it? Not to me, it isn’t. Not to me.”

In 2010, remembering life on the Iowa farm, circa 1930: “I enjoyed being with my father, especially when we’d feed the livestock, milk the cows and play catch in the hog lot. If not for my father, I would have had a lot more trouble staying in condition, because he would catch me at dusk every day. He’d hit grounders to me, I’d throw to him. He pitched batting practice.

“We finally built a ball diamond in the pasture. We cut down 20 trees, put the post in the ground, put up the chicken wire and built the ballpark. We peeled the infield and fenced off the outfield to keep the livestock off. We started building in 1931 and by 1932 my dad had a team out there, a bunch of farm kids. We played all the time.

“When the seams on the balls would break and the stitching would come out, we used to take the covers off and sew them back up with harness thread. It was 108 stitches if you did it the way we did, 216 if you did it the other way. We’d run the harness thread through a big ball of beeswax and put the covers back on.”

Finally: “My best decision in life was joining the Navy two days after Pearl Harbor. Getting back to my achievement as a baseball player, it would be being the first president of the Major League Baseball Players Association, in the 1950s. I started the baseball players association; now it’s a union.

“You always knew [in combat during WWII] that if a bullet had your name on it, you were going to get it. But when you’re young, everybody thinks it’s got somebody else’s name on it. That’s why we have wars.”

Comments

2 Responses to “Bob Feller in His Own Words”
  1. Judy Johnson says:

    Beautiful quotations. Thanks for letting Feller’s words speak for themselves. It’s good to hear his voice, now that he’s no longer with us. RIP HoF ’62.

  2. Arne says:

    I like that Feller never fooled himself-in 1941 or the 69 following years-into the notion that his baseball career was more important than the crisis of WWII. The NY Times put up his essay recalling wartime (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/17/sports/baseball/17reflect.html?_r=1&ref=sports), and he wrote: “A lot of folks say that had I not missed those almost four seasons to World War II — during what was probably my physical prime — I might have had 370 or even 400 wins. But I have no regrets. None at all. I did what any American could and should do: serve his country in its time of need. The world’s time of need.”

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