You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1946, Bob Feller threw the second of his three no-hitters.
Bob Feller is one of the greatest pitchers of all time; he is, I believe, the greatest Cleveland Indian of all time. He won 266 games, led his league in strikeouts seven times and, as a 17-year-old, he struck out 17 batters. Feller and Kerry Wood are the only pitchers ever to strike out as many as their age in a game.
The no-hitter that Feller threw on this date was the first he had thrown since returning from World War II. Feller enlisted in the Navy two days after Pearl Harbor. He was 23 years old. He was the one of the best and the highest-paid pitchers in the game. He was caring for his ailing father, he had received a deferment, but he enlisted. Fifty-seven years later, I asked Feller why.
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He started screaming, “We were losing a war, a big war, we were losing big in the Pacific … any red-blooded American with a gut in his body would have gotten busy!”
Feller, an anti-aircraft gunner, added, screaming again, “We took back the Pacific. And I can look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I was there.’ I’m more proud of serving my country than anything I’ve ever done in my life.”
Feller missed three full prime seasons to military service, which kept him from winning well over 300 games, and likely setting more strikeout records along the way. Ted Williams once told me that Feller was the greatest pitcher he ever faced. Williams said he would start getting ready to face a pitcher the night before the game. But, he said, with Feller, “I would start getting ready three days in advance.”
In retirement, in his 60s, Feller would tour the country conducting pitching exhibitions in minor league ballparks. He would throw to the local media who covered the team. He didn’t throw very hard anymore, the velocity had dropped from the mid-90s to, I’d say, high 50s. In 1979, he came to Alexandria, Virginia, where I covered the Dukes, a Class A team in the Carolina League. So I got to bat against Bob Feller, who, my father used to tell me as a kid, was the hardest thrower he’d ever seen.
All of us who hit against the great Bob Feller received a certificate that stated: I Batted Against Bob Feller. In writing at the bottom of the certificate was a disclaimer: “The aforementioned slugger realizes that if he had faced Mr. Feller in his prime, the results would have been different.”
Other baseball notes from April 30
In 1961, Willie Mays hit four home runs in one game in Milwaukee. Hall of Fame broadcaster Lon Simmons once told me, “Willie would have had a fifth home run that day, but the wind knocked it down at the warning track in center field.”
In 2008, Julio Franco, 49, retired from the Mexican League. He played for the Rangers when George W. Bush was the owner of the team. Bush helped get Julio straightened out in a lot of ways. When Bush became the president, Franco, on a road trip to Baltimore, made a trip to the White House to personally thank the president for helping him.
In 1979, Gary Pellant of the Alexandria Dukes hit home runs from both sides of the plate in one inning, the second player in the history of professional baseball to do so. I covered that game. Fourteen years later, when Carlos Baerga became the first major leaguer to do that, I found Pellant, then a scout. I called him. “I knew you would call,” he said.
In 1924, Ernie Tyler was born. He ran the umpires room at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and Oriole Park for 51 years. He worked 3,819 consecutive games. He never missed a game from Opening Day 1960 until July 27, 2007, when — quite appropriately — he attended Cal Ripken’s Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, New York, as a guest of Cal Ripken.