Hall Of Fame Pitcher Bob Feller In Hospice Care

This post isn't strictly Chicago-related, but any time a Hall of Fame baseball player nears death, it's news. Bob Feller, who turned 92 last month and who has suffered health problems for several years, was recently transferred to hospice care.

Feller's been retired from baseball for 54 years, so it may be hard for younger people today to realize just how great a pitcher he was. He threw faster than anyone had up to that time, except Walter Johnson -- he was nicknamed "Rapid Robert." At age 20 he went 24-9 with a 2.85 ERA, 24 complete games and four shutouts. He finished in the top three of MVP voting three years in a row from 1939-41 and likely would have won five or six Cy Young Awards if such an award had existed in his day.

Feller, like a lot of Hall of Famers in his era, lost prime statistical years to service in World War II. He was averaging more than 25 wins and 250 strikeouts a season when he went off to war -- he'd likely have won 80 more games and struck out 800 more batters if not for the war, which would have given him more than 340 wins and 3400 strikeouts. As it is, his numbers are impressive, though his teams won only one pennant and World Series, in 1948.

After retirement Feller made many public appearances, including almost every year at the Cubs Convention, where he would sign autographs and pose for photos for a small donation to his foundation. He also used to sign autographs for hours in spring training when the Indians trained there in the 1980s and early 1990s and he was serving as an unofficial spring training instructor.

He also contributed to the response to an unusual trivia question: Which team had all its players have the same batting average before and after a game? It was in 1940, when Feller no-hit the White Sox on Opening Day -- thus all the hitters had a .000 average coming into the game and when it was over.

Feller had a reputation as being somewhat gruff, but in meeting him a couple of times I always found him gracious and willing to talk baseball. He's nearing the end of a remarkable life, and is currently the second-oldest living Hall of Famer (only the Red Sox' Bobby Doerr, seven months older, is ahead of him). Thoughts and best wishes to his family.

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