Kevin Rivoli, File, File, Associated Press
CLEVELAND — Bob Feller, the Iowa farm boy 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 Cleveland Indians, has died. He was 92.
Feller, who won 266 games in 18 seasons — all with the Indians — died at 9:15 p.m. on Wednesday night of acute leukemia at a hospice, said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians vice president of public relations.
Remarkably fit until late in life, Feller had suffered serious health setbacks in recent months. He was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in August, and while undergoing chemotherapy, he fainted and his heart briefly stopped. Eventually, he underwent surgery to have a pacemaker implanted.
In November, he was hospitalized with pneumonia and Feller was recently released into hospice care.
Even as his health deteriorated, Feller continued doing what he loved most — attending Indians games deep into last season.
"Nobody lives forever and I've had a blessed life," Feller 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."
Feller, in fact, was part of the rotation the last time the Indians won it all — in 1948.
Fiercely proud and patriotic, Feller was an American original. Blessed with a fastball that could make any hitter look silly, Feller began his major league career at the tender age of 17. His win total remains a Cleveland team record, one that seems almost untouchable in today's free-agent era.
"Bob Feller is gone. We cannot be surprised," Indians owner Larry Dolan said in a statement. "Yet, it seems improbable. Bob has been such an integral part of our fabric, so much more than an ex-ballplayer, so much more than any Cleveland Indians player. He is Cleveland, Ohio.
"To say he will be missed is such an understatement. In fact, more to the point, he will not be missed because he will always be with us," he said.
Feller was part of a vaunted Indians' rotation in the 1940s and '50s with fellow Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. He finished with 2,581 career strikeouts, led the American League in strikeouts seven times, pitched three no-hitters — including the only one on opening day — and recorded a jaw-dropping 12 one-hitters.
His numbers would no doubt have been even greater had his career not been interrupted by World War II.
The first pitcher to win 20 games before he was 21, Feller was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1962, his first year of eligibility.
The Indians retired his No. 19 jersey in 1957 and immortalized the greatest player in franchise history with a statue when they opened their downtown stadium in 1994. The sculpture is vintage Feller, captured forever in the middle of his patented windmill windup, rearing back to fire another pitch.
"When you think Cleveland Indians, you think Bob Feller and vice versa," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He was a genuine patriot and a big-time Hall of Famer. Boy, he loved the Indians and we all loved him back."
Baseball was only a part of Feller's remarkable story.
Stirred by Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Feller enlisted in the Navy the following day — the first major league player to do so. He served as a gun captain on the USS Alabama, earning several battle commendations and medals.
Never afraid to offer a strong opinion on any subject, Feller remained physically active in his later years. At the end of every winter, he attended the Indians' fantasy camp in either Florida or Arizona. One of the highlights of the weeklong event was always Feller, in uniform, taking the mound and striking out campers, some of whom were 50 years younger.
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