Bob Feller broke onto the Major League circuit at a very young age. A young age, indeed, as Feller made his first appearance as a 17 year old pitcher for the Indians. Born on November 3, 1918, Feller hailed from Van Meter, Iowa, which was a small town then and hasn’t changed much since. When Feller was beginning his career in baseball, the small town had only about 400 residents, and it’s only currently at about 1,000 people.
This wasn’t Bob’s first game in the big leagues, but he hadn’t appeared in many prior to this one. He appeared in 14 games in 1936, his first year as a professional, and started eight of them. On September 13, 1936, Feller was slated to make a start at home at League Park against the Philadelphia Athletics. Opposing Feller that afternoon was Randy Gumpert, who was never an overly special pitcher, but solid enough, logging time in at least some number of games for 14 years.
Feller entered the game that day 2-2 on the season, looking for the win with the season winding down. It was a season that the Indians would ultimately go 80-74, finishing 5th in the American League.
Feller walked the first batter of the game, Lou Finney. Finney did steal a base on Bullet Bob’s watch, but Feller ended up striking out the next three batters, two of them looking, and thus started the gem.
Feller didn’t surrender a hit in the 2nd inning, either, while striking out two more. Then, in the 3rd, Bob did surrender one hit and two runs (one of which came on a steal of home by Wally Moses). But he did register two more strikeouts. The 4th proceeded without any strikeouts, but he registered two more in the 5th. That brings his total to nine on the day. Three more strikeouts for Feller in the 6th brings his grand total to 12. Two more in the 7th, and the total moves to 14. Two more in the eighth and Feller’s got 16. A 9th inning strikeout of George Puccinelli moves Feller’s total to 17 on the day. And that’s the total with which he’d finish.
Feller ended the day giving up two hits, two runs, nine walks, and 17 strikeouts. He also recorded a game score of 83 (which, of course, wasn’t recorded at the time), which is a very high score to obtain. For reference, on Kyle Hendricks’ near no-hitter on September 12, he recorded a game score of 81. Feller also recorded an RE24 of 3.9, which is how many runs he saved on the resulting plays given how many runners were on base.
By the time the game had concluded, Feller, at 17, held the American League record for strikeouts in a game with a total of 17. Of course, that record didn’t stand, with multiple pitchers recording more than 17 strikeouts in a game, in both leagues. But in 1938, Feller topped his 17 strikeout performance, downing 18 hitters against the Detroit Tigers.
Perhaps the most interesting note, and one that really puts Feller’s feat into perspective (as if knowing that he was 17 at the time isn’t enough), is that at the season’s conclusion, Feller returned to his small Iowa hometown in order to graduate high school.
Feller finished his 570 game career with a record of 266-162, an ERA of 3.25, 279 complete games, 44 shutouts, 2,581 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.316.
Feller made his last appearance on September 30, 1956, for the Cleveland Indians, the team for whom he played all 18 years. Feller did not play in the years 1942, 1943, and 1944 because of military service.
Feller was an 8x All-Star, 1948 World Series Champion (which is the last time Cleveland saw a baseball championship), Triple Crown winner (meaning he led the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA), 6x AL wins leader, 1x AL ERA leader, 7x MLB strikeout leader, he threw three career no-hitters, and had his number 19 retired by the Cleveland Indians organization.
In 1962, the first time he was on the ballot, Bob Feller was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York with 93.8% of the vote.
At age 92, on December 15, 2010, Feller died in Cleveland, Ohio, perhaps no more fitting of a place for him to go.