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RIP Rapid Robert: Cleveland loses the greatest Indian of them all

FellerCleveland Indians legend Bob Feller died Wednesday night at 92 and, while you knew that day was coming once he was put into hospice care last week, it was still a tough piece of news to digest. Feller was as sharp as ever until his health began to fail late in the season from the effects of leukemia.

Longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer Indians beat writer and good friend of the blog Paul Hoynes has this wonderful remembrance of Feller in which he says, "baseball in Cleveland will never be the same."

Baseball historians, of course, remember the greatness of the man on the mound as well as the portrait of a fiercely proud American who left in the middle of his career to fight in World War II after Pearl Harbor was attacked. His Plain Dealer obituary by Bob Dolgan is simply outstanding.

Over the final decades of his life, Feller was an amazing ambassador for the Indians and I was lucky to see him many times and talk to him a few times in the press box at Progressive Field. He would routinely walk through the right field press room of the Tribe's old spring training home in Winter Haven, Fla. -- and you were as apt to hear him talking about politics as you were about baseball. I never saw him throw his annual first pitch of spring training but I was at Chain of Lakes Park many a day when Feller would be introduced, step on the field in uniform and tip his hat to the cheering crowd before heading to a table behind the left-field corner to sign a never-ending string of autographs.

For games in Cleveland, Feller sat in seat 84 of the press box. His name was on that spot on the seating chart but there was no marker by the actual seat. Inevitably, some unsuspecting visitor would sit in the spot. I usually sit in seat 90 or 91 and most of the time, we would not tell anyone that 84 was Feller's spot. We'd let him do it. He'd walk in and you'd hear that big bellow, "WHO ARE YOU? THAT'S MY SPOT."

It would be an even better show when the Yankees were in town and one of the scores of Japanese media members would take his spot. To Feller, remember, the war never ended and Pearl Harbor was never to be forgotten. You can imagine Feller's reaction to seeing someone from Japan in his seat. Here's more from Feller on the war, courtesy of ESPN's Tim Kurkjian.

I would often listen to Feller's comments on the game, often said to no one in particular. He loved watching Grady Sizemore for one. He hated -- hated -- Pete Rose and didn't ever want him considered for the Hall of Fame. I interviewed him a couple times, including the June game this year that saw Stephen Strasburg pitch against the Indians. Feller liked what he saw from Strasburg but scoffed at the way the kid's arm has been babied and coddled through his career. He also fired this classic warning shot to Strasburg.

"If you start believing all the hype, that's the end of your career," Feller told me and two other reporters he was chatting with. "It's a different world nowadays and that's OK. It's a business, a lot of show involved. He just better not believe anything he reads about himself. Call me when he wins his first hundred [games]. He's off to a very good start but these aren't the '27 New York Yankees or the '48 Indians he's facing."

Classic Feller. Blunt and to the point. The Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, of which I'm a member, is requesting the team keep seat 84 open in perpetuity and a plaque will likely be put there. A small gesture but a meaningful one to folks who've been at the ballpark a lot since it opened in 1994.

RIP Rapid Robert.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

AP Photo: Feller at the Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown in June.

It's official: Oberkfell headed to Mets

The New York Mets made it official today, naming Bisons manager Ken Oberkfell their major-league bench coach for 2011. Oberkfell has managed the Herd the last two seasons but became a clear favorite for the job last week when the Mets admitted they were not admitting external candidates. He is currently managing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

No timetable yet from the Mets on the minor-league staffs although they should come in short order. Binghamton manager Tim Teufel is the favorite to replace Oberkfell in Buffalo.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

NT's Brooks taken by Mets in Rule 5

The Red Sox gave Carl Crawford seven years and $142 million in the biggest deal ever for an outfielder.  Cliff Lee got a seventh year on his offer from the Yankees and is still listening to the Rangers. Those were the big highlights as the Winter Meetings wrapped up in Florida today.

But the final day's traditional business at the meetings was the Rule 5 draft, and that included some local intrigue. North Tonawanda's Ricky Brooks, a right-handed pitcher in the White Sox organization, was selected in the Triple-A phase by none other than the New York Mets and that means he could be a candidate for the Bisons' bullpen come April. At the very least, his family will be able to quickly see him at Double-A Binghamton.

Brooks, 26, was 1-3 with a 4.54 ERA in 24 appearances (two starts) last season for Double-A Birmingham. He struck out 38 and walked only 10 in 41 2/3 innings.

Brooks, who pitched at East Carolina, has been in the White Sox system since getting drafted in the third round in 2005 and became a reliever in 2007. His best season was in 2009 at Birmingham (3-1, 2.68 in 25 games with 35 strikeouts and just five walks in 37 innings).

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

New manager in the offing for Bisons?

Plenty of chatter coming out of the Winter Meetings in Florida that new Mets manager Terry Collins is getting close to finalizing his staff -- which will include the promotion of Bisons skipper Ken Oberkfell to major-league bench coach.

This move has been rumored since Collins was hired but Mets beat writers are pointing out the team has said there are no outside candidates being interviewed for the job. Thus, all signs point to Oberkfell.

Oberkfell, the longtime Cardinals and Braves third baseman, has been a good solider in the Mets organization for 10 years and has been the Triple-A manager for the last six in Norfolk, New Orleans and Buffalo.

He endured the Bisons' 56-87 nightmare in 2009 and helped lead the team to a 76-68 mark last season, three games shy of the International League wild-card slot and his seventh winning record in the last nine years. He's very popular among the players and certainly will help Collins with some of the younger members of the organization he's had through the ranks. Oberkfell is currently in the Dominican Republic managing Escogido, a team owned by former Bison and longtime big-league player Moises Alou.

None of this is official yet and the Mets will move to work out the minor-league staffs when Collins' work is complete. The thinking here is former New York infielder Tim Teufel would be the favorite to come to Buffalo after managing last year at Double-A Binghamton with the other former '86 Met second baseman, Wally Backman, in line to go from Brooklyn of the New York-Penn League to Bingo.

How about Backman to Buffalo, especially if the Mets are grooming him to someday take over? Not yet. That would be an affront to Teufel. Stay tuned. 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

A-buzz for A-Gon

BOSTON -- So while the Yankees have just made it official that they're giving 36-year-old Derek Jeter $51 million over the next three years, the real buzz out of the American League East came Monday at Fenway Park, as the Red Sox introduced first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Let's just say that got a few more headlines than tonight's Sabres-Bruins game and even got higher billing than the Patriots' trashing of the Jets.

Gonzalez is only signed through 2011 but the Sox certainly have the inside track on getting him to agree to an extension and they can save millions in luxury tax dollars by doing it after Opening Day. And let's be honest here: Gonzalez is a monster anyway and he's going to hit waaaaaaaay more at Fenway Park than he did at spacious Petco. He's the perfect left-handed wall-basher at first base and finally allows the Sox to get over the blow of losing Mark Teixeira to the Yankees two years ago.

The major action is down at the Winter Meetings in Florida -- and it is really heating up as the Yankees, Rangers and even the Nationals are in hot and heavy with Cliff Lee. Can the Nats really go seven years to Lee after their outrageous seven-year, $126-million deal with Jayson Werth? Stay tuned.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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