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