In his 92 years, Feller saw it all

I'm sorry to hear about Bob Feller's passing, if not surprised. Most of us have been around long enough what it means when a 92-year-old man is transferred to hospice care. At that point, one can only hope for a peaceful end and perhaps a few more good moments with loved ones.

Bob Feller actually lasted a bit longer than some thought. Almost a week ago, the Northern Ohio Journal actually reported Feller's death, and columnist Jim Ingraham wrote a lovely tribute. That was yanked from the Journal's website a few hours later, but I think this passage is a fine introduction:

    At either end of his life he mocked convention. He made his major league debut -- this is beyond outrageous -- at 17. In his first major league start he set a major league record for strikeouts in a game, and then after that season went back to high school for his senior year. Think about that.

    He lived to be 92. How many 92-year-olds do you know?

    The year he was born, Alexander Graham Bell was still alive. So were Wyatt Earp and Orville Wright.

    When Feller debuted in Van Meter, Iowa, Christy Mathewson was still alive. So were Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie, and Cy Young.

    Ty Cobb? Not only was he still alive, he was STILL PLAYING!

    As a 17-year-old rookie with the Indians in 1936, Feller needed a place to live. Cy Slapnicka, the scout who signed him, found a room for him in a boarding house in Cleveland. One of Feller’s fellow-boarders in the house had fought in the war -- the Civil War.

As amazing all of those things are, the one thing that always sticks in my head is this: Bob Feller pitched against Lou Gehrig. All the other big stars in the American League in the late 1930s, too. Joe DiMaggio. Jimmie Foxx. Hank Greenberg. Ted Williams.

Of course they're all gone, now. Nearly all of them, anyhow. Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr was actually born a few months before Feller, and debuted in the majors roughly a year after Feller. Hall of Famer Monte Irvin was born just a few months after Feller, though thanks to baseball's segregation he wouldn't reach the (previously all-white) major leagues until he was 30.

Even with Feller's passing, they're still around. It just gets a little harder to find them, all the time.

Almost to the end, though, it was rarely hard to find Bob Feller. Just a few years ago, I saw him give a rousing talk at the SABR Convention in Cleveland. Last summer he was still regularly showing up at the ballpark, one of the few men on earth who had seen Babe Ruth hit, and pitched to Lou Gehrig. And he was still crusty, unimpressed by young players who haven't won a lot of games or enlisted in the Navy during a war or been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Too crusty, maybe, by just a little. Upon seeing Stephen Strasburg in the flesh, Feller said, "Call me when he wins his first 100."

Granted, I've probably said something similar a few times. But when Bob Feller said it, people actually paid attention. He wasn't nasty (well, not often). He was opinionated, and the older he got the more willing he was to express his opinions.

Of course, he won his first 100 games before he turned 23, and did enlist to fight in a war, and was elected to the Hall of Fame. If anyone ever earned the right to the occasional bout of crustiness, it was probably Rapid Robert Feller.