Softball star Feigner dies at 81

Eddie Feigner, the hard-throwing softball showman who barnstormed for more than 50 years with his "The King and His Court" four-man team, died Friday. He was 81.

Feigner, the former Marine known for his trademark crewcut and bulging right arm, died in Huntsville, Ala., from a respiratory ailment related to dementia, wife Anne Marie Feigner said Friday night.

With a fastball once clocked at 104 mph, Feigner threw 930 no-hitters and 238 perfect games and struck out 141,517 batters while playing more than 10,000 games. He was inducted into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame in 2000.

A stroke in 2000 -- a day after he threw out the first pitch before the women's softball competition in the Sydney Olympics -- ended his playing career at age 75. He left the team for medical reasons last summer and lived in Trenton, Tenn., for the last several years until recently moving to Huntsville.

The King and His Court teammate Jack Knight said Feigner also suffered from dementia.

"Eddie Feigner was a genuine Jekyll and Hyde," Knight said. "On the field, a master showman, brilliant pitcher, creator of the most popular softball attraction in history. And off the field, one tough son of a gun. He was a former Marine, everything was by the numbers. He made millions and was generous to a fault. Some guys got fired three times in the same day and rehired in the next moment."

Feigner not only pitched from the standard mound, 46 feet from home plate, but also from second base, behind his back, on his knees, between his legs, from center field and blindfolded. In a nationally televised exhibition against major-leaguers at Dodger Stadium in 1964, he struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente and Brooks Robinson in order.

Feigner began "The King and His Court" in 1946 on a dare in his hometown of Walla Walla, Wash. He had just thrown a shutout in his nine-man team's rout of a team from Pendleton, Ore., and the Oregon team challenged him to another game. Backed by just a catcher, first baseman and shortstop, Feigner pitched a perfect game, winning 7-0.

At the height of Feigner's popularity, the team played at major-league ballparks, including Yankee Stadium, and Feigner appeared on numerous national television shows, including "The Today Show," "I've Got a Secret," "What's My Line?" and the "CBS Sports Spectacular." On the "Tonight Show," he pitched blindfolded to Johnny Carson, who loosely held a bat over a home plate. Feigner hit Carson's bat on his first pitch.

In addition to his wife, Feigner is survived by his son Eddie Jr., who played with the team for 25 years; daughters Shirley, Carol and Debbie; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Services are pending.