SAN FRANCISCO -- They don't call him "Rapid Robert Feller" for nothing. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller fielded fans' questions with candor and quickness Saturday afternoon, as he sat on the All-Star FanFest Diamond surrounded by a group of kids. Feller spoke about differences in the game today and shared stories of how he became one of the game's greatest pitchers. When he was 8 years old, Feller knew he wanted to be a pitcher. He would throw every day at the farm he lived on in Iowa. During the winter, when the ground was a blanket of snow, he moved his pitching practice to the barn.
Feller was throwing curveballs before he turned 9. He was a full-time pitcher for the American Legion League by the time he was 15. By 17, Feller was in the Majors and became the youngest pitcher to win a game. "You have to have upper body strength, if you're going to be a pitcher," Feller said. "I was working on the farm and milking cows. ... Manual labor never killed anybody." Feller still remembers the first batter he faced and the subsequent first strikeout he recorded. "I hit him in the ribs, and they carried him off on a stretcher. The next batter never even got close to the plate. His name was Buddy Lewis," Feller said. Lewis was Feller's first strikeout victim, and he went on to strike out 2,581 in his career. Feller still holds the distinct honor of being the youngest pitcher to win a game and also the record for most complete games thrown in a single season since 1916. Feller threw 36 complete games in 1946. He threw 279 complete games throughout his career, so he knows a thing or two about pacing oneself. Not pacing is one of the problems Feller sees in pitchers today. Pitching in general is a different game now. "The pitchers aren't as good as they used to be. There are a lot of throwers, but not many pitchers," Feller said.
Of course, Feller says there are exceptions to this -- guys like Tom Glavine and C.C. Sabathia are two of them.Most other pitchers fall short, but Feller has high standards. Feller appeared in eight All-Star Games. It would have been 10, but he hurt his back in '47 and declined to go in '48. "I didn't go because I didn't deserve it, and I sent Bob Lemon instead," Feller said. The year Feller "didn't deserve it," he posted a 19-15 record in '48 with a 3.56 ERA. Feller's advice to young hopefuls is to throw every day and pick a spot to hit -- like a belt buckle or shirt pocket -- also, to do pushups to keep the upper body strong. "There's a lot of talented players out there, but just remember pitching is the name of the game, and whoever has two hot pitchers, is going to win in postseason." Above all, baseball is a game of conditioning and coordination, Feller said. "Baseball is the toughest game to play. It's a game of inches. It's a game of luck," Feller said. "It takes a lot of ability to hit a round ball with a round bat."
Becky Regan is an associate reporter at MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.