One pitching legend who’s refusing to get caught up in Strasburgmania is Bob Feller. I loved his response this week, when a reporter asked him if he was excited that Strasburg would be pitching in Cleveland. Feller, fiery as ever at 91, responded, “Is he excited to see me? No. I’ll be here. If he can throw 105 (miles-per-hour), I’ll tell him to throw his changeup at 102.” The Hall of Fame hurler, who pitched before radar guns, is widely recognized as one of the hardest throwers in big league history. The gruff Cooperstowner ended his career with 266 wins, but military service cost him over three seasons (1942 to 1944, most of 1945) in his prime. If he had pitched in those seasons, he would’ve surpassed the heralded 300-win mark.
For much of the 1940s, Feller roomed with Canadian slugger Jeff Heath. Born in Ft. William, Ont., (now Thunder Bay), the Canuck outfielder belted 194 homers in a 14-year career. Until Larry Walker’s unbelievable 1997 MVP season, Heath owned what was arguably the top season by a Canadian position player. In 1941, Health hit .340, socked 24 homers, recorded 20 triples and drove in 123 runs.
In his biography “Now Pitching Bob Feller,” the Indians ace describes Heath as someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. “He was a muscular monster, a 200-pounder whose arms were so thick he had to cut the sleeves out of his uniform like Jimmie Foxx before him and Ted Kluszewski after . . . He had that rare combination of power and speed and he showed it by twice leading the American League in triples,” wrote Feller.
The mound legend recalls one incident in which Heath was being heckled by a Cleveland fan after the Canuck slugger had struck out. “All of us watched as Heath reached across the dugout roof, grabbed the heckler by his hair and flattened him. The story didn’t end there. The police found out that Mr. Loudmouth was on probation from prison. They slapped him right back in the cooler for creating a disturbance.”
Heath would play in the majors from 1936 to 1949. He hit .293 and had 102 triples and 887 RBIs to go along with his 194 homers. He passed away December 9, 1975 in Seattle, Washington.