There was no one like Rapid Robert Feller

12 Comments

Joe Posnanski has the best Bob Feller obituary. Even as people write a bunch more over the coming days, Posnanski’s will be the best because that’s just how it goes when (a) you’re the best sports writer in the business; and (b) you grew up in Cleveland, steeped in Bob Feller as Joe did and was. If you only read one thing about Feller today, read Joe’s take.

I don’t think I have anything to add about the big points of Feller’s life and career that aren’t going to be covered better elsewhere. He was a war hero. And he saw real combat and faced real peril, unlike many ballplayers did. He is undoubtedly in the conversation of the best pitchers of all time. You can’t help but look at his career and wonder how much gaudier the already gaudy numbers would have looked if not for the war. He lost his age 23-25 seasons to combat after entering his peak and pitching lights out the previous three years. It’s not hard to imagine that he would have had three more 24+ win seasons and maybe a couple of 300 strikeout performances to add to an already elite career. Between Lefty Grove and Tom Seaver, it’s hard to point to any pitcher who was better.

The part of the Posnanski obituary that I can relate to the most is the stuff about post-career Feller and — let’s not dull the point because the guy died yesterday — the unequivocal cockiness of the guy.  Except in Feller’s case it was a justified cockiness because unlike whatever flavor-of-the-month NFL wide receiver who comes down the pike, Feller’s claim to greatness was more than legitimate. And for that reason — not just because we’re now mourning him — I don’t have much of a problem with it. Muhammad Ali can get away with calling himself the greatest of all time. Feller could too. Partially because they may have been, but partially because even if it’s debatable, they never doubted it for a minute themselves. Boasting is usually a function of insecurity. Feller wasn’t insecure. He wasn’t boasting to convince himself of anything. There’s something beautiful about that. Not many can pull it off.

Joe mentions that Feller worked hard at self-promotion. That jibes with what I’ve observed living in Ohio for most of the past 20 years. If you were in Ohio and wanted to meet Bob Feller, it wasn’t a big trick. He was always available to fans, be it at Indians games, card shows, grand openings of car dealerships or any number of other events. Such self-promotion could be criticized. In Feller’s case I think it was pretty great. Because thanks to how sure he was of himself you never got the sense that he questioned whether he was overexposed or felt like he was dragging himself out there because someone besides himself expected it of him. And because, again, he was an all-time great. Would that several generations of fans had Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams available to them in such a way. Would that they enjoyed meeting the public the way Feller so obviously did.

I don’t necessarily believe in an afterlife. But if there is one, Feller is busy explaining to whichever omniscient being in whom you choose to believe that he was the greatest of all time.  And he’s making a damn good case.

Rest in Peace Rapid Robert Feller.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

Getty Images
Leave a comment

To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.