THE SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “When in Doubt, Speak Up!”

December 19, 2010
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      Bob Feller died.


      On Wednesday.   Finally.   After months of lingering and fighting.   He was 92.     


      I met him once.   Back in Iowa, where I grew up.   I was about seven.   Rapid Robert owned an interest in a chain of Iowa fast-food restaurants called “Dog ‘N Suds” (hot dogs and root beer, get it?), and he was touring those Dog ‘N Suds franchises, going from town to town, wearing his Cleveland Indians baseball uniform, trying to drum up business by trading on his most valuable asset—his name.   An Iowa native himself, a strong-backed farm boy, a war hero who was the very first pro ballplayer to enlist after Pearl Harbor, and a transcendent baseball Hall-of-Famer deluxe, Bob Feller was just about the most relevant, compelling personality an Iowa boy like me could possibly have come into contact with in the 60s.   He was about 45 at the time, hadn’t been out of the game for very long, and he looked trim and fit.   He entertained us by lobbing in a few baby-soft pitches to our town’s high school catcher, then winding up and burning them in with vigor.   I can still hear the whistle and thump of his fastball in that high school kid’s glove….Whoooommmpp!   Whoooommmpp!   Whoooommmpp!   I also remember the look on that poor kid’s face.   Almost broke his hand….


      Bob Feller.   Is that a perfect name for an American hero or what?


There’ll be a new Inscription under Bullet Bob’s statue next year….





      I started writing this column last Monday, hoping to get it in under the wire before Iowa’s most famous righthander passed on.   But it turns out the Grim Reaper—and leukemia, and pneumonia, and I reckon just plain old age—would not wait for my unworthy prose.


     My decision to write about Feller originally had very little to do with his impending death   I actually had something happen to me this summer that centered around the Cleveland Indians Hall-of-Fame pitcher that I wanted to share with y’all….


      Regular readers of this column may recall that my son Rob and I journeyed to Cleveland back in August for our summer vacation (no Cleveland jokes please, it’s actually a really cool town), and one of the reasons we went there—something we do whenever we visit a big city—was to take in a ballgame.   An Indians game.   Problem is, we were practically the only ones in town that elected to do so that evening; the stadium resembled an empty canyon as much as it did a crowded theater of sports entertainment.   Here’s the link:


      What’s not in the column is that when I was loitering in front of the Bob Feller statue which stands like a sentinel in front of the stadium, reading the inscription at the bottom, I noticed—and it really irritates me whenever I encounter something senseless like this—a mistake.   Or to use an apt baseball term, an error.      


      They had the year he signed with the Indians (1935) wrong.


      Instead, they had the year he signed with the Indians as 1936, “when he was only sixteen years old”.   Even though earlier in the inscription it stated correctly that he was born in 1918.   So even if the sculptor didn’t know that the year he signed with the Indians was indeed 1935, a simple understanding of basic mathematics should have told him you couldn’t be born in 1918 and be sixteen in 1936!   Even if you were born late in the year (which Feller was).


      Anyway, such silly and slipshod sculpting really annoyed me.   So I resolved to speak up and do something about it.


      Part of my resolve stemmed from the fact that I had encountered this brand of casual immortalization of the iconic before.   On a trip to Springfield, Illinois in the 80s I visited Abraham Lincoln’s grave (naturally) where his entire family (naturally) is entombed.   Amazingly, the birth-year of one of Abe’s sons, Robert Lincoln, was incorrect.   The year 1844 was carved right into the stone vault holding Robert’s body, not 1843.   I couldn’t believe it.   I knew Robert Lincoln was born to Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln in 1843, not 1844 (please don’t ask me how or even why I know this stuff, it’s just how I am), and naturally I was irritated.   I vowed to do something about it.   Call somebody, write somebody, something.   But alas Procrastination and Sloth got the better of me and I didn’t do anything.   I convinced myself no one would care anyway.   Or even notice.


      But when I visited the Lincoln gravesite again in 1999 and gazed upon Robert Lincoln’s tomb, the year 1844 was scraped away, and a particularly amateurish job of carving the correct date of 1843 was in its place.   To say I was both very angry and very ashamed of my laziness at the same time is an understatement.   I vowed I would not make the same mistake with the Feller statue.


      Problem is, Procrastination and Sloth are difficult demons to quash, and I let three months go by.   I did nothing.   Then, when I read somewhere that Feller was sinking fast, I finally sprang into action.

      I wrote the Indians’ V.P. of Public Relations, a genial fellow named Bob DiBiasio, explaining that there was an error in the inscription below Bob Feller’s statue.   He wrote back immediately, declaring, and I quote:  Brad, Thank you for your email.   You are right, the statue of Bob Feller has an inaccurate date—which is probably what you are referencing.   The line states that Bob signed with the Indians as a 16-year old in 1936.   It should read 1935, as he first signed with the Indians on July 25, 1935 (he was born Nov. 3, 1918).   We are in process of getting it corrected.   Bob signed for $1 and inked his name on a napkin during that July 1935 meeting with Cy Slapnicka of the Indians….

      I felt vindicated.   Smart.   And above all, useful.


      I wrote Mr. DiBiasio again and asked him if I was the only one who noticed this sophomoric error, hoping to claim all the credit for posterity, but in fact a few other people caught it too.   Obviously not enough people for anyone to do anything about it, though.   But I’m convinced that my pestering the Indians with emails, combined with a couple others doing the same, did the trick.   I’ve been dealing with the sculptor for a while now…” Bob affirmed wearily, in his most recent email to me.


      Good.   Maybe it’s just me, but I think if you’re good enough to win 266 games, pitch three no-hitters and twelve 1-hitters, and ultimately make the Hall-of-Fame, they should at least be able to get your damn statue right.


      All’s well that ends well.   Based on DiBiasio’s emails and the advent of Feller’s death (and I guess I’ll include myself and add, self-servingly, because of my emails and this column), I’m confident that visitors to Cleveland’s Progressive Field next season will be able to read a new inscription below Bob Feller’s statue, an inscription without any lame, careless, mindbogglingly annoying errors.   If any of you actually go to an Indians game next spring (seriously, Cleveland is cool), please go by the statue and let me know if I was right.


      Rest in peace, Bob.   You fought the good fight for over nine decades, and you won the greatest game of all; the game of Life.   ‘Hope you’re young again, or at least no older than 45, throwing 99-mile-an-hour strikes to some high school kid right now, up in that big Dog ‘N Suds in the sky….




 meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0029

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and lover of both baseball and his Iowa roots—in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered by clicking the absurdly overlooked links below:

One Response to “THE SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “When in Doubt, Speak Up!””

  1. I’m learning all kinds of things from you!


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