I spoke with Hall of Famer Bob Feller this week on the subject of Stephen Strasburg.
Feller, who will turn 92 later this year, will be in Washington on Monday to ride in a Memorial Day Parade. When it comes to tremendous hype at a very young age, Feller is the prototype.
Bob signed with the Cleveland Indians at 17, and never played a day in the minor leagues. He made his big league debut on June 19, 1936, pitching the 8th inning of a game against the Senators at Griffith Stadium. He retired the side, though he did walk a couple of hitters.
How big a deal was the young Bob Feller? Big enough that his high school graduation - coming the year after his big league debut - was carried coast-to-coast on network radio. Even Strasburg wasn't afforded that treatment.
Feller is totally candid on Strasburg's potential. "I've seen the young man pitch on television, and he's quite impressive. Great fastball, with good movement, too," he said. "But I think the expectations are far too high at this point."
The Feller fastball was itself a wonder. It was once clocked at nearly 107 mph using the available equipment of the day. But he was a more than a one-pitch pitcher. "I had a good curveball, and I had great command of it," he said. "I'd throw it regardless of the count."
Feller - who one year made an incredible 42 starts, completing 36 of them - is not a huge fan of pitch counts. "We wouldn't have known what those were when I played," he said. "If you kept getting the other side out, you stayed in the game," he said, adding "and you went back out there every fourth day as the schedule demanded."
Feller said he always enjoys coming to Washington, and likes Nationals Park very much. He surrendered almost 4 full seasons of his career in his prime to the military, enlisting the day after Pearl Harbor. It's a safe bet that his win total would have far exceeded 266 had that not occurred. He has no regrets, however.
"I did what I had to do," he said. "I was no hero, I made it back and resumed my career. The real heroes weren't able to do that."