Bob Feller, who came off an Iowa farm with a dazzling fastball that made him a national celebrity at 17 and propelled him to the Hall of Fame as one of baseball's greatest pitchers, died on Wednesday in Cleveland, where he had played for the Indians for 18 years. He was 92.
The Indians said the cause was leukemia, which had been diagnosed in August. Feller, who lived in Gates Mills, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, had recently been treated at the Cleveland Clinic for pneumonia and was at a hospice at his death.
Joining the Indians in 1936, Feller became baseball's biggest draw since Babe Ruth, throwing pitches that batters could barely see — fastballs approaching 100 miles an hour and curveballs and sinkers that fooled the sharpest eyes. He was Rapid Robert in the sports pages. As Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez was said to have remarked after three Feller pitches blew by him, "That last one sounded a little low."
A high-kicking right-hander, Feller was a major league phenomenon while still in high school in Van Meter, Iowa. His debut as an Indians starter, during his summer vacation, was spectacular: he struck out 15 batters.
Three weeks later he struck out 17, tying Dizzy Dean's major league record. He pitched the first of his three no-hitters when he was 21. (He went on to throw an astonishing 12 one-hitters.) He had more than 100 victories at age 22.
By the end of his brief rookie season, Feller was the best-known young person in America, with the possible exception of Shirley Temple.