Feller's Opening Day no-hitter turns 70
Hall of Famer says 'luck' led to historic feat at old Comiskey
CLEVELAND -- The first thing that Bob Feller will tell you about his Opening Day no-hitter, which took place 70 years ago today, is the same thing you'd expect to hear from a person who won a few grand at a slot machine or a person who pocketed a few hundred on a scratch-off ticket."It's purely luck," the 91-year-old Feller says, with his characteristically gruff and blunt delivery. But the luck that "Rapid Robert" had against the White Sox on a brisk and windy day at old Comiskey Park went a long way. What Feller achieved on April 16, 1940, is a special, lasting legacy that many fans and those around baseball think about every time a season begins anew. At its core, Opening Day is a day about hope, a day in which all things seem possible. But only once in the grand history of the game has a pitcher taken that idea to the extreme, the way Feller did that day in Chicago. "Whatever the percentage of luck is," Feller says, "I wouldn't know." But Feller knew a thing or two about pitching in his day, and he proved that against the White Sox. Feller opened the 1940 season facing skepticism from reporters. Already, at the ripe old age of 21, he had 55 career wins under his belt, and he had gone 24-9 with an American League-leading 246 strikeouts the previous season. But Feller did not have much of a spring camp, and the writers took notice. "I had pitched [the previous] Saturday in Cleveland," Feller remembers. "I went five innings and gave up about 15 hits and 10 runs, getting ready to open the season. I had a bad spring. All the writers were saying, 'Bob doesn't have it. He might have a bad year.'" It didn't take long for Feller to quiet that talk. But any time Feller talks about his Opening Day feat -- and he's been talking about it more frequently than ever in the months leading up to this particular anniversary -- he inevitably mentions that he didn't have his best stuff early on that day. "I was a little wild," he says. The White Sox loaded the bases on Feller in the second inning. Center fielder Roy Weatherly dropped Taft Wright's one-out fly ball, allowing Wright to advance to second. It could have been ruled a hit, as Weatherly battled the wind on the play, but the official scorer made it a two-base error. Then, with two out, Feller walked Mike Tresh and the opposing pitcher, Edgar Smith. But he struck out Bob Kennedy to record the third out. "After that," Feller says, "I started pitching better." The cold weather -- the temperature was reportedly in the 40s, contributing to a paltry attendance total of about 14,000 -- affected Feller's ability to throw his curveball well. So he relied primarily on his blazing fastball. Feller got his only run of support in the fourth. "My roommate, Jeff Heath, hit a single in the fourth inning," Feller recalls, "and my catcher, Rollie Hemsley, hit a triple to right-center to score Heath." It was 1-0 Indians, and it would remain that way. That's not to say, however, that Feller, who struck out eight and walked five in the game, cruised the rest of the way. The ninth inning is always nerve-wracking when a no-hitter is on the line, and that was definitely the case in this instance.
|"My Opening Day no-hitter, of course, has gotten a lot of publicity. But my no-hitter at Yankee Stadium [in 1946] was against a much better team, by far, than the White Sox. I had to pitch to Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Joe DiMaggio in the ninth inning to get the Yankees out."|
|-- Bob Feller|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.