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Feller: Time Will Tell If These Men Are Stars

March 15, 1987|United Press International

TUCSON, Ariz. — Bob Feller knows all about phenoms. More than 50 years ago, he was one.

Feller was 17 when he broke in with the Cleveland Indians in the 1930s. He bucked the odds and posted pitching records with the Tribe that still stand.

The Hall of Famer's 266 victories still top the list of lifetime wins for the Indians. He still holds club records for most strikeouts (2,581), most shutouts (46) and most innings pitched (3,827).

When the subject of a Dwight Gooden or a Roger Clemens comes up, Feller pauses and thinks. He thinks fans should do the same thing.

"I don't evaluate any of these ballplayers until they've been around five years," Feller said. "I can remember too many of them who didn't make it. Clemens has a good curveball and a respectable curve but he hasn't had five good years that I know about."

Feller enjoyed a lengthy career in baseball, something he says the younger players should keep in perspective.

"They're very impatient," he said. "They have to realize they have to pay their dues in so many different ways. The test of time today is as good as it was 1,000 years before. It's the test of time that makes a person a contributor or a flash in the pan."

Feller is also hard to please when it comes to singling out the best of the contemporary major league pitchers.

"Right now, there are not any really outstanding pitchers winning 25 games. Of course, they've got relievers coming in to pick them up. But good arms are very difficult to find these days," he said. "Everybody is looking for pitchers."

No one on the Cleveland club ever again will wear Feller's No. 19. His number, along with those of former Indians Earl Averill and Lou Boudreau, has been retired.

Feller pitched in eight All-Star games, an Indian record, and also will be remembered for his three no-hitters, including one on opening day in l940. He was there in the glory days of a franchise that hasn't had much success since his retirement.

Some experts say the Indians' 33-year pennant drought may end this year. Feller says the young players working out with the Indians look to him to get an idea of what it was like to win in Cleveland.

"They look to me like they did after Bill Veeck bought the club in 1946. They're progressing very fast and I'd say for the next six to eight years, we'll have an excellent club," he said.

Feller, 68, is still a member of the Indians' organization as director of the speakers bureau. He also spends much of his time evaluating farm system prospects.

Following a winter break including speeches and promotions, Feller begins his annual workout during spring training with the Indians in Tucson.

"I throw in batting practice and I throw along the sides. We do demonstrations for some of the rookies as well as the veterans," he says. "I do it just to be in shape for the old-timers games so I can be respectable because most of the old-timers aren't as old as me."

Feller thoroughly enjoys those old-timers games.

"It's the camaraderie with the fans and the granddads and the kids," he said. "The young couples come out because their parents told them about it. A lot of them come up and say, 'My dad or my granddad wants your autograph. They told me all about you."'

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