On this day in 1936, 17-year-old Cleveland Indians pitching ace “Rapid” Robert Feller strikes out 17 batters in a game, setting a new American League record. Feller allowed just two hits in the game to help his team to a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia A’s.
Feller was born November 3, 1918, in Van Meter, Iowa. An only child, he spent his days pitching against the side of a barn on his family’s farm. At just 16 years old, in July 1935, Feller signed with Cy Slapnicka, a Cleveland Indian scout, in exchange for an autographed baseball and one dollar. On August 25, 1936, when he was still only 17, Feller made his first start, striking out 15 St. Louis Browns with a blazing fastball and knee-buckling curveball that would be the hallmarks of his long and storied career.
On September 13, Feller started the first game of a double-header against the Philadelphia A’s at League Park in Cleveland. The young pitcher’s fastball was effective from the start and he was soon racking up strikes at a pace unseen in the American League since Rube Waddell of the St. Louis Browns struck out 16 batters in 1908. Feller’s 17 strikeouts that day tied Dizzy Dean’s modern major league record, set in 1933. Two years later, on the last day of the 1938 season, Feller broke Dean’s record when he struck out 18 Detroit Tigers, setting a modern record that would stand for 31 years. (It was finally broken in 1969 by St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher, Steve Carlton.
Bob Feller retired from baseball after the 1956 season having won more games than any pitcher in Cleveland Indians history. His numbers would, no doubt, have been even more impressive if not for the four seasons he spent in the Navy during World War II, where he earned eight battle stars. In 1957 his jersey number, 19, was the first to be retired by the Indians. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, the only pitcher since Walter Johnson to be so honored in his first year of eligibility. His lifetime record of 266-162 includes three no-hitters (1940, 1946 and 1951).