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Opening Day is always a time for hope and optimism. For every team except the Yankees, last year was a disappointment. But no matter how bad your team was last year there is always the chance this year will be different. Opening Day lets everyone start over. If Opening Day is a preview of what’s to come for the rest of the season, Cleveland Indians fans must have been ecstatic to see their ace, Bob Feller, no-hit the White Sox in 1940.

Bob Feller/Sports Illustrated

The old adage goes that pitchers are ahead of hitters early in the season and on April 16, 1940 Feller used a changing delivery, a vicious fastball, some veteran wile and a little sparkling defense to stymie the White Sox. It was the only no-hitter ever on opening day and the first of three Feller would throw over the course of his career.

By 1940, the 21-year-old Feller was already a 4-year veteran with a 55-30 lifetime record. He had burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old phenom in 1937. According to the biography at the Bob Feller Museum:

No teen has ever matched Feller’s explosive debut on the major league scene. The seventeen – year – old rookie vaulted into the headlines when he struck out eight St. Louis Cardinals in three innings during a July 1936 exhibition. For an encore, the kid struck out fifteen batters in pitching the Indians to a victory over the St. Louis Browns that August. In September, the rookie blazed his 100-mile-per-hour fast ball past the Philadelphia Athletics to strike out seventeen batters. This performance put “Rapid Robert” Feller beside Dizzy Dean as co-holder of the major league strike out record. Before the 1936 season was over, the New York Times reported that Feller’s name was “on the tongues of a million fans.”

The fanfare for Feller grew. Time put Feller on it’s April 19, 1937, cover. NBC radio jumped on the Feller bandwagon, covering the young player’s graduation from Van Meter High School “live” on its national radio network. His fastball starred in newsreels, racing against a speeding motorcycle.

Feller was already hard to hit but the cold temperatures and harsh winds made it impossible for the White Sox. The only chance they had was that Feller was wild, walking five batters during the game. The last walk came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Feller intentionally walked future Hall-of-Famer Luke Appling to keep the no-hitter alive. He then got a sparkling defensive play as second baseman Ray Mack tracked down a ground ball in short rightfield and threw out the White Sox last chance, Taffy Wright.

Feller went on to one of his best seasons. He had a record of 27-11, the most wins he had in any one season. His 2.61 ERA led the league and was the third lowest of his career. He finished second in AL MVP voting. Cleveland won 89 games in 1940.

On December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the military and missed three years of baseball during his military service. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.


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