17-year-old Bob Feller makes his first major league start

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Cady Lowery

Most 17-year-olds start their senior year of high school at the end of August. But Bob Feller had a date with Major League Baseball.

On Aug. 23, 1936, while his friends back home in Van Meter, Iowa, were headed back to school, Feller took the mound against the St. Louis Browns. At just 17-years-old, it was Feller’s seventh MLB appearance and his first start of his illustrious 18-year career with the Cleveland Indians.

Feller didn’t just start the game; he dominated the game, fanning 15 Browns on his way to a 4-1 victory over St. Louis. The “Heater from Van Meter,” as he came to be known, was just starting to earn his keep.

“He was perfect,” Indians manager Steve O’Neil said after the game.

But before Feller took the mound that day, his manager was worried. O’Neil was urged to start Feller, against his judgment, by Indians general manager Cy Slapnicka.

Prior to Feller’s first pitch in the first inning, O’Neil had reliever Denny Galehouse warming up in the bullpen, ready just in case the teenager started to struggle. O’Neil had reason to worry. In Feller’s previous six appearances, he had given up 11 hits, eight walks and seven earned runs in just eight innings of work. But this was Feller’s first time starting a game.

“He was perfect,” Indians manager Steve O’Neil said after the game.

But before Feller took the mound that day, his manager was worried. O’Neil was urged to start Feller, against his judgment, by Indians general manager Cy Slapnicka.

Prior to Feller’s first pitch in the first inning, O’Neil had reliever Denny Galehouse warming up in the bullpen, ready just in case the teenager started to struggle. O’Neil had reason to worry. In Feller’s previous six appearances, he had given up 11 hits, eight walks and seven earned runs in just eight innings of work. But this was Feller’s first time starting a game.

Feller struck out the first batter he saw. And after allowing a single to Harlond Clift, he sat down the final two batters of the inning. Galehouse sat down, too.

Through five innings, Feller had 10 strikeouts. He didn’t surrender a run to the Browns until the sixth inning when he allowed two doubles, making the score 1-0 in favor of the Browns. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Indians rallied to take the lead 3-1. The Indians won the game 4-1, giving Feller his first career victory.

"I was afraid that my arm would tire along about the sixth or seventh inning, but it held up fine,” Feller said when he was asked about his first start.

Feller did return home to finish his senior year of high school at the end of the 1936 season and rejoined the Indians in 1937.

“That showing was just a tip-off,” Dodgers pitcher Van Mungo said. “You’ve got to be a good pitcher to strikeout 15 major league batters in one game – whether you’re 17 years old or 27.”

Feller finished his Hall of Fame career with 266 wins and 2,581 strikeouts. Six times he won 20 or more games and led the league in strikeouts seven times during his career.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. Feller passed away on Dec. 15, 2010.


Cady Lowery was a public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series