Saturday, August 9, 2014

Feller disputed pay claim for radar stunt

One of the things that has struck me in recent years as I read back issues of The Sporting News is the frequency with which a story concerning a player (or manager or owner) was refuted by the subject in a later issue. I guess that proves the old adage that there are three sides to every such story: the writer’s, the player’s and the truth.

This seems to be the case with the coverage of a well-known event from Bob Feller’s playing days.

If you’re at all a student of 1940s baseball history you may have seen the photos of Feller throwing a baseball through a primitive speed measurement device on Aug. 20, 1946.

Here’s an excerpt from a column on the topic by Vincent X. Flaherty of the L.A. Examiner, that appeared in the Nov 6., 1946 TSN

            Bob Feller, Cleveland’s fastball pitcher, is becoming noted throughout baseball for his business tactics—for he is one player who places a premium on his services and doesn’t miss a trick when there is money to be made.
            As you know, Feller earned $80,000 for himself with the barnstorming tour which he personally conducted and which recently ended here. He makes $50,000 per year as his regular salary. But here is a small item about Feller you do not know.
            During the regular season when the Cleveland team was playing in Washington, the Bureau of Standards had a gadget it uses for calculating the speed of bullets. Clark Griffith was prevailed upon to ask Feller to throw through the contraption—called a chronograph—and Griffith, owner of the Washington club, consented to put on the test before one of the Cleveland-Washington games.
            Griffith didn’t ask Feller if he would lend himself to the task. He took it for granted that Bob would cheerfully accept the assignment. So Griffith, realizing that the idea was attractive from a crowd-pulling point of view, gave the test a generous splattering of publicity. Just before the test was to be made, and with the chronograph set up at home plate, and Griffith Stadium packed [Editor's note: Attendance was reported as 30,051], Griffith told Bob to go on out and throw away at the instrument.
            “I will,” said Feller, “for one thousand dollars.”
            Griffith thought Feller was kidding. But Feller wasn’t. He demanded and got $1,000 on the spot. He threw five pitches into the chronograph for the $1,000 fee.

That seems straightforward enough, but two weeks later, Feller undertook to straighten out some of the details reported by Flaherty.

In a more wide-ranging interview refuting a TSN article in the Nov. 6 issue that his total income from baseball and promotional ventures in 1946 would surpass that of Babe Ruth in his prime, Feller said that he received “considerably less than” the $1,000 fee Flaherty had reported.

Feller also denied holding Griffith’s feet to the fire by spring the demand for payment on him on the night of the stunt. “I don’t do business that way,” Feller avowed. “That deal with Mr. Griffith was consummated by telephone a month before in advance of demonstration.”

The demonstration is alleged to have scientifically proved that Feller threw the “fastest officially clocked” baseball, traveling 145 feet per second, or 98.6 miles per hour.

Feller fastball was measured on what was described as a “lumiline chronograph,” a defense department device of measuring a bullet’s speed to 1/10,000th of a second.

Throwing from the mound after a 10-minute warm up, Feller’s pitches were measured by comparing the times when they entered and left the chronograph placed at home plate. Feller was throwing through an opening about three feet by two feet. His first four pitches sailed through the machine, his fifth hit one of the wooden supports, splintering it.

Feller claimed that while he was giving the test his best effort, he didn’t believe that those were his fastest pitches. “In the third or fourth inning when I’m warmed up, the pitches will be faster, I think.”

Besides putting on the show with the chronograph, Feller was the starting pitcher for the Indians that night. He lost a 5-4 decision, striking out seven.

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