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Posted at 12:10 PM ET, 12/17/2010

Busy obit day & memories of Bob Feller

By Matt Schudel
Matt Schudel


On most days, there's no question about which story should be featured as the lead obituary of the day. But on Thursday, we had a tough decision -- and an exceptionally busy day -- with the deaths of film director Blake Edwards and baseball superstar Bob Feller.

News of Feller's death arrived first, and fortunately I had prepared an advance obituary of about 1,500 words or so. We put the story up on the Post website as soon as it was edited.

Later in the day, we learned of the death of "Pink Panther" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" director Blake Edwards. Obituaries editor Adam Bernstein, who is a serious student of film history, had prepared Edwards's obituary in advance.

The good thing about publishing online is that we have unlimited space, and we have left the complete versions of both obituaries on our website. But the physical space in the print edition of the newspaper is limited by the number of pages we have. Because we had two majors obituaries that had to appear the same day (Friday's editions of the Post), both Adam and I had to do some last-minute surgery on our obituaries. Each of us cut about 25 percent of the original stories to make them fit.

I know it doesn't make sense to offer a truncated product in the edition of the paper that people actually pay money for, while presenting the stories at full length online, where people can read them for free. But, alas, that is the reality of daily journalism in the modern age.

By the way, I can offer a few additional points about Feller that I didn't have room to take up in my obituary. During a spring training tour of Florida in 2006, I think it was, I saw Feller at the Cleveland Indians training camp in Winter Haven, Fla. (I also watched this year's top free agent Cliff Lee warming up on the sidelines, completely unnoticed.)

Feller was 87 years old at the time and was in full uniform, complete with spiked baseball shoes, playing catch in the infield with his teenaged grandson. He looked good, and he still had his relaxed three-quarters pitching motion.

Feller was a cranky guy, and he didn't care which people he rubbed the wrong way. Even his biographer, John Sickels, who is from Feller's home state of Iowa, found him difficult.

"There are two reactions today about Bob Feller," Sickels said in 2004. "Some will say Bob Feller is the nicest guy. He is warm and wonderful. And a lot of other people will say Bob Feller is the biggest jerk they ever met."

Feller had little but contempt for Pete Rose and the annual campaign to get him admitted to the Hall of Fame. Feller, a fierce guardian of the Hall's standards, would have stood in the doorway with a baseball bat to keep Rose out.

"Rose should absolutely not be allowed in the Hall of Fame," Feller said. "He got caught by the IRS cheating on his taxes, after being repeatedly warned. Hewent to jail. He's a felon."

After watching Feller play catch that March day in Winter Haven, I went over to a table where he was patiently signing autographs and reminiscing with fans. He had an amazing memory for games, players and situations long in the past. He never had any trouble getting Lou Gehrig out, for instance, but he gave Ted Williams credit as the greatest hitter he ever faced.

I didn't get an autograph from Feller that day, but I was impressed that he looked everyone in the eye and took time to talk and -- more important -- listen to each person who came by. By and large, today's professional athletes never look anyone in the eye during an interview and never say anything remotely interesting. (In my many years in journalism, I have found pro athletes -- by far -- the biggest jerks I've ever had to interview.)

Feller may have been a jerk to some, but he struck me as a straight-shooting Iowa farmer at heart -- someone who spoke his mind and had a clean conscience about his place in baseball history and the world at large.

By Matt Schudel  | December 17, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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