Thursday, February 15, 2007
I almost killed the King
I wasn't planning to write about the death last week of 81-year-old Eddie Feigner, the world's greatest (fastpitch softball) pitcher ever.
That is until sport columnist Kirk Wessler of the Peoria Journal Star wrote an interesting column bragging about hitting a double off Feigner in 1981 or 1982.
Well, Kirk, I tripled off Feigner, and almost killed him, all in the same game.
A little background. As Kirk noted in his column, Feigner was known as the King and his barnstorming act as the King and his Court. For decades, Feigner and three teammates would face full nine-man teams in exhibition games before packed stadiums across the country.
Feigner was so good that he regularly struck out the finest hitters in major league baseball in other exhibitions. As Wessler noted in his column, in 1964, Feigner struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente and Brooks Robinson in order. All but Wills are enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame. I remember as a kid watching Feigner and his act on the Wide World of Sports, a much-watched TV show that aired every Saturday.
Fast forward to 1986. Feigner was 61 years old and I was playing fastpitch softball and working as a reporter for the Daily Herald. Our team in Highland Park was probably the best in the Chicago area and we were selected to play the King and His Court at Thillens Stadium on the northwest side of Chicago.
Because he was 61 years old and playing games every night, there wasn't much juice left in Feigner's pitches that night. We were hitting the ball fairly hard and because he had only two fielders other than the catcher, most balls were falling for hits. I hit a triple to the abandoned outfield in one of the early innings.
I came to bat later and it was time for Feigner's trademark blindfold trick where he pitched with his eyes covered. A fielder put a blindfold on Feigner and stood next to him for protection. The catcher told me not to hit the ball back through the middle. I said to myself, "OK, I'll hit the ball to the right side."
Easier said than done with the trick balls Feigner used. The softballs were lighter than regular softballs so they curved more. I swung easily trying to hit the ball to rightfield but the dancing ball darted toward my hands at the last second. My swing was not hard but the contact was perfect. Right back at Feigner's forehead.
Luckily, the fielder stuck his glove in front of Feigner's face and stopped the ball inches from contact. Feigner whipped his blindfold off and stormed toward me, screaming '"f- you, the interview's off" at the top of his lungs in front of the crowd of 1,200, including many adoring young fans. The interview he was referring to was one I had pre-arranged with him after a lengthy phone interview several weeks prior. I was writing a profile for the Daily Herald.
I wrote the profile anyway and was thankful he gave me a first-hand demonstration of his legendary temper, which Kirk also noted in his column.
Despite that outburst, it was an honor to play in a game with such a legend. Anyone who has played fastpitch softball knows how good he was. In my profile, I noted that Feigner had already registered 921 no-hitters in his career.
The King is dead, but far from forgotten.