"Smokey Joe [Williams] could throw harder than all of them."
-- Satchel Paige
"If anybody threw that ball any harder than Rapid Robert, then the human eye couldn't follow it."
-- Satchel Paige
Who knows whether anyone has thrown a baseball harder than Bob Feller -- or could?
While the two assertions of Paige are not necessarily contradictory, they do suggest a difference in opinion exists in the area of who threw hardest. And his assessments didn't take into consideration Ryan, Radatz, Robb, Randy or J.R. They threw pretty hard, too.
Rapid Robert Feller maintained that the velocity of one of his pitches had been clocked at 107.9 mph during a demonstration at Griffith Stadium in Washington in 1946. That was the year he struck out 348 batters, the most in the big leagues from 1905 (349, Rube Waddell in 1904) through 1964 (382, Sandy Koufax in 1965).
Despite missing three full seasons and most of a fourth because of military service, Bob Feller led the big leagues in strikeouts, with 1,774, in an 11-season sequence that began in 1938. The second and third highest totals in that sequence were 1,488 by Bobo Newsom and 1,439 by two-time MVP Hal Newhouser.
Newsom missed no time in those 11 seasons, and Newhouser, who began his career in 1939 and made but one start that year, pitched regularly through 1948. He led the league in strikeouts in his MVP seasons, 1944 and 1945, war years in which the big league talent level was decidedly diluted.
Feller's 1938-48 total was 286 greater than Newsom's, a significant difference. Indeed, 286 is greater than the single-season total of any American League pitcher from 1913, the year following 303 strikeouts by Walter Johnson, through 1964, the year before Sam McDowell struck out 325. So the advantage Feller enjoyed was such that he could have missed another season and still been the leader over those 11 years.
One more thing: Imagine the strikeout totals could Feller have amassed if he pitched during the war years against the diluted talent.
And a somewhat related fact: Twice in baseball history has a pitcher struck out his age. Feller struck out 17 batters against the Philadelphia A's on Sept. 13, 1936, when he was 17. Sixty-two years later, Cubs rookie Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros batters. Wood would turn 21 the following month.
-- Marty Noble
But strikeouts are not a measurement of velocity. And it seems that measuring the speed of a pitch is an inexact science if only because the "scientists" don't agree in how and where it should measured -- as the pitch leaves the hand, when it arrives at the hitting zone or some average of the two figures.
Radar guns in big league parks tell different tales, and scoreboards are known to embellish, or in the case of visiting pitchers, shave some miles per hour off the reading. Scouts in exhibition games in March cackle about how often guns from the same manufacturer with the same calibration produce different readings on the same pitch.
Suffice it to say Feller threw really hard, and maybe harder than most. As he said, "I just reared back and let them go." And that usually was enough.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.