Everyone in baseball has bad days now and then. Even Babe Ruth, known for putting up cartoonishly crazy stats, had his days when he went 0-for-4. The big difference among Hall of Famers, good regulars, bench players, and guys who only get cups of coffee is often how frequently they avoid bad days.
Bob Feller is a well deserved Hall of Famer for his excellent 18 years career on the mound after astonishingly debuting at age 17. Had the Cy Young Award existed in his prime — it was first awarded in Feller’s final season — he likely would’ve won a couple, and he missed three full years at war, too. Yet on one day in 1938, the Yankees doomed him to not only a bad day, but maybe the worst of his career.
The 1938 season was arguably Feller’s breakthrough campaign. He had played in parts of the two prior seasons, but he made his first All-Star Game and cracked the 200-inning barrier for the first time at just 19. His numbers from that year would be even better were it not for his start against the Yankees on August 26th.
Before Feller even took the mound, his Cleveland offense gave him some run support. Facing off against New York’s Wes Ferrell, Cleveland took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. However, the Yankees struck right back in the bottom of the inning thanks to a two-RBI single from Joe DiMaggio.
Despite that, Cleveland once again gave Feller some breathing room, scoring two more runs in the second. However this time, the Yankees fought back with three runs, taking the lead. Feller didn’t help himself much, issuing three walks and a wild pitch over the course of the inning.
Things held there for a while, but the game then got very messy for Feller in the fifth inning. The Yankees’ first three batters all reached base, with Joe Glenn driving home two runs on a single as the third in that sequence. While Feller then got two outs, with a walk mixed in, things then completely fell apart for him. Tommy Henrich, DiMaggio, and Lou Gehrig all delivered RBI hits, with Gehrig’s being a back-breaking two-run homer. By the time the dust had settled on the inning, the Yankees had scored seven more runs and had opened up a 12-4 lead.
While Cleveland cut into that with a couple runs of their own in the sixth inning, the Yankees scored three more in the seventh. DiMaggio again delivered a big blow, hitting a two-run homer this time around. Finally, opposing skipper Ossie Vitt sent up a pinch-hitter for Feller in the top of the eighth inning, ending his very long day.
In the end, the final score of the very eventful day was 15-9, Yankees. DiMaggio led the way for the Yankees in a seven-RBI performance after going 4-for-6. George Selkirk was the only Yankee position player to not record a hit, while even Johnny Murphy, who had replaced Ferrell on the mound after 5.2 innings, got in on the action.
Let’s go back to Feller through. In his seven innings on the mound, he allowed 15 runs, all of which were earned, on 15 hits and nine walks. The 15 runs is by far the worst total he allowed not only that year, but over the course of his Hall of Fame. In fact, that was the only time he even allowed double digits in one game. Meanwhile, the 15 hits is only tied for the second worst total of his career. His -15 Game Score was also, unsurprisingly, the worse of his career.
Over the course of his 1938 season, Feller allowed 126 earned runs, meaning this game accounted for well over 10% of that total alone. Take out just this game, and his ERA for the season goes from 4.08 (a perfectly decent 113 ERA+) to 3.69. That would have put him 27th in the majors that season, opposed to the 38th place he actually finished in. His career ERA would even go from 3.25 to 3.23.
To be clear, the 1938 Yankees were a very good team. They won 99 games and the World Series, averaging 6.2 runs per game. Some of that came from them being very mean to a very young Bob Feller.
Baseball Reference Stathead