At Dodger Stadium out on L A, back in 1967, they held an exhibition game. Six of baseball’s reigning heavy-hitters lined up to go to the plate. History doesn’t record whether they were prepared for the humiliation they were about to endure, but it does record the outcome.
One by one, in consecutive innings, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew were each, ignominiously, struck out. Later in the game, the great Pete Rose suffered the same fate…twice.
The pitcher who performed this amazing feat said afterwards, with a hint of understatement, “It was a mismatch.”
Though he was basically a modest man. this guy was never afraid to show off his skills. He went on the Johnny Carson show and persuaded Johnny to kneel down facing the audience with a cigar in his mouth. The pitcher paced off the distance, then hurled a pitch and knocked the cigar out of Johnny’s mouth. Now, that’s quite a stunt, and you gotta hand it to Johnny for having the guts to take part in it. But then, Johnny didn’t know that the pitcher was blindfolded.
If you’re trying to remember who this guy was and can’t, don’t feel bad. Though he remains relatively unknown, in 1972 Sports Illustrated named him “The most underrated athlete of his time.”
In 2000 the same magazine named his team as the United States’ eight-greatest team of the 20th century. And a 2002 ESPN.com list named him among the top 10 pitchers of all time, in a list that included Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax.
His name was Eddie Feigner (pronounced “FAY-nor”) and he was the greatest fast-pitch softball pitcher of all time.
In an era when big-league pitchers made 100k a year, Feigner made that much in a month. In an athletic career that spanned six decades, he and his team, the King And His Court, barnstormed around the world, playing in all 50 States and 104 countries, performing before 20,800,00 fans in 4405 cities, sometimes playing three games in one day in three different stadiums. enabling Feigner to compile the following outrageous record:
Total Games Pitched In………………………….11.125
Total games won…………………………………….9,743
Games tied……………………………………………… 310
Total Perfect Games…………………………………238
That’s quite a list, but apparently Eddie Feigner’s favorite statistic was,
Total Batters Stuck Out While Blindfolded………8.698
But Feigner didn’t just strike out batters pitching blindfolded. He did it behind his back, between his legs, and kneeling down. If he wanted to humble the hitter, he struck him out from second base, and if he really wanted to get fancy, he did it from center field.
One batter, quoted in The Orlando Sentinel, described what it was like to face Feigner. “I was waiting for a pitch, heard a noise, watched the catcher throw the ball back. It was incredible. There was no way to get the bat off my shoulder before the ball got there. I don’t know how anybody ever hit the guy.”
The previously mention baseball greats probably wondered the same thing, after they faced his repertoire of 103 mph fastballs, curves that broke 18 inches, interspersed with sliders and change-ups thrown at five different speeds.
His record is all the more impressive considering that The King And His Court consisted of only four players. Feigner believed he could get by with just a catcher and first-baseman, but if he and his teammates came to bat and were all walked, they’d be screwed, so he added a shortstop.
Though he became one of history’s greatest athletes, Feigner’s life did not get off to a good start. Left as a newborn at the door of an orphanage in Walla Walla, Washington with a note pinned to his blanket that read. “This is a Protestant baby”, Feigner step-mother named him Myrtle Vernon King.
Mrs. King raised him as a Seventh Day Adventist, a religion that did not allow baseball playing, but had no admonition against softball, so Eddie went to work teaching himself how to pitch, and by age 16 was humiliating batters in men’s leagues, becoming so proficient that one league banned him from the mound.
He was a troublesome youth. He was expelled from school and drifted for years supporting himself at menial jobs till joining the Marine Corps. then had two nervous breakdowns, got married and divorced twice and twice attempted suicide, after which the Corps locked him in the X-Ward.
Feigner said. “The X-Ward was a place for wackos and I belonged. I was wacky and wanted to die.I was a pitiful screwed-up person with no home and no father and no real mother I knew about. I was also an uncouth, uneducated, arrogant, belligerent, no-good miserable excuse for a human being. I was bent on destroying myself. A psychiatrist told me I’d never straighten up until I found my mother. When I did, I completely changed my life.”
After a search that began in the Walla Walla library, Eddie located his birth mother in December of 1945, in a reunion that, if his account of it is accurate, was reminiscent of a 40’s Hollywood tearjerker Her name was Naomi Feigner and she lived in the same town and had often hired Eddie to mow her lawn, never realizing that he was her son.
And so Myrtle Vernon King changed his name to Eddie Feigner, a name that would make athletic history.
Eddie Feigner pitched actively well into his sixties and died in 2007 at the age of 81, but long before that he voiced his opinion of his place in the world of sports. “I’m a pipsqueak.” he said, “because I’m caught in a nothing game. It’s like being a world champion nose blower.”
Though Eddie may have thought little of his relative place in athletic history, we can be sure he drew consolation from knowing that, though in every sport there are endless arguments about who was the greatest at what, in his chosen field of endeavor Eddie Feigner was, is now, and forever will be, indisputably…The King!
Keep swingin’ for the fences, friends,
The News Tribune, Believe it or not, there was a strikeout king before Felix, John McGrath, August 4, 2014
The Wayback Machine. Fast Edie Feigner, August 19, 2004
The New York Times. Eddie Feigner, Hard-Throwing, Barnstorming Showman Of softball, Dies at 81. Feb 12, 2007
From An Orphan To a King, Eddie Feighner, Sheridan Books Inc, 2004