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Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller dead at 92

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Feller, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians whose sizzling fastball earned him the nickname "Rapid Robert," died Wednesday in Cleveland from leukemia, the team said. He was 92.

Feller broke in with the Indians at age 17 in 1936 and his powerful fastball, clocked at over 100 miles per hour, made him the game's greatest strikeout pitcher over an 18-season career interrupted for nearly four seasons for military service.

In his time he became baseball's undisputed strikeout king, leading the American League seven times, posted six 20-win seasons, threw three no-hitters, and led the Indians to the World Series crown in 1948.

"I am saddened by the loss of Hall of Famer Bob Feller, truly one of the game's all-time great pitchers," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

"Bob was one of the first major leaguers to enlist following Pearl Harbor and served our country for nearly four years during the prime of his career. Bob Feller was a great pitcher, but he was first and foremost a great American."

Feller, considered the greatest Indians player, compiled a record of 266-162 in a career that ended in 1956.

"Bob Feller is gone. We cannot be surprised. Yet, it seems improbable," said Indians owner Larry Dolan.

"Bob has been such an integral part of our fabric, so much more than an ex-ballplayer, so much more than any Cleveland Indians player. He is Cleveland, Ohio."

STRIKEOUT KING

Feller, born in Van Meter, Iowa, struck out 15 batters in his major league debut as a starter at age 17. Before his next birthday, Feller followed with starts in which he registered 10, 17 and 10 strikeouts and threw five complete games.

Besides his no-hitters, Feller threw 12 one-hitters and 44 shutouts and one can only imagine his totals had he not missed those prime career years during his service in World War II.

His hitch in the Navy after enlisting the day after Pearl Harbor began after he had led the AL in victories for three seasons (with 24, 27 and 25 wins), and before he led two more times with 26 and 20 in 1946 and 1947.

Feller was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962 in his first year of eligibility, his name checked on 93.8 percent of the ballots cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

His percentage was the fourth highest received up to that time, with only Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner, members of the first class in 1936, getting higher percentages of votes.

(Writing by Larry Fine, Editing by Steve Ginsburg)