Bob Feller’s baseball career began before he was even technically an adult. He debuted at the age of 17 with the Cleveland Indians in 1936 and quickly impressed, going 5-3 while striking out 76 batters in only 62 innings pitched. Feller would continue to improve and really broke through as a star in 1938 at the age of 19. That year, he was named as an All-Star for the first time and led the league with 240 strikeouts.
From 1939-41, he also led the league in victories and strikeouts before taking time off for World War II in becoming one of the game’s most dominant pitchers during that stretch. He would return in 1945 and continue beating up on the competition, leading the league in strikeouts three more times on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
Because Feller started his career so early, you can find him on quite a few cards before he even turned 20 in November of 1939. Here are five of Feller’s cards depicting him as a teenage phenom.
1938 Goudey Heads Up
This is arguably the most popular of all of Bob Feller’s earliest cards. It isn’t technically a rookie card but you will sometimes see it erroneously listed as one.
Like others in the 1938 Goudey Heads Up set, Feller is included in the release twice as each of the 24 players found in it has both a low number and high number card. The cards are cartoonish by nature and not for everyone. But if you’re looking for a relatively common early Feller card, these certainly fit the bill.
As with other 1938 Heads Up cards, one of Feller’s has a blank background and others, like the card shown here, have a series of cartoon sketches and captions. Both are generally available on eBay. They aren’t cheap and you can expect to pay at least $400-$500 for one in decent shape.
1939-46 Exhibit Salutations
This one is right at the edge of the scale but since the set started printing in 1939, I’m going to squeeze it in.
The 1939-46 Exhibit Salutations cards were postcard-like, oversized cards with blank backs. The cards included the player’s name as well as a common phrase/greeting, such as ‘Sincerely’. One of the great things about this set is its affordability with many commons available for as little as $5-$10.
Despite it picturing a young Feller at the top of his game, you can pick these up for a very reasonable outlay.
The debate of Bob Feller’s true rookie card is one that can be a long, drawn out conversation. Feller has an earlier issue in the rare 1936 Sport Stamps set (a series of small stamps printed on newspaper pages) but the 1937 O-Pee-Chee is probably what most collectors would declare to be the flamethrower’s truest rookie edition.
Printed in Canada, this one isn’t terribly easy to find and it’s extremely valuable. And designed as a pop up card, you will sometimes see these with the background / outfield area removed. Even in that scenario, these cards are still collected and desired. In low-grade shape, Feller will still usually run a few hundred bucks. Lelands offered a PSA 8 in 2015 that sold for more than $4,000.
Another card that can stake a claim in the rookie card debate for Bob Feller is the 1937 R314 photo premium. While these are typically recognized as Type 4 of the R314 set, they are really a separate Canadian issue that Jefferson Burdick identified as V352 in his American Card Catalog, as I cover here.
Despite the confusion, there’s no doubting that this is a very early image of Feller as he’s preparing to throw a pitch. These postcard-sized photos (approximately) are sometimes called 1936 issues but this particular subset is believed to be from 1937.
Even though it’s a photograph and not a traditional card, don’t expect these to come cheap. In decent shape, they typically start around $300 and you can usually find a few on eBay.
A final early card of Bob Feller can be found in the 1938 Dixie Lids set. Feller actually has two Dixie Lids issues and neither is your run-of-the-mill baseball card.
One version is the circular lid that was found on ice cream packages. Dixie Lids printed numerous celebrities and athletes on the lids of their ice cream products and Feller is in the 1938 set.
Feller is also found on an 8×10 photo premium offered by the company that year as well. The premium shown here pictures a young Feller in a popular pose. Glossy, full color and often found in nice condition, the Dixie Lid premiums are beautiful cards and rarely expensive.