Templeton Wry - Remembering Bob Feller
September 23, 2013
Iowa icon Bob Feller recalled Carroll County fondly in a conversation with a Breda native.
Merle Wilberding has practiced law for more than 40 years. He is a 1962 graduate of St. Bernard High School in Breda. He then went on to graduate from St. Mary's University (Minnesota) and the University of Notre Dame School of Law, with additional master's degrees from George Washington University (tax), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (library science) and the University of Dayton (business administration). During the Vietnam War he served four years as a captain in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, representing the U.S. Government in the appeals of courts-marital convictions, including two of the most famous cases in military history: the "Presidio Mutiny" case and the "Lt. Calley My Lai Massacre" case. Wilberding currently serves as a senior partner at Coolidge Wall Co., LPA, a 35-person business law firm in Dayton, Ohio.
Aljazeera America had a great story (Sept. 16) about Templeton Rye, the famous whiskey of Prohibition days that has been legally incarnated and openly marketed. For many of us it brought back the stories about Al Capone and the other Chicago-area gangsters who demanded bottles of the "Good Stuff" bootlegged in from Templeton, Iowa.
It also brought back to me memories of Bob Feller, the great Iowa baseball player from Van Meter, Iowa, who had a connection to Templeton. Over a long career with the Cleveland Indians, Bob Feller pitched three no-hitters, won 266 games (lost 162), and struck out more than 2,500 batters. In 1962, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and remains today as one of the true icons of baseball.
About 15 years ago, Bob Feller came to Dayton (Ohio) and spoke to our Agonis Club, a social band of admittedly broken-down former athletes who still enjoy the ribald chatter of the sports locker rooms, albeit relegated now to vapid meeting rooms. Feller gave a great presentation, of course, for he loves to talk about his passion for baseball.
After the meeting I went up to him and introduced myself, telling Feller I grew up on a farm in Carroll County, Iowa. His eyes lit up, and his charm oozed out, as he started to talk about the days of his youth, when he would go barnstorming to small towns around Iowa and throw baseballs as hard as he could, against anyone willing to face him in the batter's box.
I told him that I understood that he had played in the Carroll area when he was young, and, with a shot of Templeton Wry humor, Bob Feller said, "Oh, yeah, I played for Templeton and other towns, sometimes under my own name and sometimes under a made-up name." In that same visit to Dayton, he told a local newspaper reporter that "I always kept my name simple - Bob Smith, Bob Jones - so I wouldn't forget it."
Bob loved to talk about Iowa, about Templeton, and about growing up on the farm. I told Bob that I followed his career as a boy growing up on the farm, and we shared stories about milking cows, baling hay, picking corn and other farmyard chores. I told him that my brother Larry and I would have baseball games on the farm, pitching to each other with the barn as the backstop. Feller smiled again with that wry sense of humor, saying that was how he learned to pitch, playing catch with his dad in the barn.
My brother Larry now lives in Florida and was a regular visitor to the Indians spring-training camps. He would often talk with Bob Feller about their days in Iowa. In one instance, Larry asked Bob Feller about Templeton Rye, and again, Bob smiled, saying wryly, "That was the good stuff."
When Bob Feller was pitching for Templeton and other area teams in 1935, he was only 15 or 16 years old, perhaps too young for alcohol, even during the days of Prohibition. So, we may never know whether Bob Feller ever had a swig of Templeton Rye, but we do know enough about his connection to Templeton that we can honestly call him the "Pitcher in the Rye."
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