Archives February 2007
february2007

Softball legend Feigner dead at 81

February 11, 2007

Huntsville, AL


Eddie Feigner dead at the age of 81. Feb 9, 2007

From the Sports Illustrated web Site
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/more/02/09/obit.feigner.ap/

The softball world lost the largest personality in the history of the sport.

Dave Blackburn
daveb@virtvent.com



Eddie passing is the end of an era, so we celebrate a long life well lived, God Bless the King.

Spider Jones is Interviewing me tomorrow, Sunday at 4.30 PM CFRB 1010 AM, the Link is www.cfrb.com and just click on Listen Now, at the top of the first page.
 
Kind Regards Les Barber
lesbarber@sympatico.ca


keep an eye on the Website
www.kingandhiscourt.com
on breaking news it says all the arrangements should
be posted on there soon.

Services are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Eddie Feigner Legacy Wall in care of Anne Marie Feigner at P.O. Box 4884, Huntsville, AL, 35815.


Joe Pickering Jr. Songwriter   tribute

FROM AN ORPHAN TO A KING: Way back in 1952, I sat in Fraser Field in Lynn, Mass and watched the greatest pitcher I ever saw. He pitched from second base blind folded and struck out the batter. He also threw pitches behind his back and through his legs and still struck batters out. Plus, he was only playing with three other players against a 9 man team. He is one of the greatest barnstormers of all time and millions of fans have been privileged to see him. From an Orphan to a King is my song tribute to this man.

 

 

From an orphan to a king lyrics

 

 

Joe Pickering Jr. Songwriter   King of the Road Music BMI   Performed by Phil Coley

 

Eddie Feigner; with power and pizazz, 'King' ruled softball field

 

Eddie Feigner, a crowd-pleasing softball pitcher and showman who toured the world for 55 years as The King and His Court, died Friday from complications of dementia at Cogburn Health and Rehabilitation facility in Huntsville, Ala. He was 81.
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Mr. Feigner was, beyond dispute, the greatest softball pitcher who ever lived. In a barnstorming career that began in 1946, he and his four-man team were all but unbeatable.

At his peak, Mr. Feigner threw a softball harder than any major league pitcher has ever thrown a baseball. His underhand fastball was once timed at 104 miles per hour -- or, according to some accounts, 114 miles per hour. The fastest documented pitch thrown by a major league pitcher is 103 miles per hour.

Pitching in hundreds of games each year against local all-star teams, Mr. Feigner won 95 percent of the time. He and his "court," which included only a catcher, first baseman, and shortstop, played everywhere from Yankee Stadium to the Great Wall of China, with countless military bases, rodeo arenas, and cow pastures in between. He appeared in all 50 states and in 98 foreign countries.

In a 1967 exhibition at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Mr. Feigner faced a lineup of six Major League Baseball players. He struck out all six -- Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, and Harmon Killebrew -- in succession. All but Wills were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Feigner kept meticulous records of his victories (9,743), strikeouts (141,517), no-hitters (930), and perfect games (238). An excellent hitter as well, he once slugged 83 home runs in a 250-game exhibition season.

Beyond the staggering numbers, Mr. Feigner created his most lasting impressions with a series of remarkable pitching stunts. He could strike out players while blindfolded (8,698 times) or while pitching behind his back or between his legs. He had a curveball that would dip 18 inches. Since the standard softball mound is only 46 feet from home plate, Mr. Feigner would often give his opponents a chance by pitching from second base or, on occasion, from center field.

He often appeared on television and once knocked a cigar out of Johnny Carson's mouth with a pitch -- while wearing a blindfold. Yet Mr. Feigner had the misfortune to be supremely talented at a sport, men's fast-pitch fastball, that has all but disappeared. Sports Illustrated once called him "the most underrated athlete of his time."

"I'm a pipsqueak because I'm caught in a nothing game," Mr. Feigner said in 1972. "It's like being a world-champion noseblower."

Nevertheless, he persevered, driving from one small town to the next, leaving a trail of pleased fans and baffled hitters behind. During the 1981 Major League Baseball strike, before 16,000 fans at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., Mr. Feigner and his Court beat a nine-man team that included several major league players. He was 56 at the time.

Former major leaguer Jim Northrup said "no man alive" could hit him. "He just blew it by everybody."

Mr. Feigner was born in Walla Walla, Wash., on March 26, 1925, and was adopted at birth. His name as a child was Myrle Vernon King and, when he began his career, he adopted his mother's maiden name and a friend's first name.

He was thrown out of school in his teens and joined the Marine Corps during World War II but was discharged after a nervous breakdown. The one thing he could do well was throw.

He was pitching on adult softball teams by the time he was 9. In 1946, after beating an Oregon team 33-0, he responded to a taunt by saying, "I would play you with only my catcher."

His opponents took up the challenge, allowing Mr. Feigner to add a shortstop and first baseman. After practicing against inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Mr. Feigner and his four-man team had their rematch. He pitched a perfect game, striking out 19 of 21 batters.

In 1950, he dubbed his traveling team The King and His Court, and they became the Harlem Globetrotters of softball, complete with gaudy red-white-and-blue uniforms. Mr. Feigner, who always wore a flattop haircut, often arrived at the pitcher's mound in a red Cadillac convertible. His son, Eddie Jr., played alongside him for 25 years.

At his peak in the 1960s, Mr. Feigner made $100,000 a month.

"I've made more money at this than any other ballplayer at any other sport," he told the Washington Post in 1976.

In 2000, Mr. Feigner threw out the first pitch before the women's softball competition at the Olympic Games in Sydney. A day later, he had a stroke and never pitched again.

Besides his son, he leaves his fourth wife, Anne Marie Feigner, who played first base for The King and His Court; three daughters; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

 

Barnstorming Softball Star Feigner Dies

Eddie Feigner, the hard-throwing softball showman who barnstormed for more than 50 years with "The King and His Court" four-man team, died Friday. He was 81.

Feigner, the former Marine known for his trademark crewcut and bulging right arm, died in Huntsville, Ala., from a respiratory ailment related to dementia, wife Anne Marie Feigner said Friday night.

With a fastball once clocked at 104 mph, The King threw 930 no-hitters, 238 perfect games and struck out 141,517 batters while playing more than 10,000 games. He was inducted into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame in 2000.

A stroke in 2000 - a day after he threw out the first pitch before the women's softball competition in the Sydney Olympics - ended his playing career at age 75. He left the team for medical reasons last summer, and lived in Trenton, Tenn., for the last several years until recently moving to Huntsville.

Feigner, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, visited more than 300 military installations around the world during his long career, including a stop in Cuba last summer.

Feigner not only pitched from the standard mound, 46 feet from home plate, but also from second base, behind his back, on his knees, between his legs, from center field and blindfolded. In a nationally televised exhibition against major leaguers at Dodger Stadium in 1964, he struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente and Brooks Robinson in order

Feigner began "The King and His Court" in 1946 on a dare in his hometown of Walla Walla, Wash. He had just thrown a shutout in his nine-man team's rout of a team from Pendleton, Ore., and the Oregon team challenged him to another game. Backed by just a catcher, first baseman and shortstop, Feigner pitched a perfect game, winning 7-0.

At the height of Feigner's popularity, the team played at major league ballparks, including Yankee Stadium, and he appeared on numerous national television shows, including "The Today Show," "I've Got a Secret," "What's My Line?" and "CBS Sports Spectacular." On the "Tonight Show," he pitched blindfolded to Johnny Carson, who loosely held a bat over a home plate. Feigner hit Carson's bat on his first pitch.

"On the field, a master showman, brilliant pitcher, creator of the most popular softball attraction in history," said Jack Knight, a longtime friend and teammate. "And off the field, one tough son of a gun. He was a former Marine, everything was by the numbers. He made millions, and was generous to a fault."

In addition to wife, Feigner is survived by son Eddie Jr., who played with the team for 25 years; daughters Shirley, Carol and Debbie; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Services are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Eddie Feigner Legacy Wall in care of Anne Marie Feigner at P.O. Box 4884, Huntsville, AL, 35815.


Fear not, King, fear not

Canzano: Baby Eddie abandoned at hospital

L ast March, I traveled to rural Tennessee to visit with an 80-year-old man whose legs were so swollen he couldn't get out of bed anymore. I sat on the edge of his bed, and we drank root beer and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that his wife had prepared, and we talked.

That man was Eddie Feigner.

I'd met the barnstorming softball legend at the center of "The King and His Court" when he made an appearance in Portland the year before. I'd written a column about his six-decade career that brought so many happy families together. At the time of his visit, he'd had two strokes and was blind in one eye, and he was mulling ending the tour.

After that visit and that column, we talked once a week on the telephone. I'd call him. Feigner would tell wild stories about presidents, rock stars, professional athletes and life on the road. He talked. I recorded the conversations. At the end of every call, Feigner would invite me to visit him in Tennessee, and I'd tell him I wished I could, but I was too busy with work to come.

Maybe next time, I always said.

Until Anne Marie, Feigner's wife and tour manager, said he wasn't doing well. Then, I talked to "The King" on the phone, and he said one of his biggest fears was that he'd die without anyone knowing the truth -- "Not the Hollywood version," he said, "the real story."

Feigner died Friday. Today, you get the goods.

When I arrived at Feigner's house last March, I found it wasn't a house at all. It was an old hotel that had been converted into apartments. It had a gravel parking lot. And Feigner's unit was a tiny two-bedroom place with a wobbly screen door.

There were trophies and baseball jerseys, and paintings of a young Eddie Feigner all over the living room. The bedroom where Eddie and his wife slept, first door on the right, was cramped and small. There was a picture of "The Last Supper" on the wall above their bed. A U.S. flag was draped over a small television set. And Feigner was in bad shape.

"I don't much like your type," Eddie said that day. "You sportswriters always want to make things simple. If you want to get this right, you're going to have to listen. Pay attention now."

Feigner's story is not simple.

It's gnarled and knotty, as lives sometimes are. And in the hours we talked and shared a soft drink and sandwich, he laughed, and wept, and once, he even grabbed me by the shirt, with his giant hands, and asked, "You getting all this?!?"

Feigner told me about run-ins with mob figures, and hanging out with Elvis Presley, and Mickey Mantle, and Johnny Unitas. His stories included softball legends such as "Windmill" Hamlin and "Popeye" Jones. And Feigner explained that he'd played games in Sing Sing and Attica as part of a prison-entertainment tour.

He threw 104 mph, pitched blindfolded and could throw strikes from second base if he wanted to. There were 930 no-hitters and 10,000 games. But I asked Feigner about his legendary spring training feat in 1967, where he struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente and Pete Rose in succession.

He said: "I struck out Clemente on a between-the-legs pitch, and I got Killebrew with one behind my back. Everyone always forgets those things."

During our conversations, there were tales of a goodwill tour to Pakistan in which he was offered a harem of women. And another story from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, too, where "The King and His Court" performed with the sound of gunfire in the distance. And once, Feigner said, sitting straight up in his bed, John F. Kennedy had so badly wanted to see "The King and His Court" play that Secret Service agents stood with the president behind the left field fence and took in a performance.

But this isn't what Feigner was worried you wouldn't know before he passed.

For years, he'd told people that he was adopted and lived a happy childhood. And that's what he liked to say, because, "The real story is so painful nobody would believe it."

On March 26, 1925, Feigner was born to a single 19-year-old mother named Naomi in the back bedroom of the family home in College Place, Wash. Naomi's father, as Eddie tells it, didn't want the shame and embarrassment of an unwed mother in such a small, deeply religious community. As a result, he'd arranged with the family doctor to smuggle the newborn away.

The doctor fled with Eddie in a horse-drawn carriage. Naomi chased them through the snow with bare feet and was so distraught at the thought of her kidnapped child she eventually threw herself into a ditch to die.

Her sisters found her and pulled her out. The doctor took baby Eddie to the hospital in Walla Walla and abandoned him on the hospital steps with an unsigned note and left the scene. Nurses found him, and the following day, because they didn't know what to do, they gave him to a woman named Mary King, a devout Southern Baptist, who had arrived and lost her own baby during childbirth.

King took the baby Eddie home and never told a soul that he wasn't her biological child. Nobody asked -- why would they? And she raised him as her own.

It would be 20 years, spanning a painful childhood spent at boarding schools and a tour with the Marines, before Feigner would go looking for his own mother.

Eddie eventually found Naomi and called her on the telephone. She'd lived a half-mile away from him the whole time, and he'd even mowed her lawn once as a favor. Naomi, a free spirit, had earned her pilot's license, joined the Army Air Corps and ferried planes between England and Germany during World War II, but also had spent two decades heartbroken and looking for her son.

She invited him over for dinner, just the two of them.

When Eddie arrived, he found the dining room table filled with casseroles, pasta, a turkey, a ham, "every entree imaginable," he said. And Naomi said, "I didn't know what you liked, so I made one of everything."

Eddie smiled when he told me that part of the story. And he told me that his legacy should be that you can survive, and make a life for yourself, even when things take an unfortunate turn.

Maybe you'd be more entertained today hearing about Feigner pitching a softball, knocking a cigarette out of the host's mouth on "The Johnny Carson Show," or how he was flown by helicopter to Yankee Stadium once to pitch to Woody Allen, or by hearing Feigner talk about how Ted Williams told him late in life, "It's not my desire to be frozen. I believe in God."

But it's the story of Feigner's childhood, and his quest to find his biological mother, that always leaves me on the edge of my seat. Every time I see a single mother. Every time I hear people talking about stigmas. Every time, I think about how a kid used his athletic talent to escape his own pain, and put so many smiles on the faces of so many others, I think about Feigner. And I think about what he must have thought about seeing all those happy families together.

I wrote early on in this column that "one" of Feigner's biggest fears was that he'd die without people knowing his real story before he died. His wife called Thursday to tell me, "It's any day now," and then, he passed Friday from a respiratory ailment. But Feigner's other big fear, you should know, was that people would forget him when he was gone.

Not a chance, King.

John Canzano: 503-294-5065; JohnCanzano@aol.com; to read his blog, go to http://johncanzano.blogs.oregonlive.com Catch him on the radio on "The Bald-Faced Truth," KFXX (1080), weekdays at 5:25 p.m.


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