THE KING OF WALLA WALLA AND THE GLOBETROTTERS OF SOFTBALL: Four Against Nine
In a sports world that is driven by up to the minute statistical comparisons, Eddie Feigner (FAY-NER) dominated his sport like no one before or since. Even the status of amazing athletes like Jordan, Nicklaus and Edwin Moses' as the best in their field, is often debated in drinking holes and at work sites every day. However, there is no debate that Feigner was the best ever among his peers. His raw stats are head and shoulders above any one else, and they will never be touched. If you stare at them long enough, your head will become woozy with the mere thought of the enormity of them. In his 65 year career, the softball pitcher performed before 17 million people, traveled 4 million miles, in over 100 different countries worldwide. His staggering stats consist of 9,743 wins, 141,517 strikeouts, 930 perfect games, and a winning percentage of .973. Feigner wasn't chopped liver when it came to swinging the bat. He once hit 55 home runs in a 250 game season. No one could have ever imagined that the boy from such humble beginnings, would go on to such unprecedented success and bring so much joy to so many people.
THE BIRTH OF A KING
Myrle Vernon King was born on March 25, 1925 in Walla Walla Washington. Details are sketchy, but upon his birth he was abandoned on the steps of St. Mary's Catholic Hospital. He was adopted that same day by a god-fearing religious woman named Mary King. Mary's husband had left her during the Great Depression, and the child seem to fill a void in her lonely life. She was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who raised her son in a strict religious environment. During his childhood, he was prohibited from watching movies or listening to the radio. He was only allowed to read the bible and his school texts. After he was finished with his household chores, the youngster would escape to skip stones across a nearby river or throw rocks at bottles. He lived a poor and lonely childhood, and was never accepted by the kids in his school. His classmates would mercilessly ridicule the boy, calling him names like the "little bastard." They would beat the boy up and never have any social interaction with him.
After years of the abuse, he was befriended by a kid named Eddie Cotts. Upon watching the other kids dunking Myrle in a river repeatedly, Eddie had seen enough, and came to the boys defense. Nobody dared mess with Eddie Cotts. He was fast, strong, and he loved to fight. From that day forward no one messed with Myrle for fear of retribution at the hands of his best friend, Eddie. His love for fighting would eventually cost him his own life at the age of 16 when a lumberjack stabbed him for talking to his girlfriend. However, the two were inseparable during their childhood, and with Eddie in his corner, Myrle slowly but surely began to feel a sense of empowerment, and found the courage to be more extroverted in his demeanor. Instead of bullying him though, the other kids just ignored him and would never invite him to participate in their social functions. That was fine by Myrle, except for one thing; Myrle wanted to play softball. The other kids would rather be caught dead than be seen with the homely, poor boy. Every day, as his classmates played the game during recess, Myrle would be seen sitting under a tree. He could be found there wistfully watching his peers, having so much fun hitting the ball and playing catch with one another.
When Myrle was eight years old, a half Cherokee lad named Meade Kinzler, moved to his town. Because of Kinzler's racial background, the kids were just as open with their disdain for him as well, and a bond was formed between the two outcasts. Every day like clockwork, the boys would get together in Kinzler's yard and play catch until they couldn't see their gloves two inches from their face, due to darkness. Years of throwing stones had given Myrle a powerful arm, and the adults in the neighborhood took notice and asked him to pitch in their softball league. At the age of nine, he began pitching for a local team and was dominating players who were up to three and four times his age. With Kinzler as his catcher, the two were unstoppable. By all accounts the two would go on to be unbeaten for 13 straight years.
THE KING AND HIS INNER DEMONS
Upon the onset of World War II, like most American boys of that time, Myrle decided to lay the bat and glove down and joined the Marines. However, the young man was filled with loneliness and sorrow, and the inner demons began to take over his life. Because of his feelings of abandonment, he turned to drinking. Many times in a drunken despair, with two failed marriages already under his belt, King attempted suicide by slashing his wrist or ramming his jeep into trees. He had continuous nervous breakdowns, and most of his time was spent in and out of the hospital for numerous physical and psychological ailments. After a training exercise gone wrong, which left Myrle suffering a concussed cracked skull and numerous facial wounds, the Marines discharged him and sent him home.
When he returned home, Myrle decided to look for his mother who had abandoned him. One day while rummaging through the Walla Walla Hall of Records, he came across an open letter from a Naomi Feigner, who claimed to have given birth to a baby boy on March 25, 1925, and she was desperately searching for him. Ironically he had been cutting the lawn and running errands for this very same woman for two years, without either one of them knowing about the other. His mother, who had been left by his father after getting pregnant, was in a better place in life now, having married a successful grocery store owner. On December 16,1945 the reunion was joyful for both mother and son, and Myrle moved into her house immediately. Within days, Naomi bought her long lost son a new car and a wardrobe of clothes. A week later Myrle felt like a new person, and had his name officially changed to Eddie Feigner. He took the mother's last name and assumed the name Eddie, after his childhood chum Eddie Cotts. With a renewed vigor for life, Eddie put all his focus on playing softball. As he entered into his prime years, his arm became even more powerful. He refined his mechanics, and began experimenting with different windups. His game was progressing at an astounding rate now. He had 4oo windups with 5 different hand speeds. His curve ball began dropping up to 18 inches, and his fastball was clocked at 104 MPH. He was now untouchable, and began striking people out with pitches behind his back. The teams he played for were going undefeated year after year, and the more he progressed, the more confidence the pitcher was attaining. Anyone who has played this game will tell you that a pitcher who throws that hard at so many angles with confidence in his back pocket, is a dangerous animal.
THE KING AND HIS COURT
In the spring of 1946, Feigner was pitching for Killbugs Grocery, versus a team from a nearby neighborhood named Pendelton. Behind a perfect game from the arm of Eddie, Killbugs won the game 33-0. As the two teams were hanging together at a local bar, Team Pendelton began talking trash and offering excuses for the results of the game. As a surly Fiegner was getting up to leave the establishment, a player from Pendelton challenged him to a rematch when all their players were healthy. An angry Feigner turned around and said through clenched teeth, " You're pathetic, I could lick you with just my catcher (Meade)!!" Thus setting the table of historical proportions, for the King and His Court. After a few minutes of negotiations, in the middle of the small stale bar, it was determined that the pitcher would be accompanied by any three players of his choice. The two teams agreed to four players in case the bases were loaded, and there was a need for that fourth batter. Pendelton was expecting two players back from injured legs in a couple of weeks, so the game would be a week after their return.
Eddie Fiegner and his three teammates disappeared behind the walls of Washington State Penitentiary for practice. Curiously amused inmates would stare for hours, as the players figured out ways to make the team work. Meanwhile, the neighborhoods of Walla Walla and Pendelton were abuzz over the challenge. Everyone was talking about the team that called themselves The King And His Court, taking on the mighty Pendelton with four men. Finally the big day arrived, and to Eddie's surprise over 400 people from the two hoods showed up to watch the game. The King and His Court won the game 1-0, and Eddie threw a perfect game, striking out 19 of 21 batters faced. During the last inning, with a massive crowd looking on, Eddie was in cruise control and feeling feisty. In a moment of boredom and cockiness, Eddie struck out the last batter, while pitching from second base. The crowd went absolutely crazy at this incredibly ridiculous event they were watching. While basking in the glow of the teams accomplishment, the King knew he was on to something. It was time for the King and His Court to take their act on the road.
THE KING AND HIS COURT ISSUE THE CHALLENGE
The team came up with a barnstorming tour, where they would publicly challenge the best teams in town to a friendly four on nine game of softball. It started out slowly because the American Softball Association was banning their players from playing in the games. Eddie and the boys adopted red, white, and blue uniforms like the Harlem Globetrotters and they would go town to town, issuing out the challenge to any and all takers. They would play in cow fields, airplane runways, basketball courts, prison yards, or any where they could. As they played, they would mix in showmanship with their stories and jokes. The King began striking people out between his legs, around his back, and blindfolded (that's right folks, blindfolded). He would strike batters out, pitching from second base, then from centerfield. He even had a famous hidden-ball pitch that he loved to sport. He would go through one of his 2,000 windups and appear to pitch the ball, all the while throwing the ball in his glove, behind his back. The catcher, who was in on the gag, would jump up to obscure the umpires vision, while the batter would swing at a pitch that never happened. His skills were virtually limitless, and the gate receipts kept getting bigger and bigger. Finally a team in Waverly, Florida, decided to oppose the ASA's rules and accept the challenge from The King And His Court with a $1,600 prize at stake.Waverly would have been better off holding on to that money and playing nine man teams for free. Eddie and the Court couldn't believe they were playing softball 3,000 miles from home, making a living, and entertaining so many people.
Long rides in station wagons, gave way to buses. Fairground ball fields were turning into The Great Wall of China. Everywhere the King and His Court went, they amazed and astounded the fans. It was a whole four years before anyone was able to beat them. The King, with his Johnny Unitas buzz top haircut, became the Barnum and Bailey of the softball vaudeville act. They would interact with the crowds and would sell pins, pennants, and programs. Though the team was owned by the players, Eddie was the star. Through the years, the team took on various players, but the King never abdicated his throne. They performed on the Johnny Carson show, with Eddie knocking a cigar out of Johnny's mouth, blindfolded. In a 1967 exhibition game at Dodger Stadium the King struck out Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, and Harmon Killebrew in succession. By my count ladies and gentleman, that's five hall of famers and the single season record holder in steals, until Rickey Henderson came along.
Eddie was offered a contract from the Dodgers and the Giants to play major league baseball. The Washington Redskins gave the King a tryout and he threw a football 85 yards on the fly, as well as a 50 yard pass from behind his back. However, Eddie's love was softball, and his passion was playing to the crowd like the consummate showman that he was.. He had the greatest arm ever in the history of mankind and he knew it. Whenever he would he would be reminded of this, he would simply shrug and say, " Being the greatest softball pitcher ever is like being the greatest nose blower ever. It's just not that big of a deal." It must be easy to be so coy when you've struck out,8,698 batters..... while being blindfolded.
Even when his arm speed started to decline, he was still able to dominate, because of the filthy movement of the ball. For 66 years the King shut down almost all opposing batters he faced. In 2000, after recently being inducted into the Seniors Softball Hall of Fame, Eddie threw his last pitch, a perfect strike at the opening softball game of the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. A day later, the King had a massive stroke. Though he didn't pitch anymore after that, he toured with the team as an emcee until he died due to complications from dementia in 2007. His arm was donated to science after his death. The King and His Court, still tour today, but the game is not predicated on wins and losses anymore. No one has an arm that could ever replace King's. The tour is now based on having fun and trying to keep the dying sport of fast pitch softball alive. I can remember watching ESPN, pimping out the greatest 50 players of the 1900s. I find it insulting that the horse Secretariet was given a slot, while a true HUMAN athlete like Feigner isn't on the list. As amazing as Secretariet was, I have one word for you......HORSE!! Enough said.
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