I n the long history of Major League Baseball, only one no-hitter has been thrown on Opening Day. And, even though it was a BIG DEAL when it happened, only one Bob Feller baseball card was produced to commemorate the event the following season.
If you’re a s
tickler for definitions, you might argue that 1941 Wheaties “Champs of the U.S.A.” issue is not a card
at all, but you can bet fans and collectors were thrilled to get their hands on any rendering of Rapid Robert as America ramped up our involvement in World War II.
Can’t Hit His Terrible Stuff
When Bob Feller took the mound against the Chicago White Sox at old Comiskey Park on April 16, 1940, he was coming off a 24-win season that had helped the Cleveland Indians to an 87-67 record and third-place American League finish in 1939. He was widely considered one of the best pitchers in the game, yet had just turned 21 the previous November.
That spring day, the youngster was still finding his groove for the new season, but so were White Sox hitters. In his nine innings, Feller walked five, struck out eight, and retired 15 straight batters through the middle of the game.
Yet, it took a diving, knock-down stop of a Taft Wright liner by Tribe second baseman Ray Mack to preserve the no-no.
Feller would go on to toss two more no-hitters in his storied career, and he generally maintained that his “stuff” was the worst in this first one.
In a hostile environment at the head of a promising season, though, Fellers’ repertoire and heat were more than enough to get by, with a little help from his infield friends.
Breakfast of Champs of the U.S.A.
In the spring and summer of 1941, the War was raging in Europe and tensions were rising in the US. We were not yet officially involved in the battles, but most Americans felt it was a matter of “when” we joined the fray, not if.
In the meantime, we had baseball to think about, especially the battle between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio for hitting supremacy. Their exploits captivated a nation as Williams marched toward .400 and DiMaggio threatened to never go h
itless again en route to a 56-game hitting streak.
Collectors were treated to a few mainstream sets that season, courtesy of Play Ball, Goudey, and Double Play, the latter pairing Feller with Joe Krakauskas. But this was 10 years before Topps burst on the scene and three-plus decades before “highlight” cards became a regular part of yearly issues, so hobbyinsts looking for a mention of Feller’s no-no were shutout — nearly.
Wheaties had been around for a couple of decades by 1941, and their association with sports stretched back nearly as far. Kids whose parents could afford the prepared cereal already had come to think of Wheaties as “The Breakfast of Champions.”
In 1940, General Mills had plastered each Wheaties box back with three “Champs of the U.S.A.,” profiling great athletes of the era. Each “card” featured a crude creme, blue, and orange rendering of the player, and Feller took his place among luminaries such as Byron Nelson, Jimmie Foxx, and Mabel Vinson, among others. Card backs, which formed the inside of the cereal boxes, were blank.
The series returned with 24 athletes in 1941, and Feller made his second appearance. This time, the block of bio text detailed his Opening Day no-hitter from 1940, becoming one of the first modern baseball issues to highlight an event from the previous season.
Today, you can occasionally find complete Wheaties box backs with Feller as part of a three-player panel with Bernie Bierman and Jessie McLeod. Those generally sell for around $100.
Less often seen for sale are hand-cut singles of Feller, either just the drawing or the complete drawing-plus-bio combination. A high-grade slabbed Feller with both pieces would likely bring a good deal more than the ungraded three-player specimens mentioned above.
If you want a vintage, in-the-moment cardboard commemoration of perhaps the greatest Opening Day performance of all time, though, the 1941 Wheaties Bob Feller baseball card is really the only game in town.