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On This Date in Sports September 8, 1939: 20 wins at 20

With a 12-1 win over the St. Louis Browns at Sportsman’s Park, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians becomes the youngest pitcher to win 20 games in a season. Feller would finish the season with a record of 24-9, with a 2.85 ERA and a league-leading 246 strikeouts. The 24 also were top in the American League. Dwight Gooden would top the record by 27 days in 1985.

Bob Feller was born in Van Meeter, Iowa, on November 3, 1918. So impressive was Feller that the Cleveland Indians signed him at the age of 17. Making his debut on July 19, 1936, Bob Feller was baseball’s teenage phenomenon as he struck out 15 Browns in his first career start. Feller would finish his rookie year with a record of 5-3 with an ERA of 3.34, splitting his time between starting and pitching in the bullpen. Feller continued to develop in 1938 before reaching true stardom in 1939, as he posted a record of 17-11, with a 4.08 ERA and a league-high 240 strikeouts.

Nicked named “Rapid Robert” and the “Heater from Van Meeter,” Bob Feller got better each passing year. In 1939, as he reached the age of 20, he reached 20 wins for the first time in his career. Feller would get his 20th win in a 12-1 win over the St. Louis Browns as he pitched a complete game, allowing one run on five hits while striking out five Browns. Feller was 20, 10 months, and five days old when he achieved his 20th win in 1939. Bob Feller would finish the 1939 season with a league-high 24 wins and a 2.85 ERA as he led the league in strikeouts for the second straight season at 246.

Bob Feller would follow his first 20-win season with a No-Hitter on Opening Day in 1940. It was the first of three No-Hitters by Feller. He was the first to throw three No-Hitters in the live-ball era. Bob Feller would win a career-best 27 games in 1940, winning the American League Pitcher’s Triple Crown with an ERA of 2.61 and 261 strikeouts. Feller continued to lead the league in wins in 1941. That winter, he was among the first baseball players to enlist in the Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Bob Feller chose the service over a new contract with the Indians, feeling it was his duty to his country. Feller would spend much of World War II aboard the USS Alabama, which was involved in several battles in the Pacific Theater. When the war in the Pacific was over, Feller returned to the Indians and continued to be the best pitcher in baseball, winning 26 games to lead the league again in 1946. Bob Feller would pitch until 1956, finishing his career with a record of 266-162 and a 3.25 ERA with 2,581 career strikeouts.

Bob Feller’s record of being the young 20-game winner would fall in 1985 when Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets reached 20 wins at 20 years old, nine months, and nine days old.