One day early in the 1940 season, Bob Feller’s Cleveland Indians were in Chicago for a series against the White Sox when Lew Fonseca approached him before a game. At the time, Fonseca headed the Major League Film Division, but he once was also an ex-player, good enough to lead the American League in hitting (.369) in 1929. Fonseca’s idea was to have Feller throw his fastball in direct competition with a speeding motorcycle to determine whether the baseball or the cycle would reach home plate first.
Not knowing the details of the test (which Fonseca would film), Feller showed up wearing civilian clothes, dress shoes, long pants, a white shirt, and a necktie. The experiment was conducted on a street blocked off by the police near Lincoln Park, where the requisite 60’ 6” between the rubber and the plate were carefully measured and marked. In lieu of a catcher, the target was a cantaloupe-sized bull’s-eye suspended from a wooden frame.
Feller took off his tie, undid the top button of his shirt and warmed up with Fonseca for a few minutes. When Feller was ready, the driver started his machine and began his run far enough in back of the pitcher so as to pass Rapid Robert motoring at 86-mph just as the ball was released. But the timing was a bit off, and the motorcycle was about two feet beyond Feller when the ball came out of the pitcher’s hand.
The test had a pair of incredible outcomes: Feller’s first and only pitch zipped through the middle of the target. And the ball beat the motorcycle to the plate by 13 feet.
Using some basic math, the speed of the pitch was determined to be 104-mph.
Several years later, Feller was wearing a baseball uniform and pitching from a mound when his delivery was measured by an electric-zone device at the Aberdeen Ordinance Plant in Washington, D.C., and was clocked at 107.9-mph.