Bob Feller (Trading Card DB)

September 29, 1946: Bob Feller sets AL strikeout record in Hank Greenberg’s final game as a Tiger

This article was written by Tom Thress

Bob Feller (Trading Card DB)Sometimes the significance of a game is known at the time. But sometimes the significance of a game is only fully grasped with the benefit of hindsight. And sometimes the significance of a game changes over time based on subsequent events. The game played between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers on September 29, 1946, is an example of this last type of game.

The final American League standings for 1946 were set long before the final day of the season. The Boston Red Sox had clinched the AL pennant for the first time since 1918; nobody else had come within 10 games of first since early July.1 Nevertheless, 47,876 fans poured into Briggs Stadium in Detroit on Sunday, September 29, to watch the second-place Detroit Tigers face the sixth-place Cleveland Indians. The main draw was the starting pitchers matchup.

Pitching for the Tigers was two-time MVP Hal Newhouser. After dominating war-depleted lineups in 1944 and 1945 and leading the Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship, the 25-year-old left-hander proved in 1946 that he was not simply a wartime fluke. He entered the final game of the season with a record of 26-8, a 2.06 ERA, and 268 strikeouts in 283⅔ innings pitched. He was leading the league in wins and ERA and was second in innings pitched and strikeouts.

Newhouser’s opponent was 27-year-old righty Bob Feller, who had been the best pitcher in the American League prior to World War II, finishing in the top three in MVP voting in 1939, 1940, and 1941, before enlisting in the Navy two days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.2

Returning to the majors in August 1945, Feller came back better than ever. He entered his final start of 1946 leading the AL in games pitched (47), games started (41), complete games (35), shutouts (10), innings pitched (362⅓), and strikeouts (343), while trailing only Newhouser with 25 wins (against 15 losses) and a 2.14 ERA. He had no-hit the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 30.

What likely drew many of the 47,000-plus fans to the ballpark was Feller’s most noteworthy accomplishment of the 1946 season. He entered the final day of the season with 343 strikeouts, a total believed to tie the AL record set by Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1904. Feller had tied Waddell’s record two days earlier, striking out six Tigers in a five-inning relief stint. The record-tying strikeout victim was Jimmy Outlaw leading off the ninth inning. In an interview in 1961, Feller recalled that he almost set the record by striking out Hank Greenberg that inning, but catcher Jim Hegan couldn’t hold a 2-and-2 foul tip and Greenberg ended up walking.3

According to Feller, manager Lou Boudreau promised to let him pitch another inning or two in relief on Saturday to set the record. But the Indians front office insisted that Feller start Sunday against Newhouser to ensure the crowd. Since Sunday was the last game of the season, Feller worried about the game possibly getting rained out. And in fact it did rain Sunday morning, according to Feller. But eventually, the skies cleared and the game was played.4

In a bit of a twist, Newhouser was the strikeout star early in the game, fanning six Indians through the first three innings. Feller – whose previous appearance at Briggs Stadium had ended when the Tigers scored eight runs in the fourth inning on September 5 – had no strikeouts through three innings.5

But Newhouser cracked first, in the top of the fourth. With two out, Cleveland right fielder Hank Edwards doubled and scored the game’s first run when Texas League batting champion Dale Mitchell, appearing in his 11th major-league game and coming off back-to-back three-hit days, singled to center field.

Pat Seerey’s single on a grounder to third baseman George Kell put runners on first and second. Mitchell scored from second on Ray Mack’s pop-fly single to center field, and Seerey scored on Jim Hegan’s single.6 Hegan was caught stealing for the third out, but the Indians led, 3-0, at the end of four innings.

Feller finally got his record-setting strikeout when he fanned Newhouser leading off the fifth inning.7 As it happened, it was also the only inning in which Feller allowed a run. After Newhouser struck out, Eddie Lake drew his 103rd walk of the season and went to third base on Kell’s single. Lake scored on 41-year-old center fielder Doc Cramer’s single to center, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 3-1.

Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg, leading the majors with 44 home runs and pacing the AL with 127 RBIs, batted with runners on first and second and one out. On September 5 Greenberg had victimized Feller with his 30th homer of the season to cap Detroit’s eight-run inning. This time, however, Feller struck him out.8 Another strikeout, of Dick Wakefield, ended Detroit’s rally.9

Feller set down the side on three groundouts in the sixth and pitched around Newhouser’s leadoff single for a scoreless seventh. The Indians added an insurance run in the eighth on a single by Jack Conway, filling in for player-manager Lou Boudreau at shortstop; a sacrifice by Eddie Robinson; and an RBI single by Mitchell, whose third straight three-hit game gave him a season average of .432 in 44 at-bats.10

In the bottom of the eighth, Feller struck out Greenberg and Jimmy Bloodworth,11 giving Feller five strikeouts for the game and 348 for the season.

Detroit put two runners on base with one out in the ninth as pinch-hitter Anse Moore walked and Johnny Lipon singled, but Feller induced Kell to ground into a game-ending double play. Cleveland’s 4-1 win was Feller’s 26th of the season, tying Newhouser for the major-league lead. Newhouser finished second in the MVP voting behind Boston’s Ted Williams; Feller came in sixth.

The game was over, but two future events changed what made this game historically significant. First, after the season the Tigers sold the 36-year-old Greenberg to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he played the final campaign of his 13-year career in Pittsburgh.

Hence, Feller’s eighth-inning strikeout of Greenberg turned out to be the Hall of Fame-bound slugger’s final at-bat in a Tigers uniform.12 The Tigers retired Greenberg’s number 5 on June 12, 1983. A statue of Greenberg was unveiled at Comerica Park in 2000.

The second subsequent event was hinted at in the Detroit Free Press. In a sidebar to its story on the season-ending game, it included the following note:

“Bob Feller’s strikeout record of 348 for one season was disputed by Joe Reichler, Associated Press writer, who said that after a game-by-game checkup of Rube Waddell’s record of 1904 that the Rube had struck out 349.

“Reichler said he found seven discrepancies in [George L. Moreland’s 1914 book Balldom], from where Waddell’s strikeout total was taken.

Will Harridge, president of the American League, however, wired all newspapermen that Waddell’s official mark stood at 343. His decision means that the mark now officially belongs to Feller.”13

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, in its coverage of Feller’s feat, made no mention at all of Reichler or his claim.

Reichler’s findings were not accepted right away. In fact, in 1965, when Sandy Koufax struck out 382 batters, the reporting indicated that it was Bob Feller’s record that he broke.14 But three years later, the production of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia reopened baseball’s statistical record. In an interview that was published in early 1968, co-editor David Neft specifically cited Bob Feller’s AL strikeout record as “suspect.”

“‘Most people,’ Dr. Neft added, ‘think that the strikeout record broken by Sandy Koufax was held by Bob Feller. That is also suspect.’

“Until Koufax fanned 382 batters in 1965, Feller’s 348 strikeouts in 1946 stood as the top modern mark.

“‘We’re going to check Rube Waddell’s strikeouts in 1904,’ said Dr. Neft. ‘I have seen about eight different figures for him that year ranging from 330 strikeouts to 355.’”

“The Little Red Book of Baseball, a record manual endorsed by both major leagues, credits Waddell with 343 strikeouts in 1904. However, One for the Book, another authoritative statistical compendium, gives the figure was 349 – one more than Feller – and carries the word ‘disputed’ next to the total.”15

By 1971, a story about Vida Blue setting the season strikeout record for the Oakland A’s cited the Athletics franchise record as being “held by the fabled Rube Waddell, who fanned 349 way back in the 1904 season.”16

As of 2023, Bob Feller’s 348 strikeouts in 1946 was the fourth highest total in AL history, after Nolan Ryan’s 383 in 1973 and 364 in 1974 – and Rube Waddell’s 349 in 1904.



This article was fact-checked by Joseph Wancho and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author used the and websites.

For games for which Retrosheet does not have complete play-by-play data, volunteers do deduced play-by-play from contemporary newspaper accounts and other available information. The author deduced this game as part of working through the 1946 season for Retrosheet.



1 The Red Sox had clinched the AL pennant with more than two weeks left in the season when they beat Cleveland 1-0 on September 13.

2 C. Paul Rogers III, Bob Feller, SABR Biography Project, accessed September 12, 2023.

3 “I’ll never forget … I made ‘fans’ of the Tigers,” Detroit Free Press, January 17, 1961: 21.

4 “I’ll never forget … I made ‘fans’ of the Tigers.”

5 Alex Zirin, “Bob Fans 5 to Pass Waddell’s Mark and Beat Newhouser for 26th, 4-1,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 30, 1946.

6 Sam Greene, “Feller’s 348 Total Goes into Books,” Detroit News, September 30, 1946: 17-18.

7 “Bob Fans 5 to Pass Waddell’s Mark and Beat Newhouser for 26th, 4-1.”

8 In 110 career at-bats against Feller, Greenberg hit four home runs and struck out 35 times.

9 James Zerilli, “Bob Fans 5 to Run 1946 Total to 348,” Detroit Free Press, September 30, 1946: 14-15.

10 “Feller’s 348 Total Goes into Books.”

11 “Bob Fans 5 to Pass Waddell’s Mark and Beat Newhouser for 26th, 4-1.”

12 After retiring as a player, Greenberg became the Indians’ farm director, then served as Cleveland’s general manager through 1959.

13 “Official! Feller’s 348 Is Record,” Detroit Free Press, September 30, 1946: 14.

14 “Sandy Snaps Feller’s Strikeout Record,” Modesto (California) Bee, September 26, 1965: 20.

15 “Computer Studies Baseball Lore,” Spokane Spokeman-Review, March 31, 1968: 5.

16 Herb Michelson, “Mangual Ends Duel in 20th,” Sacramento Bee, July 10, 1971: 19.

Additional Stats

Cleveland Indians 4
Detroit Tigers 1

Briggs Stadium
Detroit, MI


Box Score + PBP:

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