While Bob Feller’s greatness on the mound won’t go unnoticed upon passing — he died Wednesday — we also should remember his service to our country.
Feller, who turned 92 last month, enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 8, 1941, one day after Pearl Harbor. He missed parts of four seasons serving in the Navy, most notably aboard the battleship Alabama for three years. He rose to the rank of chief petty officer and was in charge of a 40mm gun mount. He saw action in the Pacific theater during World War II.
On to the obligatory rundown of his baseball statistics: Feller won 266 games over parts of 18 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, helping guide the Tribe to a world championship in 1948. He won 20 or more games six times, and won 25 or more games three times. He was an eight-time American League all-star.
In addition to his major league resume, he also played regularly against military teams while enlisted. When Feller returned stateside after the war, he was assigned to Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Ill., where he pitched and coached the baseball team.
While proud of his playing career, Feller often referenced his Navy service. According to his profile on the wonderful Baseball in Wartime website:
“I’m very proud of my war record, just like my baseball record. I would never have been able to face anybody and talk about my baseball record if I hadn’t spent time in the service.”
Feller was as opinionated as you’d expect an old-timer to be. Fay Vincent mentions this in a tribute to Feller published by The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.
I can’t find a definitive attribution to this quote — just a bunch of links online, including this one — but it’s a good way to end this entry.
“Baseball in the Navy always was much more fun than it had been in the major leagues.”