News reports are just breaking that Bob Feller died tonight at age 92. Cleveland baseball fans may have grown accustomed to Mr. Feller always being around, sort of a reminder of when the Indians were an elite team. But I wonder if Clevelanders under a certain age really understood how legendary Feller might have been if he hadn’t given four years of service to the U.S. Navy in World War II. From Wikipedia:
On December 8, 1941, Feller enlisted in the Navy, volunteering immediately for combat service, becoming the first Major League Baseball player to do so following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7. Feller served as Gun Captain aboard the USS Alabama, and missed four seasons during his service in World War II, being decorated with five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. His bunk is marked on the Alabama at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama. Feller is the only Chief Petty Officer in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Just imagine what kind of records he could have held if he had not missed four seasons in the prime of his playing days. He set an example of selfless sacrifice that I can’t imagine being duplicated from any top players in professional baseball today.
Mr. Feller had a reputation as being gruff and grumpy, but he earned the right to be his own man. Anthony Castrovince, an excellent writer who had a chance to return to Iowa with Mr. Feller, shared his thoughts recently.
I’m glad my oldest son, a baseball fan of the highest degree, had the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand. It was obvious that Mr. Feller loved the game of baseball and was eager to share a moment with the boy. And, of course, we got an autograph. He was famous for signing autographs, so a Bob Feller autograph is not rare or particularly valuable. Men like Bob Feller are.