Hall of Famer Bob Feller and WWII

As we’ve all heard by now, Bob Feller passed away yesterday.  He was transferred to hospice just days before passing on. 

Back on November 21st, I did an article about Stan Musial and WWII.   Here’s the link to that article:

http://bleedcardinalredwithme.com/2010/11/stan-musial-and-world-war-ii/

There’s also a link in that article about players in MLB that served in WWII and are in the HOF.  Here is the link to that:

http://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/player_biographies_hof.htm

It gives a list of each Hall of Famer, which branch they were in, and where they were stationed.  If you click on each player, it gives a little insight into what they did during wartime.  For Bob Feller, there’s a quote at the top that reads:

“We have been in about every ‘hellhole’ on the face of the earth.  My present set-up has me in anti-aircraft gunnery, which at present is quite active.”

The letter was to Lew Fonseca, American League Director of Promotions in 1944.

It amazes me more and more when I think about how times have changed for ballplayers.  Could anyone really imagine Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Roy Halladay and other greats who are in the prime of their careers leaving MLB to serve in the military?  Instead, we are talking about multi-million dollar contracts and how $200 million for Pujols may not be enough to keep him in St. Louis.

To say that Feller was in the prime of his career is an understatement.  Feller became an ace at an early age; going 24-9 with a 2.85 ERA at age 20 in 1939.  In 1940, he was 27-11 with a 2.61 ERA.  His final season before joining the military, in 1941, he was 25-13 with a 3.15 ERA.  Feller missed the 1942-1944 seasons, and only made it back to pitch in 8 games in 1945.  Here is Bob Feller’s B-ref page.

If you look at his stats post WWII, it’s even more amazing.  In 1946, Feller posted a 26-15 record with a 2.18 ERA.  For his career, Feller led the league in strikeouts 7 times, but because of his commitment to military duty, finished shy of 3,000 strikeouts, recording 2581 K’s.  His career record was 266-162, and he had 279 complete games.  What would he have done with those extra years?

Feller spent his entire 18 year career with the Cleveland Indians.  I can’t help but think if he would have played for the Yankees or Red Sox he would have been a better household name.  As it was, he only pitched in 1 WS, when his Cleveland Indians defeated the Boston Braves.

On December 8th, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the Navy.  He became the first MLB player to enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Feller is usually overlooked when talking about MLB’s greatest pitchers, but there weren’t many better.  Considering he enlisted the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I think that gives some insight into the type of man he was.

Times have changed and we will probably never see great athletes or other stars in the military again (Clark Gable and Elvis Presley also served in wartime).  Money and elite status today is not like it was back then.  It makes Pat Tillman that much more impressive in my opinion.

I love baseball, and I love this country.  I just wonder if stars of today fully understand the sacrifices that were made by the elite in the past to give them the luxuries they have now.

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