Results tagged ‘ Pearl Harbor ’

A timeless hero


Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

As I sat in the press box at Chain O’ Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Fla. that morning in 1996, a rumbling of applause jolted me out of the story I was writing.

It grew louder and louder – cresting in a full-fledged ovation – as the man in the Cleveland Indians uniform strode to home plate and doffed his cap. An older gentleman, but still thick with muscle tone and apparently ready to play at a moment’s notice.

12-16-10-Muder_FellerClassic.jpg“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the public address announcer, “please welcome Hall of Famer Bob Feller!”

For a moment, I couldn’t believe it. It was my first time at Spring Training, so I wasn’t accustomed to Feller’s omnipresent appearance.

I bolted for my baseball encyclopedia: How old was Bob Feller? And he’s still in uniform?

That day, Feller was 77. But when he threw out the first pitch before that day’s exhibition game, it seemed he was practically ageless.

He would remain so for the next 14 years.

Feller’s passing on Wednesday brings to a close one of the most remarkable American lives of the 20th Century. An archetypical farm boy turned athlete, Feller imparted force onto a baseball that had not been seen before and rarely since. But it was his personal magnetism that made him a household name before he reached his 20th birthday.

His success on the baseball diamond was nearly total. But six years into his big league career, Feller dropped everything and enlisted in the Navy the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He spent almost four years fighting in World War II, earning eight battle stars aboard the U.S.S. Alabama. 

When he returned to the Indians, he quickly regained the form that made him the best pitcher in baseball.

12-16-10-Muder_Feller.jpgFor many, 266 big league victories and military honors would be a lifetime. But for Feller, the second act of his life – as a Hall of Famer and baseball emissary – was yet to come. After his election to the Hall in 1962, Feller thrilled fans for the next five decades with his homespun wit and passion for the game.

He would sign autographs until the last fan was satisfied – and he never tired of spreading the gospel of baseball. He would, it seemed, never grow old.

In 2009, I sat in the press box at Doubleday Field when a rumbling of applause jolted me out of the blog I was writing. It grew louder and louder – cresting in a full-fledged ovation – as the man in the Cleveland Indians uniform strode to home plate and doffed his cap. An older gentleman, but still thick with muscle tone and apparently ready to play at a moment’s notice.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the public address announcer, “please welcome Hall of Famer Bob Feller!”

Florida or Cooperstown, 1996 or 2009. Spring Training game or Hall of Fame Classic. Bob Feller never lost that ability to thrill baseball fans.

I cannot believe he is not here today.

His like will not be seen again.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball, U.S. Naval history intersect in Alabama

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I woke up Oct. 1 in Mobile, Ala. and looked at my itinerary. A morning meeting with the Mobile Baybears, the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by lunch. After that, about five hours to kill until my flight home.

10-5-09-Idelson_Feller.jpgErik Strohl, our senior director of exhibits and collections, and I, decided to take a tour of the battleship Alabama, a massive Navy ship that saw extensive action during World War II. I had wished to see the ship for many years, specifically because Hall of Famer Bob Feller served on it. It is now a museum of sorts, docked in Mobile Bay

Feller left the Cleveland Indians for the Navy, enlisting just two days after Pearl Harbor in 1941.He spent four years in the prime of his career as an anti-aircraft gun captain on the USS Alabama, part of a well-trained fleet that never lost one man to combat. Feller was decorated eight times with five battle stars.

As we boarded the ship, I had the chills. Walking the ship’s deck, I imagined a young Bob doing his part to make the team a success, just as so many other major leaguers had during World War II.

Erik and I walked the entire ship, on every level and were awestruck how it resembled a small town. Mess hall, post office, store, laundry, barber shop… it had everything. The battleship was home to more than 2,500 sailors, more than the population of Cooperstown. I know I would have been claustrophobic, bunking well below the ship’s surface.

10-5-09-Idelson_Alabama.jpgWe could also imagine how unsettling it must have been to be constantly on guard with the potential for attack. The battleship was painted several times, depending on the mission, to match the color of the sky and water.

We saw many photos of the soldiers. We even saw one of the baseball team, each player with a giant “A” on the front of his uniform, akin to the old Philadelphia A’s logo. No Bob in the photos, though he did play.

The Alabama would play other ships and was renowned for having the best team in the Pacific, playing in places like New Hebrides, the Fijis, Ulithi, Kwadulane, Eniwetok. I pictured Feller, between practicing combat exercises, playing catch on the ship’s massive deck.

I know how proud Bob is of his military service and touring the Alabama made me realize just how hard his job was, helping to protect America when a team effort was needed most. It also made me realize how fortunate we are to have the freedoms we do, because of soldiers like him who put his country first

Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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