By In Stuff

I’m No Hero


Bob Feller lost four prime baseball years fighting during World War II. Those lost victories hurt — he would sometimes carry around a sheet of paper projecting what his career record would have been had he played — but he always understood that, compared to the real heroes, it was a small price to pay.

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9 Responses to I’m No Hero

  1. Gordon Hewetson says:

    During a MLB baseball strike my dad and I decided to go to a local minor league game. We got there early and Bob Feller was there on the field. Somehow my dad engaged him in conversation. They were both WW2 vets but most of the conversation was about baseball and my love of the game. Feller was so gracious and funny. My dad also had discussions with Bobby Bonds, Steve Kemp and Andy Messersmith at old Yankee Stadium when they still allowed fans to come to the rail to see the players. I was too young and in awe to say anything. I’ll bet of all these chance encounters none meant more to him than Bob Feller.

  2. Speaking of World War II casualties, this might be a good place to talk about one of my childhood heroes. But first, a trivia question: In 1941, the year Williams hit .406 and DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, who led the league in hits? The answer is Cecil Travis of Washington, Washington Senators shortstop and at 28 a 9-year veteran.

    His lifetime average at that point was .327, which tied him with Honus Wagner for the highest among shortstops.

    Now the sad part: He spent four years in the Army in World War !!, froze his feet in the Battle of the Bulge and had three mediocre part-seasons when he returned home, still ending at .314, the highest among AL shortstops.

    Unlike Feller, he didn’t say what the war cost his baseball legacy. He was modest to a fault, claiming that he was a good player but not good enough for the Hall. Some people disagreed, among them Feller and Ted Williams, but he never received a single vote for the Hall of Fame!

    I think two other factors hurt his chances. For one thing, he was mostly a singles hitter. More importantly, he played for a lousy tem most of those years.

    • Paul White says:

      Some Cecil Travis comps through age 27 when he went to war:

      Travis – .327/.381/.436, 1102 G, 113 OPS+, 30.4 bWAR
      Doerr – .291/.358/.449, 1034 G, 113 OPS+, 30.4 bWAR
      Alomar – .298/.365/.423, 1151 G, 115 OPS+, 34.3 bWAR
      Frisch – .323/.369/.449, 865 G, 119 OPS+, 33.2 bWAR
      Sewell – .324/.407/.432, 944 G, 116 OPS+, 30.8 bWAR
      Herman – .319/.371/.428, 890 G, 116 OPS+, 28.9 bWAR

      Only Doerr (1 season) and Herman (2) lost any time to military service. The other five all made the Hall of Fame eventually, and Travis was quite clearly on the same track.

  3. Brent says:

    I am quite sure that Bob Feller lost more wins to the fact that his manager (Lou Boudreau) thought it was OK to pitch him 386 innings n 1946. His arm was never the same. Who is to say that his manager wouldn’t have decided to do that in 1943 if Feller had been in baseball that year.

  4. Dr. LeShane says:

    My grandfather had an encounter with Feller as a young naval enlistee when he reported for training in Newport, Rhode Island. This is how he remembered the events in his memoirs:

    Near the end of our training, it was announced that Cleveland Indians star pitcher Bob Feller had joined the Navy and was being sent to the Newport Training Station to organize a baseball team to represent the training station. Players selected for the team would be assigned permanently to Newport and would participate in games against teams from other U.S. Navy bases throughout the United States. After Bob Feller arrived, an announcement was made that tryouts for the team would be held next Monday. On the day of the tryouts there were hundreds of recruits who had played high school, college and, in a few cases, minor league baseball. Feller, who had been appointed a chief recreation specialist in the navy, greeted all of the prospects by announcing that players would be graded by positions.

    He then said that he would do the pitching and began to throw 10 balls to each batter who promptly missed each of his fastballs. No player had hit the ball when it was finally my turn to bat. He wound up and threw a high fastball about chest high on the outside of the plate, which I hit and drove over the fence in right field. It caught the attention of Feller, who proceeded to throw me nine curves, three of which I fouled off and six of which I missed. Following the tryouts, the roster of the Newport team was posted and did not include any of the two hundred or so recruits who tried out for the team. Instead, it listed well-known minor and major league players who had been recruited by the navy to play baseball.

  5. Everett Chasen says:

    I met Mr. Feller several times and had lunch and dinner with him. At the time, I was the chief of communications for the VA health care system, and we had launched a program to get older veterans to participate in fitness activities. He agreed to be the honorary chair of the program (he was in his mid-80s at the time), and made a number of visits on our behalf to VA hospitals to participate in fitness events. He was wonderful at it–spoke beautifully, spent time listening to older vets and talking baseball–and we were honored to have him. He was always collecting stuff for his museum at his visits–I heard it had closed, but the website is still up and indicates that it’s open on weekends. If it’s open, I want to go there someday.

    We had a similar program for younger veterans, which John Elway chaired. We gave a dinner for both of them (the taxpayers didn’t pay for it–my boss and I did) and a couple of VA people at the Army-Navy club in DC. The two of them had apparently never met each other, and they had a great time telling stories to each other and to the rest of us. (I’m looking at the ball he signed for me with that inscription now.) I spent 35 years in the federal government, and that dinner was the highlight. I wish someone had taped it. My lunch with him was one-on-one in the VA employee cafeteria. No one knew who the distinguished-looking gentleman I was sitting with was!

    Mr. Feller signed autographs “107.9 mph fastball, HOF ’62.” He absolutely believed that, despite the rudimentary method they used to measure his fastball, that he threw that hard. Unlike Joe and others, I don’t often see professional athletes up close, but I remember being struck by his enormous hands, which may or may not be typical of great athletes. Thank you, Joe, for remembering this great ball player and proud veteran on Memorial Day!

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