Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

70 years ago today, Bob Feller was driving to Chicago. He was heading up there from his home in Iowa for a meeting that had been scheduled for the next day. As he came over the bridge at Moline, Illinois, he heard a news flash: there had been a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.

When he arrived in Chicago, he contacted former boxer Gene Tunney and said he was ready to do his part for his country. Since he worked on a farm in the off-season, was an only son and his father had been fighting cancer, Feller was not in line for the draft. He chose to join the Navy anyway.

1952 Topps #88 -- Bob Feller

When Feller joined the service, he was given a job coordinating calisthenics and physical fitness programs. He was given the rank of chief petty officer (which was offered to all of the professional athletes who joined the Navy under Tunney's program) and was able to play service ball as well. However, he wanted to do more and volunteered to get closer to the action as soon as he was able. Serving as a gunner aboard the USS Alabama, he had his chance. By the end of the war, Feller had earned four battle stars.

The news of the Pearl Harbor attack also called this Hall of Famer to action:

1936 Goudey -- Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg was called into the Army early in the 1941 season as part of the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. His term was up on December 5th and he was discharged. Two days later, he was back at his old post. He would remain in the Army until the end of the war.

They weren't the only major leaguers to go into the service. There were many, but what has been forgotten to history is a change that was set to happen in 1942 that was halted as a result of the war.

This man is Donald Barnes, who was the president of the St. Louis Browns:

Frustrated by years of disappointments -- both on the diamond and from the gate receipts -- the St. Louis Browns were ready to move to another city...Los Angeles, California. In order to get the move approved, the other seven teams in the American League worked out the logistics of travel (flying commercially was still seen as dangerous over the Rocky Mountains, and the trains would take extra time), but the idea of larger crowds in California and larger receipts for the visiting team was an incentive to work out a deal. The meetings were scheduled for December to seal the deal.

Then, the news of Pearl Harbor arrived. Since the military was going to need the trains for troop movement and airplane pilots were being called into duty, the Browns were forced to remain in St. Louis. Perhaps that fateful day of infamy in Hawaii set Brooklyn fans on the collision course 16 years later.


  1. Great recounting of Feller's personal call-to-arms, Chris. Thank you for sharing.

    I reached out to Mr. Feller for an autograph while I was still in the Navy, sometime in 2007. I was excited to reach out to a hero of the game and fellow sailor who served alongside my grandfather (though in opposite hemispheres during the War)as part of the 'greatest generation'.

    Mr. Feller, as a lot of us know, was more than happy to oblige me in my request. He was always generous with his fans. His signature is a treasure for me on so many levels. Little did I know at the time that he would not be with us much longer.....

    What I didn't know until today, however, was that he served aboard the (BB, I assume?) Alabama. This is a spectacular revelation for me on two accounts. First, I spent several nights of "boys will be boys" fun aboard the Alabama(where she currently rests as a moored museum in Mobile Bay)during camping trips as a Boy Scout ). More dear to my heart, though, is the fact that I served aboard the USS Alabama (SSBN-731) during my JO tour as a nuclear propulsion officer.

    Roll Tide!

    Thank you again, Mr., Chris...and all veterans, everywhere.