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SALUTE TO A HERO
By John B Holway
Bob Feller is dead. He died of leukemia on December 16, and I didn't find out until Christmas morning, because the Washington Post barely mentioned it, either as an obituary or a news item.
The news is sad. The way it was ignored by today's generation of editors is also sad.
Bob was 92, the preeminent pitcher of my generation, one of the very best pitchers of the 20th century. He was a member of the Great Triumvirate of the '30s and '40s - Feller, DiMaggio, and Williams.
He might well have won four Cy Young Awards - if there were such things back then - in 1939, '40, '41, and '46. He might have won four more, 1942-45, if World War II had not robbed him of the greatest years of his athletic life.
Feller could have pitched in 1942, but the day after Pearl Harbor, he was standing in line at the Navy recruiting station to volunteer. He was the only major league player - I think the only star athlete - to volunteer. Like most sports or movie stars, he was given a safe stateside job. He had to pound the table to get sea duty, and they gave him a safe assignment outside the danger zone. So he pounded the table again, demanding a combat assignment.
He finally got it, leading a crew that put up a wall of machine gun bullets against a sky-full of Kamikazes diving on his ship in the Philippine Sea. By sundown the Japanese naval air force ceased to exist. He barely mentioned it in his biography - in the revised edition, he left it out entirely.
In spite of the big four-year hole, Feller won 266 games. At the rate he was going - 25 victories per year - the war cost him at least 100 victories. It probably also cost him a fourth or fifth no-hitter, to go with 12 one-hitters.
In 1969 Feller was voted baseball's greatest living right-hand pitcher. But 30 years later, a new generation had replaced the old, and both fans and experts left him completely off the All-Century team in favor of younger stars who won less games than Bob - without any military service. Only ten years later, an even younger generation barely noted his passing at all.
Vale, Bob. I salute you, a hero on the field and on the sea. No athlete gave his country more and got less thanks.
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