After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, asking him, “What do you want [baseball] to do? . . .We await your order.” The President replied, “I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” With this recommendation, the league began a massive effort to support the war. However, some players chose a more patriotic path. Waiving his draft deferment as the sole provider for his family, pitcher Robert Feller enlisted in the Navy on 9 December 1941, becoming the first Major League player to join the service.
Already a national star, Feller was first assigned as a physical training instructor. However, his desire to go into combat led him to volunteer for gunners’ school in 1942. Chief Petty Officer Feller was placed in command of a 40mm antiaircraft mount aboard Alabama (BB 60), and served through the campaigns in the North Atlantic and throughout the Pacific theater. In March 1945 he reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Illinois, where he managed the baseball team. In August he returned to the Cleveland Indians and resumed his Major League career.
Feller got his nickname, “The Heater from Van Meter,” due to his lightning fastball and his hometown, Van Meter, Iowa. Some baseball experts have credited him as being the hardest throwing pitcher in history. An 8-time All-Star and a World Series champion, Feller’s number 19 was retired by the Cleveland Indians, for whom he played his entire 18-year career. He retired from baseball in 1956, and in 1962 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Bob Feller also holds two other great distinctions: he never played a game in the minors after being signed by the Cleveland Indians, and he is the only pitcher in Major League history to throw a no-hitter on opening day.