Legendary Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller was one of the most decorated pitchers in baseball history. Throughout his eighteen-year career, Feller was an eight-time all-star, seven-time strikeout leader, six-time American League wins leader, a World Series champion in 1948, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Feller’s professional baseball career can be split into two sections, his playing career before World War II and after his playing career after World War II. This is because from December of 1941 to August of 1945, Feller was serving in the military.
The up-and-coming strong arm was on his way from Des Moines to Chicago to sign a new contract with the Cleveland Indians when over the radio, he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Less than 48-hours later, he enlisted into the United States Navy.
Feller was stationed aboard the USS Alabama. Because he was originally from Van Meter, Iowa, which is just west of Des Moines, he had hoped to be stationed with the USS Iowa, but his request was denied due to the vessel already being at capacity.
In 1943, Feller and the USS Alabama were sent to the British Isles along with other naval ships, including the USS South Dakota. The crewmen of both the Alabama and South Dakota would often socialize together during down town, or when they'd make port. It was pretty common for Feller to wrangle up a group of guys to play a game or two of baseball. The Alabama and South Dakota may have worked together during the war, but they were opponents when it came to a pick up game of baseball.
Bob Feller would end up signing a baseball and gaving it to Eddie Maykut, who was a marine on the USS South Dakota.
Year's later, Maykut would donate the ball to the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial in Sioux Falls, SD, where it still resides today.
Bob Feller returned to the Cleveland Indians after he was discharged as a Chief Petty Officer in 1945. Over the next eleven seasons, Feller stamped his legacy as one of the greatest pitchers in history.
In 1948, Cleveland won the World Series over the Boston Braves. Game five of the World Series, which was the second game of the series that Feller started, set an MLB attendance record at the time with over 86,000 fans at Cleveland Stadium. Only three other games since then have registered higher attendance numbers – games 3-5 of the 1959 World Series (White Sox vs Dodgers) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Feller retired from baseball in 1951, had his No. 19 retired by the Indians in 1956, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
In 2010, Feller passed away at the age of 92.
Even though Feller himself never lived in South Dakota, a small piece of his legacy lives on at the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial. It acts as a reminder of how one single act of terror triggered many professional athletes around the nation to join together to fight in favor of the red, white, and blue.