Bob Feller won 266 games for the Indians, including three no-hitters.
But he always regarded the biggest victory he contributed to as World War II. Two days after the Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the U.S. Navy – despite having a deferment because of his terminally ill father.
Feller served as a chief petty officer on the destroyer USS Alabama, seeing combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations before returning home and resuming his career with the Indians. And it’s his baseball success, his military service and his life after baseball as an ambassador of the game that has led to a petition to award Feller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, supported by Feller’s family, the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation, and the Indians.
“He was one of the best ambassadors a team could ask for,” said Jeremy Feador, Indians team curator.
The petition is up on the White House website. The petition project was launched in 2011 to allow for the creation of petitions with the idea that if they reached a certain number of signatures, they would be addressed in one form or another by the Obama administration. Petitions have ranged from the sublime (allowing cell phone unlocking) to the ridiculous (the construction of a Death Star). But Feador thinks there’s a strong case for Feller to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom – and in a week, he’s gotten more than 9,000 people to agree with him. The petition needs 100,000 signatures by March 4 to get an official response from the White House – which is also no guarantee of a medal being awarded. But it’s a step in the right direction. Even if the Feller petition fails, Feador is hoping it attracts enough notice that someone with some influence can make it happen.
Since its inception in 1963 by John F. Kennedy, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has been awarded to 575 people from a variety of walks of life, including the arts, law, philosophy and yes, sports. A total of 26 athletes have received the award, from a variety of sports, including golf (Charlie Sifford and Arnold Palmer), track (Jesse Owens), football (Bear Bryant) and tennis (Billie Jean King). But the sport that’s the most represented is baseball, with eleven recipients – many contemporaries of Feller. The most recent recipients of the award include Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, who were both recognized in November.