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74 years ago, Bob Feller enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II

74 years ago, Bob Feller enlisted in the U.S. Navy

Indians great Bob Feller missed three full seasons of his career, from 1942-44, and only pitched nine games in '45. That's because on Dec. 9 of '41, he officially enlisted in the U.S. Navy. It was only two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he was the first professional athlete to join up. 

He was sworn in by another athlete -- Gene Tunney, a heavyweight boxing champ who had also served in World War I, a story he told to ESPN's Page 2. 

He was later stationed on the USS Alabama, and even saw a little action.


OK, besides bunk-making. As he told the New York Times' Alan Schwarz:

The Alabama was involved in one of the most important battles of the Pacific. In June 1944, we were supposed to shell the beaches of Saipan for two hours so that our Marines could land safely. The Japanese tried a surprise attack - but we were ready. The American Navy and Air Force, we had all the big carriers and battleships like the Iowa, the Wisconsin, the New Jersey, the Alabama, you name it, we had them all. Our pilots and gunners shot down 474 Japanese aircraft, sank three of their carriers and got several of their escort ships. And when the sun went down that night, it was the end of the Japanese naval air force. We made it look so easy, ever since they've called it the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

And it's not like he let his game get rusty:

More than 47,000 people came to see me return [on Aug. 24, 1945] -- there was such a patriotic feeling, with V-J Day so fresh in everyone's minds. Even though I hadn't pitched in the Major Leagues in almost four years, I struck out the first batter. I wound up throwing a four-hitter and winning, 4-2.

Feller finished his career with 266 wins and a 3.25 ERA, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.