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Indians backing Feller for Medal of Freedom

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- After Pearl Harbor pulled the U.S. into World War II, Indians pitcher Bob Feller felt compelled to join in the fight. He temporarily abandoned his baseball career and became the first ballplayer to enlist in the U.S. Navy after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.

On Wednesday, the Indians filed a petition to President Barack Obama, launching a campaign aimed at having the late Feller honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The petition needs 100,000 signatures by March 4 to require a response from the White House.

CLEVELAND -- After Pearl Harbor pulled the U.S. into World War II, Indians pitcher Bob Feller felt compelled to join in the fight. He temporarily abandoned his baseball career and became the first ballplayer to enlist in the U.S. Navy after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.

On Wednesday, the Indians filed a petition to President Barack Obama, launching a campaign aimed at having the late Feller honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The petition needs 100,000 signatures by March 4 to require a response from the White House.

"In addition to the incredible and lasting impact Bob made on the Indians organization," Bob DiBiasio, Indians senior vice president of public affairs, said in a release, "we think his meritorious contribution to the security and national interests of the United States makes him worthy of consideration for the Presidential Medal of Freedom."

President Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to the late Yogi Berra and Willie Mays last year, joining a list of recipients that also includes former players Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson and Jackie Robinson.

The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the Unites States and is given "for especially meritorious contribution to 1) the security or national interests of the United States, 2) world peace, or 3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Feller was coming off his sixth season with the Indians. The Hall of Fame right-hander had been an All-Star four years running and was in the prime of his baseball career when he volunteered to serve in the Navy. Feller could have requested a deferment, given that his father was terminally ill with cancer at the time, but the pitcher insisted on serving immediately.

Feller served aboard the USS Alabama and missed parts of four seasons (1942-45) while aiding the United States' efforts. He earned the rank of Chief Petty Officer and participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Feller was decorated with six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.

Feller's Navy jacket, along with other military artifacts, are currently on display in the Bob Feller exhibit, which is located in the Terrace Club at Progressive Field.

Video: Feller items at CLE museum

"Bob's your American story," said Jeremy Feador, the Indians' curator. "That's the best thing about him. You couldn't ask for a better representation or an ambassador of your team. Bob's perfect. We're so lucky to have this stuff."

When the exhibit opened on May 14 last season, Feller's widow, Anne, was pleased to see that period of his life included.

"It's absolutely wonderful to have it here and have it beautifully arranged," Anne Feller said in May. "People can know about his life and, particularly, know about his service on a battleship for four years during World War II. Those were some of the best moments of his life, being there and doing what he could on that battleship."

Feller, who stayed in shape by playing catch on the USS Alabama, also served as an instructor in the Navy's physical training program. In July 1942, he led a team of servicemen against the American League All-Stars at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, raising more than $130,000 for the war efforts.

Feller won 266 games over the course of his 18-year career -- spent entirely with the Indians. He struck out 2,581 batters, tossed three no-hitters (including the only Opening Day no-no in baseball history, in 1940) and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. The Indians also have a statue of Feller outside Gate C at Progressive Field.

In 2013, Feller's life and career were the inspiration behind the creation of the Bob Feller Act of Valor Foundation and Award. The foundation annually recognizes and honors a baseball player and a Chief Petty Officer for their efforts and involvement with the military.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians