Feller & Williams: Baseball Greats and War Heroes

The recent passing of "Rapid Robert" (Bob) Feller is truly a sad day for baseball. At 92, he was a fixture in baseball for 75 years, pitching his first game at age 17. Armed with "The Heater from Van Meter," Feller compiled 266 wins, 2,581 strikeouts, and a career ERA of 3.25. He pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 1936-1956. The Cy Young Award did not come into existence until 1956 or he certainly would have won multiple times. Perhaps more amazing than his on-field dominance, however, is the patriotism and sacrifice that Feller showed for our great nation. As we recently honored the 59th anniversay of the "day that will live in infamy," the sacrifices of Bob Feller, and indeed Ted Williams, should be better understood by baseball enthusiasts. Most casual baseball fans know the names of Feller and Williams, and more in-tune fans may also know some of their statistics and place in history. Many don't realize what they gave up, from a histrocial perspective, to serve thier country.

The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 propelled the United States into World War II. The next day, Bob Feller enlisted in the Navy at the age of 22. By this point, he had 4 full seasons in the majors, playing in 6 total. He was coming off win totals of 24, 27, and 25 over the three previous campaigns. His service in the war, in which he won several medals and commendations, cost him 3 1/2 years of baseball from 1942 through most of 1945. Losing prime years from ages 22-25 is certainly significant considering how dominant he had already become. Before leaving for war, Feller had compiled a record of 105 wins and 54 losses. Using his average win total for the three years before war service, and filling them in for the years missed, Feller would add approximately 90 wins to his totals. That would propel him from 266 wins to 356, and would jump him from 37th to 7th all time.

Born in the same year, Ted Williams made similar sacrifices to his baseball numbers by also joining the military in 1942. Like Feller, he was a decorated war hero, and also missed 1943-1945. These years represented ages 24-26 for Teddy Ballgame, which are prime production years for a hitter. Also similar to Feller, Williams was dominating the league prior to his departure. Ted Williams also missed time for the Korean War when he was 34, losing out on seasons in 1952 and most of 1953. Using a conservative average of 30 Homers and 120 Runs Batted In for the nearly 5 years he missed would raise his totals from 521 HR and 1839 RBI to 671 HR and 2439 RBI. The increases would jump his career ranking from 18th to 4th in HR, and from 13th to 1st in RBI.

In today's day and age, numbers are a crucial testament to a player's worth and legacy. One need only look to Money Ball and metrics used by agents and owners to assign value to a player. Hitters and pitchers often hang on for extra years to make milestone achievements. There's nothing wrong with that in my opinion. However, players like Feller and Williams (and several other notable names) didn't think twice about leaving prime career years on the table for a cause bigger than themselves and bigger than the game. The off-field achievements of these players should be lauded and honored as much as their baseball brilliance.


  1. Some other notable names that lost time to WW2 include Sran Musial, Joe Dimaggio, Hank Greenberg, and Warren Spahn.

  2. People say DiMaggio wasn't the same player when he came back. Check his stats.

  3. ahhhhh hank greenberg !!!!! brother, this was very well written and right on point. i love it when fans know what they are talking about ! keep up the great work!!!

  4. I just heard this morning on MLB that Johnny Mize lost 3 years to the war in the middle of his career. He would have had well over 400 home runs.


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