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Beyond baseball: Award honors Feller's Navy legacy

Jun. 5, 2013 - 02:17PM   |  
Bob Feller poses next to an anti-aircraft gun mount in 1943. He requested combat duty during World War II rather than remain a Navy fitness instructor.
Bob Feller poses next to an anti-aircraft gun mount in 1943. He requested combat duty during World War II rather than remain a Navy fitness instructor. (Navy via The Associated Press)
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For nomination information and more on the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, visit our Scoop Deck Blog.

A new award paying tribute to a Hall of Fame chief petty officer will be open to chiefs only, according to a Navy message — and nominations are due soon.

The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award is named for a pitcher who set his career aside for three-plus years to serve during World War II, seeking combat duty instead of public relations missions.

“It is important to recognize Bob Feller’s unselfish devotion to our nation and Navy,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens. “He made the personal choice to give up money and fame for the service of others and placed himself in harm’s way with his shipmates during a time of war. The chief petty officer that is selected for the Bob Feller Act of Valor award will embody these same traits.”

Nominations for the award close June 17. Details on the process are available in a fleetwide message, NAVADMIN 138/13, released late last month.

Navy officials will forward three semifinalists to the award’s civilian board of directors, which will select a winner. That winner will be honored on Veterans Day at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., alongside an active major leaguer and a living Hall of Famer, selected for their support of the military and commitment to Feller’s patriotic ideals.

Books, battleships and bats

Those ideals made a deep impression on Peter Fertig, who co-wrote a children’s baseball book in 2008 based on the famous poem “Casey at the Bat.” Feller wrote the introduction to “The Deal is on Strike Three” and the men attended book signings together, during which baseball came up rarely.

“He would be talking about life on the [battleship] Alabama,” said Fertig, a sales training manager in New York. Feller would say his decision to enlist two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor “was the right thing to do,” Fertig said. “He never wavered on that.”

“From that moment on, I was a fan. I could care less if he could throw the ball 100 mph. He was a great major leaguer, but he cared more about his country.”

Feller died in 2010 at age 92. Fertig sought a way to honor him, and after receiving support for an award from several baseball and naval organizations, he was put in touch with Navy officials via John Cochrane, a former captain and city councilman from Islip, N.Y.

That led Fertig to Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, vice commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, a lifelong baseball fan who had previous dealings with an important part of the baseball establishment — the bats.

When Jabaley commanded the attack submarine Louisville, he visited his boat’s namesake city and built a relationship with the folks at Hillerich & Bradsby, the company behind the Louisville Slugger brand. His baseball credentials firmly established, he became a liaison between the fleet and the award foundation.

Officials eventually decided the award should be limited to chiefs.

“We all kind of evolved to it,” Jabaley said. “[Feller] was very proud of his rank as a chief. ... There are plenty of people who served their country in terms of more public relations-type avenues, but he was a sailor. He rose to the rank of chief through his role on the battleship.”

Both Fertig and Jabaley said they want the award to be given annually — a way to honor a chief who displays a strong character and puts the needs of others before his or her own.

“The most impressive thing about Bob Feller was, he didn’t hesitate for a minute,” Jabaley said. “He sacrificed almost four full seasons of his career to go do what he really believed in — to go support and defend his country.”

Staff writer Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.

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