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Justice Is Served

December 17, 2010 11:18 AM

Bob Feller: An authentic American hero dies

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He was an authentic American hero, not the made-for TV kind that those of us who watch SportsCenter, surf Fanhouse or read Sports Illustrated have grown accustomed to cheering.

No, that would be the right way to look at Bob Feller. He was a hero in the historical sense of the word.

So it saddens those who got to know Feller to hear that Wednesday, on a frigid Cleveland night, he died in a hospice. He was 92.

"Bob Feller is gone," Indians owner Larry Dolan said in a statement team that officials issued. "We cannot be surprised. Yet, it seems improbable. Bob has been such an integral part of our fabric, so much more than an ex-ballplayer, so much more than any Cleveland Indians player. He is Cleveland, Ohio."

That's all most people cared to know about Feller, the most iconic figure in the history of Cleveland baseball. For unlike some famous athletes who jilted this city, discarding its affections so cavalierly, he never did. Feller was all that was good about athletes from the golden age of sports. To those men, fans mattered; an athlete's standing in the public's eye accounted for something; it wasn't all about the benjamins or the Nike ads or the starlet on his arm.

For if it were, Feller could have had those things - some of them, anyway. But they didn't mean much to him. Sure, he had the adulation; he made plenty of money in his life, too. Yet none of it meant as much to Feller as knowing his country came first.

Nobody can doubt he was an American hero, though most people would ascribe his fame to his ability to throw a baseball harder than anybody else in his generation. Feller was mindful of the fame that gift from God brought him; he was proud of it. His ability to throw a baseball drew crowds to him and earned him a plaque in Cooperstown.

But were you able to spend a couple of minutes talking to Feller, and he would have told you that all the achievements he had in baseball, grand as those achievements were, palled in comparison to what he had achieved for his country.

Feller would tell you no one in baseball or any sport was a real hero. How could anyone be when he had risked nothing? Yet Feller had risked all that he was - all that he might ever become - for his country.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Feller, 23 then and the best pitcher in the game, left his home in Van Meter, Iowa, drove up to a recruitment center in Chicago and, with former boxing champ Gene Tunney doing the swearing in, enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

"There's a lot of things in my life I would do differently," Feller once told as he and I waited for an Indians game to start at Progressive Field. "But volunteerin' is not one of 'em."

In World War II, 11 million men served America. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, each of them played roles in winning the war. About 450 of those men were professional ballplayers. Their names were Greenburg, Williams, DiMaggio, Robinson ... and others. They fought as their brethren had in World War I; they fought to save America.

"I coulda stayed out of the whole thing - milked cows, planted corn, worked the farm or played baseball," Feller said. "But there were some draft dodgers. Well, I don't call 'em draft dodgers; I call 'em traitors.

"You see, if you're physically and mentally capable of helping your country in a situation like that, where the freedom and sovereignty of this nation was at stake, it's about time to get busy - either fish or cut bait."

So Feller fished. Refusing a stateside assignment, he fought with the Third Fleet off the coast of Saipan. He was all in on the war effort. If it meant never returning home alive or never playing in the big leagues again, Feller would accept those terms for freedom.

"You always know there might be one of those bullets out there with your name on it," he said.

Bullets missed him, and he returned home in 1945 to resume a career that brought him more fame than anything he did for his country.

He never once considered baseball as more meaningful to him than his country and his decision to defend it. While the war might not have brought Feller the public acclaim, he derived a satisfaction from it that trumped anything sports brought him.

Yet he saw no heroism in what he did for America. He sought no ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue or fistfuls of medals for valor. He needed none; nor did he ask for any symbols of heroism.

"I'm no hero," he once told me. "Heroes didn't come back. I said that all the along. The survivors returned. I came back."

He came back to remind all of us the importance of country. He came back to finish the work he had began as a teenager. He was a baseball player then, and he was a baseball player till the end, which is how most people will remember him.

Not me. I'll always remember Feller, "Rapid Robert" as he was called, as a man of conviction, as a man of strong opinions and as man who cared more for his country than he did about baseball.

Yes, his name will be revered in baseball circles forever, but fans do him an injustice when they forget who Bob Feller was: an American hero in the historical sense of the word.

You can follow Justice B. Hill on twitter at sportswriting and on Facebook at sportswriting. His website is czarjustice.com. 

October 24, 2010 11:18 AM

Pryor's no Newton, which is too bad for Buckeyes

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Listen as I do to college football analysts, and you hear raves about Cam Newton, the fullback-like quarterback at Auburn, so I wanted to see for myself what the big to-do was about.

I watched Newton play Saturday against LSU. I wanted to compare the 250-pound Newton to the fullback-like quarterback who lines up behind center for Ohio State. I figured Newton, the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, would give me an indication of what Terrelle Pryor should be doing at Ohio State.

Newton did.

I found in Newton what I hadn't seen in Pryor since the Rose Bowl. Newton had a buccaneer's heart, showing he was unafraid to make plays with his legs when his eyes couldn't find an opening. He was shifty, elusive when he ran, something I haven't seen in Pryor this season.

For whatever reason, he's turned into something he can't be: Andrew Luck or Ryan Mallett. What Pryor can be and should be is a clone of Cam Newton, and he must be like Newton if Ohio State is to remain in contention for the Big Ten title.

But Pryor showed none of that against Purdue, which like Minnesota is one of the dredges of the conference. Don't let his 49-0 win over the Boilermakers make you think otherwise. His performance was efficient, but he lacked the excitement, the derring-do and the flair a person expects to see in an athlete who came into the season as the leading candidate for the Heisman.

Continue to Pryor's no Newton, which is too bad for Buckeyes

October 16, 2010 11:53 PM

Pryor, No. 1 Ohio State show their flaws in big game

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The 31-18 loss Saturday night isn't much to discuss. People who followed Ohio State this season should not have been surprised; they should have realized earlier that the Buckeyes were a flawed team.

The biggest, of course, has been its inability to run the football, a fatal flaw in the grind-it-out world of the Big Ten. While the pass is a dandy hammer to have in the toolbox, the pass alone won't bring a team a championship, a fact that can't be lost on those who root for the Buckeyes.

Their bid for a National Championship and perhaps a BCS berth ended on a crisp Saturday night in Madison, Wis., against a team too big, too strong and too disciplined to allow Jim Tressel's unimaginative offense to do it in.

For past two seasons, Tressel has relied on Terrelle Pryor to be everything for the Buckeyes. A healthy Pryor often showed he could be that kind of talent, but if limited in any way - and he was limited against Wisconsin -- he made the Buckeyes look like a middle-of-the-pack team from the 1980s. They had no running game that could lighten the burden on Pryor.

To ask Pryor's arm to win against top-notch competition is asking more than it could possibly deliver, which is all the explanation any Buckeye fan needed for this loss to Wisconsin.

Continue to Pryor, No. 1 Ohio State show their flaws in big game

September 13, 2010 12:03 PM

In Delhomme, what Browns saw is what they'll get

4983705471_0bf2330df4_m.jpgA lousy quarterback is a lousy quarterback, and a change of scenery won't turn him into the second coming of Otto Graham, Joe Montana or Peyton Manning. A lousy quarterback is what a lousy quarterback is, so come to peace with his presence and don't bemoan the fact he's the man who lines up under center.

That's all Browns fans can do now, because it became clear to them Sunday that Jake Delhomme is a lousy quarterback. They watched Delhomme unravel in the Tampa game, a game the Browns should have won. Delhomme wasn't playing against the New England Patriots, the New York Jets or the New Orleans Saints; no, he was playing against the Buccaneers, one of the worst teams in the NFL.

And what does that loss tell you about him and the Browns?

As sorry as the Bucs were -- and they were plenty sorry, indeed -- they were the better team. They were better because, no matter what anybody else thinks of the inexperienced Josh Freeman, the Bucs didn't have Delhomme as their quarterback.

So this began the Mike Holmgren era. So this is what the Browns will be like this season, eh?

Yep, apparently.

Continue to In Delhomme, what Browns saw is what they'll get

July 24, 2010 9:54 PM

Cavaliers fans to King James: Go directly to hell

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His legacy will live on in Cleveland, except it won't live on the way LeBron James had wanted it to. No, his legacy will live in infamy, as the bright star who broke a city's heart.

It's not easy to unbreak a heart, not when a person has left that heart in shards. And in Cleveland, those men and women with broken hearts won't see theirs fixed. Their anger is too visceral to discard, and if anyone doubts that, just look around the city or listen to the talk on the streets or check out made-for-the-moment websites: It's LeBron James everywhere, 24/7.

In the streets around Progressive Field and The Q, vendors hawked T-shirts last night that said "QUITNESS" or something about James' momma too crass to mention. One Internet site has been peddling a particularly telling T-shirt for $13.99. It reads: "I WITNESSED NOTHING."

That's only half true. Nobody can say that James didn't treat Cavaliers fans to seven seasons of incredible performances. He was an MVP twice; he took the Cavs to the NBA Finals; he won a scoring title and an Olympic gold medal; and he made basketball matter in this football-crazed city.

Continue to Cavaliers fans to King James: Go directly to hell

July 13, 2010 2:59 PM

A salute to 'The Boss': Steinbrenner did it his way ...

George Steinbrenner was stubborn and tempestuous, an emotional powder keg who often went kaboom without a warning. That kind of emotions defined the Steinbrenner persona. He was fast to act and react because he cared. He cared like few other owners have in the history of American team sports.

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His passion helped the New York Yankees become the most valuable franchise in sports. His passion fueled seasons after seasons of success. He was candid about what he demanded from his ballplayers, for his fans and from himself. 

Above all else, George Steinbrenner -- "The Boss," as foes and friends alike called him -- wanted to win. Is that such a horrid legacy for a man like him to have etched on his tombstone?

What words will make it on that tombstone is not my place to guess. I never met Steinbrenner, which was my loss. But I do know that sports, the team he built in his image and its fans will never forget him or what he stood for. Steinbrenner, a real-life Yankee Doodle Dandy who was born on the Fourth of July, died this morning after a heart attack. He was 80.

His 80 years were a whirlwind, packed with more emotional highs than lows. Now, Steinbrenner did have his share of the latter, including with the baseball team he often lorded over like Attila the Hun. He showed no patience for mediocrity or for managers and GMs who produced it. They would fall in and out of favor with Steinbrenner on his whim. Listening to them, you might think that Steinbrenner preferred to manage the Yankees himself rather than leave the team in somebody else's hands.

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July 11, 2010 11:48 PM

Local media let 'King James' play them for fools

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You probably missed this headline Sunday if you didn't live in Cleveland and subscribe to the city's major daily. The headline read: "We're fooled by a different James."

The words didn't get it straight. What the headline should have said was that the fawning over a star athlete let the city dream dreams it wasn't entitled to dream. It sat back and allowed media to play cozy with LeBron James, and they focused too much time on trying to get James to like them but never did get to know him.

Yet he was right there in front of them all -- the real LeBron James, the petty and self-possessed and pathetic character they now know: the crass and shallow kid who rooted for the Yankees and the Cowboys and whose smile disarmed the media without letting any of them get close to him. Oh, they all thought they knew James. Some of them had covered him since high school, back at those AAU and Nike summer camps; they had hounded James' friends, trying to get inside his cloistered circle, wanting a glimpse that he was unwilling to give them.

So, as journalists and as men and women hired to chronicle the life of a famous athlete, they settled for less. They hero-worshiped; they forgot to do their jobs; they held LeBron James and his entourage accountable for nothing, acquiescing to their whims. For five minutes of James' time, the media would have traded their homes, their cars, their spouses for a story nobody else could get.  

Others enabled all of this, too.

Continue to Local media let 'King James' play them for fools

July 8, 2010 11:34 PM

Heat is on: LeBron breaks his city's heart

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Now what, Clevelanders?

Your 18 months of angst and anticipation have given way to disappointment and disgust. You had allowed yourself to fall madly in love with LeBron James, the man you anointed "The Chosen One." He never returned the love.

Unrequited love hurts - hurts like hell, too. It makes you feel like a fool for having poured your soul into a romance that wasn't genuine. You were merely LeBron's mistress, to do with as he pleased.

The bizarre relationship this city and its people had with their native son was destined to end like Tiger Wood's marriage: in an ugly divorce. For LeBron James, his entourage and their global aspirations couldn't find happiness here - not in Cleveland, not among the blue collars that had idolized James since his schoolboy days.

So, in front of ESPN cameras and edgy emotions, James cast his lot with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form an All-Star lineup that might bring James the title he couldn't win in Cleveland. But his decision to leave surely undid the affection the people in his hometown felt for him.

Oh, and one more thing his joining the Miami Heat did: It showed how little class James had.

Continue to Heat is on: LeBron breaks his city's heart

July 8, 2010 1:13 AM

The madness about LeBron stops tonight

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Call it a going-out-of-business sale, because that's what it will be around 9:30 tonight when LeBron James closes all the rumor mills that have sprouted like dandelions across the sports landscape.

All the false prophets, the unidentified sources and the unnamed NBA insiders who peddled bogus stories to newspapers, talk shows and gossip magazines from Cleveland to California and across the coastal waters have turned this into the "Summer of LeBron." If anything has grown more tiresome than listening to them, I don't know what it would be. OK, maybe mindless talk about the BP oil spill would belong ahead of it, but if it is, at least it's a topic that matters.

How Americans can obsess over where a self-absorbed athlete -- Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, too -- will earn his next $100 million begs for an explanation. Someone has to say what the fuss is about, because no matter where LeBron James lands, he won't create 10,000 jobs or put a foundering local economy on still waters.

And there lies the problem with this LeBron James obsession in a Rust Belt city like Cleveland: Its priorities are misdirected. 

Continue to The madness about LeBron stops tonight

June 30, 2010 2:06 PM

The Fed's reign is over forever

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He's no longer "Darth Federer" or "The Fed," two popular nicknames that fans and foes alike have attached to Roger Federer. Those nicknames have given way today to a less flattering but more apt one: "Dead Fed."

That's a harsh name to slap on Federer, the man who for almost a decade ruled men's tennis like a king. The emerald lawns of Wimbledon had always been Federer's kingdom, his fiefdom.

Lose there, The Fed? Impossible.

No, not the king of men's tennis?

The king is dead, ousted Wednesday from the biggest event in men's tennis 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. He lost to Czech star Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, a loss that should surprise no one because Federer should have lost in the first round to unknown Alejandro Falla, a player ranked so low that you couldn't find a scent of him with a bloodhound. Falla's game had little remarkable about it; it had produced no significant wins - not even a whole lot of scares.

Federer survived Falla in five sets. He didn't, however, survive Berdych, the No. 12 seed. He proved Federer's superior. He overpowered the defending Wimbledon champion. Berdych's strokes were sounder; his nerve held up under the intense spotlight of Centre Court. He didn't unravel like a spool of yard.

Federer did. 

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