November 11th is Veteran's Day (formerly Armistice Day), a day when we remember the service of the men and women in the American Armed Forces. Extra Mustard is taking a moment today to share the amazing stories of three athletes who are also veterans.
Bob Feller was well-known for many things. Feller was a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians for 18 seasons (1936-41 and 1945-56) during which he won 266 games, pitched 3,827 innings (including 279 complete games) and held down an ERA of 3.25. He was an eight-time all-star and a seven-time AL strikeout champion and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. However, none of that compares to what Feller did during his absence from baseball between 1941 and 1945.
Two days after the attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Bob Feller became the first professional American athlete to enlist in World War II. Even though he could have gotten an exemption due to his ailing father, Feller pushed to serve in active combat.
"The last thing on my mind right then was playing baseball. I immediately decided to enlist in the United States Navy. I didn't have to – I was 23 and strong-bodied, you bet, but with my father terminally ill back in Van Meter, Iowa, I was exempt from military service."
Feller served on the USS Alabama starting in the fall of 1942 and stayed there for over two years, during which he commanded a unit of 24 men while keeping his pitching skills sharp by throwing next to a gun turret. He saw action off the coast of Tarawa, in the Marshalls, Carolines, and Philippines. By the time he was done with his military service, Feller had earned five combat ribbons and eight battle stars. And while the decision to enlist certainly put Feller in harm's way and prevented him from pitching during what would have been the prime of his baseball career, Feller never regretted a minute of his decision to enlist:
"During a war like World War II, when we had all those men lose their lives, sports was very insignificant. I have no regrets. The only win I wanted was to win World War II. This country is what it is today because of our victory in that war."
Bob Feller passed away on December 15, 2010. However, his courageous inspiration continues to serve as an example for all as we take this day to remember and thank the brave men and women who have served our country.
If Mike Anderson had never joined the military, there’s a good chance he never would have set foot on an NFL field. A former running back for the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens, Anderson served in the Marine Corps for four years.
Anderson, who participated in the marching band instead of playing football at his high school in South Carolina, joined the Marines straight out of high school after an exchange with a recruiter.
“I always liked the idea of serving in the military,” Anderson told InCharge. “I liked the slogan, too: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” I liked the exclusivity of it.”
While stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California, Anderson was spotted playing football for the 11th Marine Regiment football team by a coach from Mt. San Jacinto. A few years later, after spending two seasons at Mt. San Jacinto and another two years at the University of Utah, Anderson — at the age of 27 — made his NFL debut for the Denver Broncos as a sixth-round pick of the 2000 NFL draft.
Multiple injuries would shorten his career, but in 2000, Anderson lit up opposing defenses. At the end of the season, Anderson was named Offensive Rookie of the Year, finishing with 1,487 yards on the ground.
"This entire season has been like a dream that won't stop," Anderson said following the Broncos’ win over the Seattle Seahawks on November 26, 2000. "I'm just going to keep going along for the ride." In that game, Anderson torched the Seahawks’ defense for 195 rushing yards and two scores. Anderson called that performance a “dream come true.”
In 2005, Anderson posted another 1,000 yard rushing season for the Broncos. He ended up playing professionally for seven years — five with the Broncos and two with the Baltimore Ravens. When Anderson called it quits, he had accumulated over 4,000 rushing yards in his career, averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and scored 37 rushing touchdowns. Anderson credits his military background for helping him in his NFL playing days.
“The discipline, work habits, motivation… I think of those things every day,” Anderson said to InCharge. “The Marine Corps is first and foremost about pride. The NFL is also a select few. It’s a brotherhood between all the teams.”
Tim James might not have made much of an impact on the court, but he certainly impacted many people’s lives in a big way. The basketball phenom was raised in the dicey Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, attended the University of Miami on a hoops scholarship and was drafted by the Miami Heat in 1999. The 6’7” forward spent his entire life in South Florida before signing with the Charlotte Hornets after a rookie season in which he only appeared in four games.
James never found notable on-court success in the NBA, averaging a miniscule six minutes over three seasons with the Heat, Hornets, and 76ers before he pursued a basketball career overseas. Following international stops in Turkey, Venezuela, Japan and Israel, the 1999 All-American and Big East Player of the Year decided to leave basketball. He enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 31.
"I wanted to experience a new part of my life," James told ESPN. "And I wanted to make a sacrifice."
Upon arriving at basic training in 2008, he didn’t tell a single person about his background as a collegiate and professional basketball player. James was deployed to Iraq in 2009, where he would spend one year as a member of the ODIN unit, an acronym for Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize. It was here that he played a pickup basketball game and stunned a few sergeants, thus revealing his true identity.
“I wanted this experience to be raw,'' James explained to the Miami Herald. “Start a new life. I wanted to understand new minds and new ways of thinking. I've been in basketball since I was 8. I didn't want to have a basketball conversation every day.”
Upon completion of his service in the Army, he would soon become a different type of hero: Tim James is now a firefighter in Atlanta and insists that this is the final step of his incredible journey.
Ryan, Sean, and Andrew are writers for Next Impulse Sports