On Wednesday, November 5, I attended the second annual Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. This year’s recipients were Tommy Lasorda, Hall of Fame manager of the L.A. Dodgers; Nick Swisher, MLB First Baseman, Outfielder, and Designated Hitter from the Cleveland Indians; and Senior Chief Petty Officer Carl Thompson of the U.S. Navy. It was so exciting to be there again this year (also be sure to check out last year’s post).
The Act of Valor Award honors Bob Feller, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1956. Feller threw no-hitters in 3 different years, including the only no-hitter ever thrown on Opening Day. “Rapid Robert” Feller was also called “The Heater from Van Meter” after his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa because he threw some of the fastest fastballs in baseball history. He pitched 3,287 innings, threw 44 shutouts, and rang up 2,581 strike outs in his career, which was interrupted by serving 3 years as a gun captain on the U.S.S. Alabama in the Navy during World War II.
Feller was the first American professional athlete to enlist in the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He enrolled just one day after the attack. His service inspired other pro baseball players like Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Hank Greenberg to serve their country.
The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Award winners are selected because they are dedicated to serving our country and share the values and integrity of Bob Feller. Among the award presenters this year were Peter Fertig, founder of the Act of Valor Foundation, along with other VIP guests such as Mrs. Anne Feller, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, , retired four star admiral Hank Chiles, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens, who is the most senior enlisted member of the Navy.
Tommy Lasorda is the Hall of Fame former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has been with the Dodgers organization for 66 years. Lasorda managed the Dodgers from 1976 to 1996. He won two World Series in 1981 and 1988, and his number 2 is retired at Dodger Stadium. Before becoming a manager, he was a left handed pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Kansas City Athletics. He also managed the 2000 U.S. Olympic baseball team, and won the gold medal. Lasorda was honored for his military service in the United States Army during World War II.
Nick Swisher is a current first baseman/left fielder/designated hitter for the Cleveland Indians. He previously played for the Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees. Swisher was honored for his participation on USO tours and Operation Homefront, and his own charity, Swish’s Wishes (now known as the Swisher Family Foundation). Swisher and his wife, actress Joanna Garcia, visited troops at forward operating bases in Afghanistan during their honeymoon. Nick was a member of the 2009 World Series Champion Yankees and was selected as an All-Star in 2010. He is the son of former major leaguer Steve Swisher.
Sr. Chief Petty Officer Carl Thompson is and Engineer Laboratory Technician in the United States Navy serving the aircraft carriers U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and his current ship, the U.S.S. George Washington. In 2012, he served in Djibouti as the Command Security Manager for Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. Senior Chief Thompson is active in volunteering in community service in the places he is stationed. He lives now with his wife and 2 kids in Yokosuka, Japan, where he traveled from to win the Act of Valor Award. He has won the Joint Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, and Good Conduct Medal. He is a native of Custer, South Dakota.
The other MLB nominees for the Award were Oakland Athletics closer Sean Doolittle, Miami Marlins Pitcher Mike Dunn, Colorado Rockies OF/1B Michael Cuddyer, Milwaukee Brewers C Jonathan Lucroy (finalist), Cincinnati Reds OF Jay Bruce, Boston Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia (finalist), Baltimore Orioles P Darren O’Day, Pittsburgh Pirates P Charlie Morton (finalist), Arizona Diamondbacks P Brad Ziegler (finalist), Kansas City Royals DH Billy Butler, and Washington Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche (finalist). They were honored in a slideshow at the ceremony, and each received a quilt during the regular season from Quilts of Honor.
People told great stories about Bob Feller and the great things the winners of the award did. In fact, when Tommy Lasorda came up to accept his award, he said, “after hearing that introduction, I thought I had died.”
Indians Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Bob DiBiasio, talked a lot about Bob Feller’s achievements. Feller is the only baseball player ever to pitch a no-hitter on Opening Day. He told a story about Opening Day 1994, when the Indians were getting no-hit by Randy Johnson. Feller, who was in attendance at the game, stormed into the broadcast booth to go on the air with ESPN announcer Chris Berman in the 8th inning to start talking about his accomplishment in 1940 to try to jinx Johnson’s no-hit bid. Just when he and Berman started to talk about it, Sandy Alomar, Jr. singled into right field. Feller returned to the press box to a round of applause.
The Honorable Ray Mabus spoke next. He said that he was supposed to throw out the first pitch at Nats Park in Game 5 of the 2014 NLDS, so he was mad at the Giants fans in the house whose team took that opportunity away from him. He told about Nick Swisher’s one major league relief appearance. The Yankees were down 15-5 in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. They had used up all their pitchers, after Chien-Ming Wang only went about an inning. They called in Swisher, who threw a scoreless inning and clocked a 78-MPH fastball. The last time Swisher pitched, he said, was in high school. Still, he now has a lifetime major league 0.00 ERA. Mabus also spoke about Sr. Chief Petty Officer Carl Thompson. While stationed in Djibouti, he spent time teaching English to the local citizens.
When Nick Swisher took the stage to accept his award, he was so thankful. He said the reason he helped the military is because his grandfather was in the army. I was able to speak to Swisher a little more about his volunteer projects, what it meant to him to win the award and other topics. Click on the short video below to see part of our interview.
It was then Carl Thompson’s turn. He was so glad to be honored in front of his mother and father from South Dakota, as well as his wife and kids. His kids were asleep during most of the ceremony because they came in from Japan and were still on Japanese time. After the ceremony, I asked Senior Chief Thompson what it was like to be honored alongside Lasorda and Swisher, and he told me, “it’s truly a great honor. I am very proud and happy to be recognized in the same context as them for all the service they’ve done for their country, as well as the troops when they visit the all the forward deployed bases and troops. It is a great honor.”
Finally, the last speaker of the night was the hilarious Tommy Lasorda. He spent a lot of time telling jokes and about funny experiences coaching players Steve Sax. There were a couple of funny stories about players missing bunt and steal signs. You should take a few minutes to watch his whole speech here: http://dodgers.mlblogs.com/2014/11/06/video-tommy-lasorda-accepts-bob-feller-act-of-valor-award/. Even though he his 87 years old and has been married for 65 years, you can tell that Lasorda still loves baseball. He said that his wife accused him of loving baseball more than her, and Lasorda replied, “Yes, but I love you more than football or basketball.”
You can also tell that Lasorda loves his county and the people who serve in the military. “I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. You need to pull for the armed forces,” he said during his speech. He also talked about how he cried at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, when the national anthem played after he won the Olympic gold medal. He said that when he won the World Series for L.A., no one really cared in San Diego or especially in San Francisco. But when he won the Olympic gold, it was a celebration for all Americans.
I also got a few minutes to interview Lasorda, my first interview with a baseball Hall of Famer. I asked him what it felt like to be given the award named after Bob Feller. “I’m honored. As a great player I looked up to, Bob Feller was my hero when I was a youngster. To receive that award, I am very, very fortunate. . . . There are so many other people who could have gotten this award, so for them to select me to receive it, I’m very, very appreciative and it’s a blessing for me to be able to get the Bob Feller award.” He told me that Feller, along with Lou Gerhig, was his favorite baseball player growing up. When I asked him how his military service affected his life, he said, “it made me a better man to serve two years for my country.” Finally, I asked him what lessons baseball taught him. “It taught me how to be respectful and how to be energetic. It taught me when I put that uniform on to give it 100%. It made me realize that I was fortunate enough to be to be playing professional baseball and that I was fortunate to be able to do that.” At the end of the interview, Lasorda told me, “you did a good job,” which is a compliment that I will always remember coming from him.
Check out a few more pictures from the event:
As this week we celebrate Veterans Day, I dedicate this post to the service men and women who risked their lives and made personal sacrifices. Thank you for your generosity to the country. Learn more about the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award at http://www.actofvaloraward.org/