CECIL TRAVIS, 1913-2006
Only war could keep him from Hall of Fame
By JEFF D'ALESSIO,
"He'd be a major Hall of Famer," Bob Feller said. "No questions asked."
Saturday, as baseball's old-timers mourned the loss of the Fayetteville farmboy turned Washington Senators star shortstop, Feller stated his case for why Travis deserves a spot alongside him in baseball's hallowed halls.
When Feller casts his veterans committee ballot next month, Travis' name will be at the top of it. And he called on his fellow Hall of Famers to also take a long look at the lifetime .314 hitter whose career was sidetracked by a four-year Army stint in World War II.
"He was a very good hitter and he did a very good job in the war," said Feller, who won 266 games with the Indians and also served in World War II. "If it had not been for the war, he would have had a lifetime average of .325, .335."
"I only have one vote, but Cecil's very close," added Phil Niekro, the Braves' former Hall of Fame ace. "He had quite a record."
Travis, who died Saturday morning at 93 at his home near Fayetteville, is one of 200 legends on next year's veterans ballot. When it comes time to vote, committee members will be reminded of the 1941 season, one of the most acclaimed ever for American League hitters.
Boston's Ted Williams batted .406 that season. The Yankees' Joe DiMaggio had a hit in 56 straight games. And Travis finished with more hits than both of them: an AL-best 218.
"It was almost a dream year," Travis once told the Journal-Constitution. "But I knew all season I was on borrowed time."
On Christmas eve, 1941, at 28 years old and the peak of his career, Travis received his induction notice. He was off to serve in World War II and wouldn't return to the majors until the final few weeks of the 1945 season.
Four years in the Army, much of it spent as a foot soldier in Europe, took its toll. He suffered frostbite on two toes while in special services with the 76th Infantry in France. He returned to the Senators for the 1946 and '47 seasons, but was never the same. Travis hit .359 the year before the war, .252 his first full season back.
"Cecil Travis was the shortstop in the American League before World War II," Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey said by phone Saturday night. "After he served his country, he just wasn't the player understandably he was."
Travis twice finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and was selected to three All-Star teams .
"I know some people say the war cost me a chance at the Hall of Fame," he told the AJC in 1999. "But I don't think about that at all. ... Besides, there [are] already too many people in [Cooperstown]. I've always thought that should just be for great players. I was a good player, but I wasn't a great one."
It was simply a reflection of this modest man, who grew up in the rural life and died on the farm of his youth.