HOUSTON -- The sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park gave Muhammad Ali a hero's welcome Tuesday, but Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller would rather the former boxing great not have been invited.
Ali received a roaring ovation from the crowd for being an honored guest for the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game, but Feller came away angered by Ali's presence.
"I object very strongly to Muhammad Ali being here to throw out the first pitch, and you can print that," Feller was quoted as saying in Wednesday's Boston Herald. "This is a man who changed his name and changed his religion so he wouldn't have to serve his country, and, to me, that's disgusting."
Born Cassius Clay in 1942, Ali changed his name after converting to the Muslim faith.
Commissioner Bud Selig dismissed the criticism of Ali, who returned to the city where he fought four times and relinquished his heavyweight boxing title by refusing to join the military during the Vietnam War.
"Muhammad Ali is one of the sports legends of our generation,"
Selig said before the game. "I don't think that that's valid
Feller won 266 games during his career, all with the Cleveland Indians, but lost nearly four seasons while serving with the U.S. Navy in World War II. He received eight battle stars.
"A man who turned his back on his country shouldn't be honored this way," Feller told the Herald.
Ali became known for much more than being a terrific and
mouthy heavyweight champion in April 1967, when he moved his legal
residence to Houston to fight induction into the military at the
downtown U.S. Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station.
He was roundly criticized for the decision around the country,
and was indicted 10 days later by a federal jury for violating the
Universal Military Training and Service Act. He was convicted in
Houston on June 20, 1967, and was sentenced to five years in prison
and a fine of $10,000.
Ali never went to prison as his case went through appeals, but
was stripped of his titles and forced to stop boxing for more than
three years. His refusal gave more steam to the growing anti-war
movement, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in
1971. Ali returned to the ring shortly thereafter.
He became the world champion twice more, and eventually retired
"I protest his being here [at the All-Star Game]," Feller told the Herald. "I don't like the message he sends out, and [Major League Baseball] shouldn't have invited him."
Ali has returned to Houston several times over the years,
including a 1997 benefit for Parkinson's disease, the ailment from
which he now suffers.
"He's a national treasure as far as I'm concerned," AL and New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Sometimes when people are going through some physical problems, they tend to hide out. But I think he realizes how much good he does just showing up places."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.