Due for an Encore; Feliciano Deserves Another Chance to Sing Anthem

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Byline: Thom Loverro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

DETROIT - People were struck by the fact Bob Seger sang "America the Beautiful" and not "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game 1. There was no controversy, though, and Anita Baker delivered the traditional national anthem at Comerica Park last night before Game 2.

Out in Las Vegas, Jose Feliciano paid close attention.

"I heard Bob Seger sing 'America the Beautiful' before the first game, and I thought of Ray Charles and how great his version was," Feliciano said. "His was the best."

Feliciano, 61, is following the 2006 series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals with a lot of interest and a sense of irony. The great Hispanic singer is a huge baseball fan.

"The Tigers had no offense going in that first game, just like the Yankees a few weeks ago," he said, speaking from his hotel room at the Orleans Hotel and Casino. "If they get their offense going again, the Tigers are a tough team to beat."

But this series resonates with Feliciano on a level far deeper than just that of a passionate fan. It was here in Detroit, before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and Cardinals, that the singer made history - and set off a hot controversy - with his version of the anthem.

Feliciano, born blind because of congenital glaucoma, delivered a freelance, stylized rendition of the song. The 53,000 fans in the ballpark began to stir as he sang, and the phone lines at the ballpark, NBC and radio stations soon were jammed by angry callers.

One radio station in St. Louis claimed to have received 200 negative calls in five minutes, and Tigers officials said they received 2,000 complaints in the first hour.

The Cardinals scored three runs in the first inning that day off Tigers starter Mickey Lolich, who was upset that the start of the game was delayed by Feliciano's performance.

"I was with [NBC analyst] Tony Kubek later in the game, and he said I had caused a controversy, that their phone lines were ringing off the hook," Feliciano said. "But Tony stuck by me and supported me. I made a friend that day in Tony Kubek."

It wouldn't end at Tiger Stadium, though. This was October 1968, one of the most politically charged times of the 20th century in America. This was the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, of riots in cities, of protests against the Vietnam War, of a violent confrontation in the streets of Chicago between demonstrators and police at the Democratic National Convention.

Feliciano, who scored a No. 1 hit that year with his soulful version of The Doors' "Light My Fire," felt the impact of the controversy on his career.

"My records were put on hold by radio stations," Feliciano said. …