Common Bond Unites Bearden, Brissie

May 18, 1948

An unlikely pitching matchup between two rookies is set to take place on Tuesday evening in the first night game of the season at Cleveland Stadium.

What makes the matchup so unusual is that neither of the ballplayers set to take the mound should be playing professionally, let alone be standing center stage. Both of these young men very well could have died from their experiences during World War II.

Rookie left-hander Gene Bearden is Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau’s scheduled starter. Connie Mack is expected to send rookie southpaw Lou Brissie out to represent his Philadelphia Athletics.

Both young pitchers proudly served their country during the war while fighting separately on the two different fronts. Like so many of their baseball brethren, they gave away some of the best years of their youth to defend the freedom of the nation.

Each nearly paid the ultimate price in doing so, and for their sacrifices along the way, both are Purple Heart recipients.

Bearden spent his time in the South Pacific on board a naval cruiser. The California native saw his ship sink and sustained an injury to his right leg. The damage done required a metal plate and screw to be put into his leg to stabilize the bone. After the surgery, he was told he would never play baseball again.

Now, Bearden looks to make his third official Major League appearance. He pitched in one game last season and retired just one of the four batters he faced. He walked one, gave up a pair of hits, threw a wild pitch, and was charged with three earned runs.

Bearden will make his third start of this season, but only his second official one, after his second appearance of the season against the New York Yankees was washed away by rain after four innings. Bearden had been good in the unofficial event, allowing just one hit, a three-run home run, to Joe DiMaggio.

In his first start of the season, he earned the win and pitched eight and two-thirds innings against the Washington Senators. He lost his shutout in the bottom of the ninth, but it was the only run he allowed on the day. He walked four and allowed three base hits, but he struck out five.

Brissie found himself fighting in Italy, where heavy fighting had broken out in late 1944. In December of that year, Brissie was wounded in the battle when a missile exploded in his infantry, shattering his left tibia into pieces.

The lanky lefty needed 40 blood transfusions and 23 leg operations to save his leg from the 21 shell fragments he was hit with from the missile. Like Bearden, he was told he would never play baseball again.

He overcame the odds and returned to baseball wearing a heavy aluminum brace. He began playing in the minors last season and won more than 20 games. He was called up at the end of the season and started in one game against the Yankees. He gave the Athletics seven innings, allowed five runs on five walks and nine hits, and struck out four. He earned the loss in his Major League debut.

The southpaw has appeared in six games this season, including three starts and two complete games. He has not started since the second game of a doubleheader on May 9 against Detroit, when he struck out nine in a complete game effort.

Dr. Wilbur Brubaker, a Cleveland surgeon, was in the service with Brissie and performed one of those operations on his shattered leg. He will be a guest of the Philadelphia starter at the game Tuesday evening.

Bob Savage, a reliever in the Athletics bullpen, is also a Purple Heart recipient.

As these men return to the mound again, defying all odds, remember their sacrifices and their triumphs for the good of our country just a few short years ago.

Photo: Associated Press

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