In honor of Veterans Day, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look back at one of many heroes who represented the Indians on the field and the United States on the battlefield. This story by Vince Guerrieri was originally published December 24, 2013. – BT
At first glance, Lou Brissie’s major league career doesn’t look very impressive.
Brissie, whose seven-year career included three with the Indians, went 44-48 with a 4.07 career ERA, one All-Star Game appearance and no postseason experience.
But Brissie had an amazing career just by making it to the major leagues.
Brissie, a native of South Carolina, was scouted by multiple major league teams as a teenager in the 1930s, having acquired some notice as a pitcher for teams associated with local textile mills. Connie Mack signed him to a contract with the idea that Brissie would hone his game at the collegiate level and then go into the Philadelphia Athletics’ farm system.
But Brissie, like many other men of his generation, put his future plans on hold as World War II broke out. His parents wouldn’t let him enlist until he was 18 years old, but Brissie then wound up in Europe. While on patrol in Northern Italy, Brissie and his unit came under German mortar fire. Three soldiers were killed and eight were wounded, including Brissie, who had a mortar shell explode at his feet, shredding his left tibia and breaking his right foot.
Brissie was evacuated to an Army hospital, and faced amputation. He managed to talk the doctor out of it, and his shinbone was wired together. He fought off potential infection with a newly-discovered wonder drug: Penicillin.
Within three days, Brissie had been at three different hospitals. He still had both legs, but faced a long road ahead. Ultimately, he had to have 23 surgeries to correct injuries. Mack held to his word, and in 1947, Brissie joined the Athletics’ farm club in Savannah, Ga., pitching with a metal brace on his reconstructed left lower leg. He won his first 13 decisions, and went 23-5 before being called up to the parent club.
Brissie made his debut at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 28, 1947. He pitched well on a day that Babe Ruth was honored, going seven innings and giving up five runs on nine hits, but took the loss for his only decision of the year.
The following year, Brissie went 14-10. His pitching was on the reasons the Athletics remained in a tight American League pennant race throughout the summer. Brissie finished fourth in the rookie of the year voting, and received votes for American League MVP.
In 1949, Brissie went 16-11, the most wins for him in a single year in his career, and threw three innings of relief in the American League’s 11-7 win in the All-Star Game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
On April 30, 1951, Brissie was part of a three-team trade between the Athletics, Indians and White Sox. The Tribe got Brissie, and sent Minnie Minoso to the White Sox and Ray Murray and Sam Zoldak to the Athletics. In three years with the Indians, Brissie went on to a 7-5 record before retiring in 1953. Minoso would be an everyday player for the White Sox before he was dealt back to the Indians in 1957 with Fred Hatfield for Early Wynn and Al Smith.
After his retirement, Brissie ran the American Legion baseball program – and spoke about his injuries to inspire others, particularly returning veterans.
Photo: Associated Press – Brissie pictured center with Al Rosen (left) and Hank Majeski (right)