A SALUTE TO THE HEROIC LOU BRISSIE
By David M. Jordan
One of the very best features of post-World War II A’s fandom has long been the saga of Lou Brissie, currently being featured by Lou’s hometown in South Carolina. It was a story of heroism, determination, persistence, and some pretty fine southpaw pitching.
The story begins, of course, with Leland Victor Brissie’s birth in Anderson, in the western part of South Carolina, back in June 1924. As he grew up in nearby Ware Shoals, Lou became a very good young lefthanded pitcher, attracting the notice of big league scouts while in high school. He drew the attention of Connie Mack and the Athletics in 1941, before he headed off to Presbyterian College, for whom he pitched for two years before enlisting in the army in December 1942.
Lou served in the 88th Infantry Division, which was involved in heavy fighting in the Appenine Mountains in Italy in 1944. One day early in December, Lou and his unit were hit by a heavy artillery barrage; eight of his fellow troopers were killed and Lou Brissie was severely wounded. His left tibia and shinbone were shattered, and he was left for dead on the ground. Eventually rescued, Lou found himself on a medical bed with army doctors preparing to amputate his leg. His plea not to amputate, “because I’m a ballplayer,” won him a reprieve, which, with the use of a new wonder drug called penicillin, led to twenty-three subsequent operations and a metal plate covering his left leg.
Brissie, recovering with hard work and toleration of the pain in his leg, was signed by Connie Mack to an A’s contract late in 1946, with an assignment to Savannah in the Sally League for 1947. Pitching with pain but also with guts and determination, Lou won 23 games for Savannah and a promotion to the big time. He made his major league debut with the A’s on September 28, 1947, in Yankee Stadium; he lost 5-2 to the Yanks but pitched seven tough innings.
In 1948, as the Athletics made a run at the American League pennant, Lou Brissie put together a fine rookie record of 14-10. He was even better the next season, winning 16 games to go with 11 losses. In midseason ’49, Lou was named to the league All-Star team, and he pitched three innings in the game against the National Leaguers. (Teammates Eddie Joost and Alex Kellner were also on the American League squad.) Ralph Kiner hit a home run off of Lou, but then Kiner was homering off everyone in those days.
The next year, although his earned run average improved, Lou’s record dropped to 7-19, as the A’s collapsed into the cellar in Mister Mack’s Golden Jubilee season. Early in 1951 he was traded to Cleveland in the massive deal that brought Gus Zernial and Dave Philley to Philadelphia from the White Sox and Minnie Minoso to Chicago from the Indians. Brissie pitched mainly as a reliever for the Indians for a couple of seasons and retired from the game after the 1953 campaign.
In his years after his active big league career, Lou Brissie has been a man who has given of himself wherever he could. For some years he was the national director of the American Legion Baseball program, working to improve the game for youngsters. He has made it a point to devote much time to visits to veterans’ hospitals, talking to damaged former servicemen, assuring them that the future need not be as severe as it might appear.
And, of course, Lou Brissie has made numerous visits to functions of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society, where his smile, bright conversation, and good cheer made him one of the very favorite of our old-timers. So the A’s Society is happy to join with Ware Shoals, South Carolina, in saluting and honoring the remarkable Lou Brissie.