Lou Brissie Overcame War Wounds to Become a Major League Pitcher

Lou Brissie overcame a devastating leg wound to become an All-Star Major League pitcher.

Born in Anderson, South Carolina on June 5, 1924, Leland Victor Brissie began his baseball career at age 14 playing for a textile mill league. Two years later, the 6 foot 4 four inch ball player had more than a dozen professional offers, including one from Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics.

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Lou Brissie in Italy during WWII

In 1941, Brissie signed a contract with Mack to play for the Philadelphia A’s, on his father’s stipulation that he finish school first. While he was attending Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC, America entered WWII. In December 1942, Brissie, now 18, enlisted in the US Army. He was trained as a combat infantryman and was assigned to the 88th Infantry Division. By November 1944 he was in Italy fighting against Hitler’s vaunted Gothic Line in the Northern Apennine mountains.

On December 7, 1944, Brissie’s unit was subjected to a heavy German artillery barrage. The barrage lasted 10 minutes, killed 11 Americans and wounded many others. During the attack, a 170mm shell landed in front of Brissie. The blast broke both his ankles and shattered his lower left leg into 30 pieces.

“I tried to crawl into a creek bed and up against a bank to get some kind of protection,” said Brissie in a 2009 interview with the Augusta Chronicle. “I was kind of halfway out on the other side from the waist up and I rolled over. I looked down and could see one boot sticking out of the water and see the blood coming out at the instep where that foot was hit. On the other side I couldn’t see my foot and at that point I thought I lost my leg. But the bones had been messed up so bad that the foot had just flopped over.”

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Insignia of the 88th Infantry Division

Lou Brissie was evacuated to a field hospital where he fought off doctors recommendation to amputate his leg.

Three days later, Brissie found himself at the 300th General Hospital in Naples, Italy where he met Dr. Wilbur K. Brubaker. Dr. Brubaker also recommended amputating Brissie’s shattered leg, which by now had become infected. However, after hearing Brissie’s explanation on how he wanted to become a major league pitcher, Brubaker agreed to try saving his leg, completing the first of twenty three surgeries Brissie would undergo over the next two years.

By 1946, with the help of a heavy metal brace, Lou Brissie was playing baseball again. After a stint in the minor leagues, he joined the Philadelphia A’s for their 1947 season.

During the first game of the 1948 season, Brissie had a scare when baseball legend Ted Williams hit a line drive that struck his reconstructed leg and knocked him down. As Williams and the other ballplayers anxiously gathered around the pitcher’s mound, Brissie jokingly asked Williams why he “didn’t pull the ball to right field instead of hitting it up the middle.” After a few tense minutes, Brissie realized his leg was ok and continued playing. The A’s went on to win 4-2, with Brissie striking out Williams for the final out of the game.

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Lou Brissie pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics

Lou Brissie retired from the major leagues in September of 1953. His career record was 44–48 with 29 saves and a 4.07 ERA.

About his career, Brissie said: “I knew I was a symbol to many veterans trying to overcome problems. I wasn’t going to let them down.”

After a successful career in the Major Leagues and a lifetime of helping and inspiring wounded and disabled veterans, Lou Brissie passed away on November 25, 2013. He was 89 years old.

For More Reading On Lou Brissie Check Out:

The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie

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