Lou Brissie

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Leland Victor Brissie

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Biographical Information[edit]

140 pix

Lou Brissie pitched seven seasons in the major leagues. He nearly died as a paratrooper in the US Army during World War II, but after many operations and much hard work he went on to a successful major league career. He was on the 1949 American League All-Star team. Overall, he was 44-48 with 29 saves in the majors. He later worked as a scout as well as for the American Legion and the State of South Carolina. Brissie is a member of the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame and also has been honored by the Hall of Fame and by the Governor of South Carolina.

"If someone tells you that you cannot climb the mountain, you set out and find a way to do it."– Lou Brissie, quoted in Baseball Digest from June 2005

"Was Lou Brissie a hero? His characteristically modest response: 'I don’t think I am. I knew some.' - from the SABR biography of Lou Brissie [1]

Amateur Career[edit]

Lou Brissie never played baseball in high school, but he did play with a local textile league team, beginning at age 14. As soon as he graduated from high school, he was given a pro contract by the Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack. He was offered a contract with a $25,000 bonus to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but he turned it down before signing with the Athletics.

College and Military Service[edit]

Mack agreed to send the southpaw to Presbyterian College for three years. [2] He was scheduled to report for spring training with the Athletics in 1943, but he enlisted in the Army in December 1942. He lost a brother in the war and decided to enlist himself. [3]

Brissie was a paratrooper corporal in World War II. [4] He played with a semi-pro textile team in Greenville, South Carolina during 1944 (where he was stationed for basic training). He also pitched for his army team against other local military teams. In Italy he led a patrol of 12 men into a battle zone and was the only survivor. Brissie suffered severe leg injuries in the war but was able to surmount them and make it to the majors. (While recovering in hospital, he received a letter from Connie Mack promising him a chance to play ball when he was ready.) [5]

He was awarded a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his injuries. He was on crutches in 1945, and could not play. [6] He was still disabled in 1946, but was given a contract by Mack for 1947.

Minor league stardom[edit]

He joined the Savannah Indians of the South Atlantic League that year, and won 23 games with an ERA of 1.19. Brissie was a major draw for Savannah; on nights when he would pitch, the crowds would number from 6,000-11,000, and fans would often be seated on the grass in the outfield. [7]

Major league career[edit]

His debut in the Majors came on September 28, 1947, when he was on the mound for the Philadelphia Athletics, facing the New York Yankees in their last game of the season. He went seven innings and struck out four, but his team lost, 5-3. His left leg was in a specially designed brace for the game. [8]

Brissie pitched seven seasons in the majors, winning 44 games and saving 29. He was most successful as a rookie for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1948, when he won 14 games and led the league in strikeouts per nine innings, and in 1949 when he won 16 games and was named to the All-Star team. On July 18, 1948, he served up the 4th of Pat Seerey's four homers in a game. For the 1948 campaign, he was 14-10 with 5 saves and a 4.13 ERA and hit .237. His numbers were very similar to staffmates Joe Coleman Sr. (14-13, 4.09) and Carl Scheib (14-8, 3.94). His K/9 rate (5.89) was well ahead of league runner-up Bob Feller (5.27). Lou was among the 1948 AL leaders in saves (tied for 6th), strikeouts (127, 4th) and lowest home run rate allowed (.28/9 IP). He finished fourth in voting for the 1948 Rookie of the Year Award, second to Gene Bearden among American Leaguers.

Brissie was 16-11 with 3 saves and a 4.28 ERA for the Athletics in 1949. He was 9th in the AL in victories, 8th in strikeouts (118), tied Coleman and Randy Gumpert for 7th in complete games (18), was 3rd in homers allowed (20), tied Scheib for 9th in walks (118) and led in earned runs allowed (109, tied with Hal Newhouser). He also batted .267.

He pitched the 4th through 6th innings of the 1949 All-Star Game, won by the AL. Relieving Virgil Trucks in the 4th, Brissie gave up singles to Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial that inning but allowed neither to score. In the 5th, he came to bat against Red Munger with Yogi Berra on first and one out and promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the bottom of the 5th, Lou allowed a Sid Gordon double and intentionally walked Roy Campanella but got Andy Pafko to fan to end the threat. He finally cracked in the 6th, walking Pee Wee Reese and giving up a two-run homer to Ralph Kiner. He left for pinch-hitter Vic Wertz in the top of the 7th.

Brissie fell to 7-19 despite improving his ERA to 4.02 in 1950. He was among the AL's hardest players to hit (10th in the league with 8.67 Hits per 9 innings) and tied Howie Judson and Tom Ferrick for third in games pitched (46). He was also 5th with 8 saves, 7th in innings (246), 10th in strikeouts (101), tied for 8th in complete games (15), tied for 7th in shutouts (2), 6th in walks (117) and was second in losses, one behind Alex Kellner.

Lou allowed 20 hits, 8 walks and 10 runs in 13 1/3 IP for the Athletics in 1951, going 0-2. He was then shipped to the Cleveland Indians as part of a three-team deal on April 30th; others involved in the transaction included Minnie Minoso and Gus Zernial. With the Indians, Brissie rebounded to have his best year, going 4-3 with 9 saves and a 3.20 ERA in 54 games. He allowed only 90 hits in 112 1/3 IP. His 56 games pitched were second in the AL behind Ellis Kinder. The South Carolina native was also third in saves (behind Kinder and Scheib).

With the Indians in 1952, Brissie went 3-2 with 2 saves and a 3.48 ERA in 42 outings. He tied for 5th in the AL in appearances. In 1953, he wrapped up his big league career by allowing 21 hits, 13 walks and 11 runs in 13 innings; he had two saves and a 7.62 ERA for the Indians.

For his career year in the majors, Brissie was 44-48 with 29 saves and a 4.07 ERA in 234 major leagues. He completed 45 of 83 starts and also batted .227.

His main teammates were Eddie Joost, Ferris Fain, Sam Chapman, Elmer Valo and Hank Majeski.

He hung up his ballcap in 1953, after the Cleveland Indians sold his contract to their farm club in Indianapolis, but he never reported for duty. [9]

Life after baseball[edit]

Brissie in 2009.

After his playing days he became national director for American Legion Baseball. He worked with the Legion until 1961, when he was downsized. He spent time as a scout for the Dodgers in 1962 and became a scout for the Braves in 1964. [10]

He went into private industry, working in employee relations and as a company representative in Washington. His company was bought out in the early 1980's, and he then moved to the South Carolina State Board of Technical Education. He worked for the state for more than a dozen years. [11]

Family Life[edit]

Brissie lost his first wife in 1967, and married his current wife Diana in 1975. Together they would raise six children (Ronald [who died in 2002 and served in Vietnam] [12], Robert, Aaron, Vicki, Charlotte and Jennifer) .

Other Information[edit]

Yogi Berra, center-left, Lou Brissie, left with cane, second baseman Jerry Coleman (in black shirt and coat), center, and outfielder John "Mule" Miles, right

After retiring to South Carolina, Lou would join Ted Williams and others in trying to get Shoeless Joe Jackson off the restricted list and into the Hall of Fame. [13] He also spoke often at the VA, visiting the sick and injured veterans. [14]

He was awarded the "Americanism Award" by the Cooperstown Hall of Fame for his contribution to youth and to baseball, and was elected to the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame in 1994. [15] He was also awarded the Order of the Palmetto (one of the two highest civilian honors awarded by the Governor of South Carolina [16]) in 1996. [17]

For the rest of his life, he suffered from pain in his leg, and admitted to being in pain for over 60 years. He would pitch through the pain and would accept his fate. "You get up every day and it’s like having diabetes – which is something possibly worse, but it is a daily thing that you check and try to deal with, whatever comes up." [18]

Interestingly, he is still listed as "Active" on the Cleveland Indians homepage, perhaps out of respect for his abilities. See [1]

Brissie is the most recent major league player to come from Presbyterian College (as of 2009), a school that also produced Chick Galloway.

The book The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie appeared about him in February 2009.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL All-Star (1949)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (1949)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1949 & 1950)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ira Berkow: The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie, Triumph Books, Chicago, IL, 2009.


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