Thursday, July 4, 2013
"I plead my case of not taking my leg. I'm a ball player, and I can't play without a leg."
In the hours following an enemy barrage and a horrific leg injury in December 1944, that was Lou Brissie's only thought.
"Don't take my leg. I'm a ball player."
All his life he wanted to play pro baseball, but sometimes bigger things come up.
"I had signed an agreement with the Philadelphia Athletics," Brissie said. "But World War II got in the way of that."
Before realizing his Major League dream, he enlisted to serve in the United States Army, and it almost ended his career before it began.
"I had 13 wounds overall: both eyes, both hands, left lower leg, left ankle, right ankle, right foot."
That's when something pretty remarkable happened. As he sat in the hospital starting his rehab, Brissie got a letter from A's Manager Connie Mack.
"He said, 'When you feel like you're ready to play, let me know and I'll make sure that you get the chance.' I said, 'Wow, when I think I'm ready he's going to make sure I get the chance to try."
In late 1947, Brissie got that chance. He started his seven-year pro career, but he did so with plenty of extra protection.
"I had nothing but scar tissue on my shin, which had been shattered into 30 pieces," Brissie said. "They knew that one lick on that shin would be it."
Because of that, Brissie wore a brace and protective guard on that leg, and the great Ted Williams once put it to the test.
"He knocked me down with a line drive that hit right on the edge of my brace. He walked over, and I asked him why didn't he pull the ball."
He wasn't unique in being both a soldier and a ball player, but that is an oddity in today's world.
That combination of America's protector and its pasttime will always be a special bond among his generation of players.
"Most of us had served during World War II, and it had a little deeper meaning."