Not many people, even die-hard baseball fans, know much about Lou Brissie. A wounded combat veteran of World War II, he returned to America and became a successful major league pitcher — in spite of a leg shattered by a German shell and a tight metal brace on that leg that allowed him only to hobble. He pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Cleveland Indians, compiling a lifetime record of 44 wins against 48 losses (most near the end of his career) and appeared in the 1949 All-Star game. With baseball behind him, Brissie worked in his native state of South Carolina. A remarkably resourceful man and a awfully nice one, too.
Here’s how I know about Lou Brissie. In late 1945, he was back home in South Carolina, recovering but still undergoing surgeries. Using his crutches, he walked into a restaurant in small-town Greenwood, SC. I was there, just a five-year-old little boy whose mommy was staying with her sister in nearby Ware Shoals while my dad was winding up his overseas duty with the Navy in the Pacific.
I don’t recall this clearly, but my mother and my aunt repeated the story to me many times. “He came in and sat down at a table next to us,” my aunt remembered. He put his crutches down and looked over at the little boy watching him and smiled a big smile.” My attention was caught by his crutches and his he used them to walk, and he seemed to enjoy my curiosity. My aunt continued:
“He pulled his chair over to us so he sat by you. He asked your name, and about your family, and you said your daddy was in the Navy. He was very interested and said you probably missed him very much and that he would be coming home soon. You nodded, and he reached to his pocket and pulled out a small pin. “He said, ‘I want you to have this so that you’ll know your daddy is thinking of you and will be home soon.’ He pinned it on your shirt and smiled. ‘You are a wonderful little boy, Billy. I know your daddy loves you’.”
Flash forward to today. That little pin was his combat veteran pin, the one he received for active duty in Italy. And I still have that pin. I still have the memory of the occasion although only through the memory of my aunt and mother. And I still have an extraordinary feeling of wonder and surprise at what he did to a little boy he had never met in that long-gone restaurant in Greenwood so many years ago.
I think of that pin often. And I thought of it the other day when I read that Lou Brissie had died back in South Carolina at the age of 89. He will be forever in my memory. God speed, Lou Brissie.