When you realize the insurmountable adversity that he overcame to become an all-star major league pitcher, you see greatness.
– Lamar Garrard, on Lou Brissie
I’d like say to say I was good friends with Lou Brissie, the old baseball player who passed away quietly Monday, but I’ve known him only a few years.
Although he was one of the friendliest men I’ve ever met, I was probably too much in awe of his achievements and courage and perseverance to rise to that level of friendly familiarity.
Still, his kindness and warmth were remarkable in this day and age, and I still shake my head to think whether I was most impressed that he was so nice or that he is one of only three men to strike out baseball’s greatest hitter, Ted Williams, twice in one game.
I’d like to say that the last person to give Lou a baseball was me.
A few weeks ago I dropped by the VA Hospital and took him a Sally League game ball I had once hurled as the first pitch at a GreenJackets game.
He immediately thought I wanted it autographed because he reached for a bedside pen and began rolling the white sphere in his gnarled hands looking for a good spot to sign.
“No, Lou,” I told the old pitcher quickly. “That’s for you. It’s therapy. Grasp it in your hand when you get bored lying around up here.”
He grinned and said, “I’ll hit the doctor with it if he doesn’t tell me what I want to hear.”
“That’s why they call it a ‘breaking’ pitch,” I assured him.
I’d like to say Lou Brissie inspired me to keep going when I felt like giving up. But any man who endured 23 surgeries to heal battle wounds and then went on to become an all-star pitcher is beyond my grasp.
I told him as much once when I showed him a photograph of me running in Atlanta’s 10K Peachtree Road Race. I was wearing an A’s ballcap like the one he wore when he pitched for the team in the 1940s.
“I did this to honor you,” I said. “But I also did it to remind me to never quit.”
“Give me a copy of that picture,” he said, “and I’ll put it between Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle and Bob Feller.”
(I think he was joking, but I got him a copy just in case.)
Finally, I would like to say that I wish I was as good a man as Lou Brissie.
I would like to say that I was as gracious and humble and kind, and known widely as an unselfish gentleman.
I would like to say that I was the kind of man remembered for serving my country and my teammates and my family and my God, before ever thinking of myself.
I’m not there yet, but I would like to say that I know someone who showed me the way.