Saturday, June 1, 2013

May 30- Oakland Athletics

I’ve finally come to the end of this journey, but I assure that this will not be my final Stars and Stripes post. I still have a few more teams to go, but I still need to track them down. Some day soon I’m sure it will all come together.

This was the first and only hat of the 2012 Stars and Stripes collection I ever intended on picking up. I bought it a few days before Father’s Day when I was hanging out and catching up with my friend Jason at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) in Clackamas. I was originally going to scoop it up while I was in New York during my time in the MLB Fan Cave, but unfortunately there was a “disagreement” between the powers that be and myself over retaining my employment. Basically, I wanted to keep my job, but they felt the exact opposite. It happens.

Actually, due to the fact that it’s an Oakland Athletics hat, they were pretty much non-existent throughout New York City. I had popped over the New Era Flagship store a few times as they were being released, but they had the New York Yankees, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox in stock. The Red Sox one was really weird for them to have, but then again I’m sure they sell. The Lids Web site had all three color variations of the cap, but for some reason I didn’t buy any of them there either. Actually, to be honest, the main reason I started collecting of these specific models is because of something I touched on in my post from May 20th about the Atlanta Braves. 10 of the hats I picked up were being clearanced out for the price of 2 for $22. At that moment the only thing that mattered was that they were worn on the field at some point and I had no reason to not pull the trigger. It is my one rule (which I bend a few times) of my New Era collection, every hat must have been used on the field. There just isn’t that much history that can be drawn out of a custom cap… well, maybe one custom cap, but that’ll be kept a secret until later in the year.

Sorry to break off in a weird tangent, just had to bring everyone else up to speed. Anyway, this was the only color that any of the Just Sports stores had in stock. Since I was able to actually touch it and try it on I didn’t really have any reason to not buy it. It was also within this purchase that I bought my stepfather’s Los Angeles Dodgers cap for Father’s Day as well. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone, I always say.

The second I got home I absconded into my bedroom to do a bit of research and hat marking for this cap. It was interesting to see so many players from the turn of the century who had gone to war during the Connie Mack era, but none of them really seemed to fit my mold of an interesting story. So I combed along, changing my keywords and parameters until I came across one player, buuuuuuut… I’ll get to that in a moment. Sorry, I segued myself to the end a little too fast there. Sorry.

Since 1971, the Athletics third season in Oakland, they’ve gone 21-18 on Memorial Day with five days missed due to travel or off days, the most of any team I’ve written about. I found a feeeeeewww patters within their record, but something that could easily be refuted. In 1971 the Athletics played the Yankees in a double header. They lost the first game, but won the second. In 1972 they played they Texas Rangers in a double dip, winning both games as well as the World Series that season. In 1973 they beat the Yankees and went on to win the World Series that year as well. In 1974 the Athletics played and beat the Detroit Tigers and then went on to win the World Series for a third time. Now, up until this point anytime the Athletics beat a team twice on Memorial Day they went on to win the World Series; however, they only beat the Tigers once. Well, upon further research I found out that the Athletics beat the Tigers the next time they played… in 1977. The Athletics won every game leading up to the game as well. After that, everything falls apart. The Athletics beat the Kansas City Royals twice in 1976 and 1980, but no trophy. In 1985 the Athletics beat the Yankees once again and then followed that up with another victory in 1988, but they lost the World Series that year to the Dodgers. But not 1989. Basically, all these little facts and numbers really don’t mean anything other than what the writer (me) can spin out of the information. I thought this bit of history was fun to break down on a more unorthodox level.

Now, onto the marks.

19-’49: Leland V “Lou” Brissie was born on June 5, 1924 in Anderson, South Carolina. He didn’t play baseball in high school but played, instead, in the local textile league with the ware Shoals mill team. On the day he graduated from Ware Shoals High School, Athletics’ manager, Connie Mack, signed him to a professional contract and agreed to send the 6-foot 4-inch southpaw to Presbyterian College for three years.

Brissie was scheduled to report to the Athletics for spring training in 1943, but enlisted with the Army in December 1942. “I lost a brother in the war so I enlisted in the service,” Brissie explained. Brissie began basic training on March 25, 1943, and was stationed at Camp Croft, South Carolina. In June 1944, he pitched for the Monaghan semi-pro textile team of Greenville. Brissie struck out 22 of the Easley mill team batters in the contest but lost, 1-0, on a home run. The week before, pitching for Camp Croft against the Greenville Army Air Base Jay Birds, he struck out 19.

Later that year, Corporal Brissie was sent to Italy with the 88th Infantry Division. He served as a squad leader with G Company of the 351st Infantry Regiment. On December 7, 1944, Brissie's squad was hit by a fierce artillery attack in the Apennine Mountains in northern Italy. "Our unit suffered over 90 percent casualties," Brissie said. "Within minutes we lost three of our four officers as well as eight other men in the barrage," he recalled. Brissie was badly hit. His left shinbone was shattered in more than 30 pieces and his left ankle and right foot were broken. He had to crawl for cover through the mud and then lay there unconscious until he was found hours later. Brissie was rushed to a field hospital where his leg should have been amputated, but somehow he was able to persuade the doctors to ship him to an evacuation hospital where the limb might be saved. He was finally sent to a military hospital in Naples where Captain Wilbur Brubaker set about saving the young soldier’s leg. “Captain Brubaker did a marvelous job,” Brissie told sportswriter Joe O’Loughlin in 2005. “Once he operated on me, I didn’t wonder if I could make it back to pitch but how I could do it. I felt like the good Lord put Dr. Brubaker in my life. I really felt that God put me on the path that took me to all those hospitals over that three-day period to get me to someone who could help me.”

Brissie went through a total of 23 operations and 40 blood transfusions on the road to recovery. “They had to reconstruct my leg with wire,” he explains. “I wound up going to hospitals all over. I was the first guy in the Mediterranean Theater who was put on penicillin therapy.” During that time, Brissie received a letter from Connie Mack who said that when Brissie was ready to play ball he would see to it that he would get the chance. Brissie never wavered from his vision of pitching in the majors. “I’ll play ball again,” he told Scoop Latimer, sports editor of the Greenville News, “but it will be quite a while. I want to play ball. If God lets me, I’ll play it, too. That’s my ambition.”

In 1945, still on crutches and with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts to his name, Brissie went to Philadelphia to see Mack. But at that time he was not ready to play. “Determination can do it,” Mack told reporters. "I know he'll make good. I'll never forget how he looked last summer, he had just undergone an operation and was about to undergo another one. He was on crutches and I thought ‘poor boy, he'll never be able to pitch again.'” But crutches and all, Brissie could not stay away from baseball. Although he suffered a re-infection of the leg in 1946, he received a contract from Mack for 1947.

He reported to the Savannah Indians of the South Atlantic League and went on to win 23 games that year with an incredible 1.19 ERA. "Brissie has had only one year of organized baseball,” Mack told the press. “But he has tremendous speed and a lot of stuff." 

On September 28, with his leg in a specially designed brace, Brissie was on the mound for the Philadelphia Athletics in his major league debut, donning the #17. Facing the Yankees in their last game of the season, the lefthander went seven innings and struck out four against Bill Wight in the 5-3 loss. "It was a great day," Brissie later recalled. "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I lost the game, but it was still a great experience."

Brissie returned with the Athletics for the 1948 season and changed his jersey to #19, posting a 14-10 record with a 4.13 ERA and 127 strikeouts, as Mack’s team finished a surprising fourth in the American League. Brissie finished in fourth place for the AL Rookie of the Year award and 24th place for the AL MVP. In 1949, he went 16-11 with 4.28 ERA and 118 strikeouts. ’49 would also be the year he’d make an appearance in an All-Star Game. He pitched three innings, giving up a few runs including a home run to Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the sixth inning. Regardless, the American League won the game 11-7.

Brissie pitched for the Athletics until the middle of 1951 when he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where he’d stick it out until the end of the 1953 season.

#30/36 On July 23, 1939 an unknown Athletics player named Harry O’Neill was brought into the game as a defensive substitution at catcher for every day guy Franklin Hayes. The two innings he’d end up recording were the only six outs he’d ever make in his professional career. He never had an at-bat; he also never had a consistent jersey number for the few games he saw from the bench, #30 and #36.

O'Neill distinguished himself as a very gifted college athlete. At Gettysburg College, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder sometimes called "Porkie," led the school's baseball, football and basketball teams to league championships. After graduation, he was the subject of a bidding war between two American League teams, eventually signing with his hometown A's. After spending two years in the minor leagues, O'Neill enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942, and rose to the rank of first lieutenant with the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. Fighting in Saipan, he was wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel, treated for weeks back in the U.S. Soon after, he was shipped back to the Pacific to Iwo Jima, where he was killed by a sniper. O’Neill has the unfortunate distinction of being one of two MLB players to be killed during the war. In 1980, Harry M. O'Neill was inducted into Gettysburg College's Hall of Athletic Honor for baseball, football and basketball.

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