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Baseball Analysis  John Holway / History

"The Rookie" is a great movie. See it, if you haven't already. Here's another, perhaps even better story:


By John B. Holway

In the spring of 1944 minor league pitcher Bert Shepard walked off a baseball diamond in England and strapped himself into the cockpit of a P-39 fighter; a few hours later a German doctor was amputing his right foot.

In the spring of 1945 Shep walked down the steps of Walter Reed Army hospital and strapped on an artificial leg; a few hours later he was pitching for the Washington Senators.

Bert fielded bunts and slid into bases etc for the photographers. He pitched batting practice every day but got into only three games that he can recall.

One was an exhibition against a Navy team in New London CT (Yogi Berra was a swabby on the team).

Another was an exhibition against the Brooklyn Dodgers before a big crowd at a war bond benefit. He was sceduled fo pitch three innings, but he did so well that manager Ossie Bluege asked him if he wanted to stay in, so he pitched four innings. Before the game General Omar Bradley met him at home plate before the game, and the Airman's Medal was pinned to his baseball uniform.

But, though the senators were in a tough fight for the pennant against Detroit, Washington manager Ossie Bluege refused to use him. That is, until the Seanators faced five double-headers in five days. In the eighth of the ten games, the Sanators' hurler was getting slapped around by the Red Sox 1-2, when Bluege looked ot his weary bullpen and pointed to Bert.

Shep whiffed Catfish Metkovich with two men on to end the inning and went on to pitch three more innings of two-hit ball.

Bert visited many army amputee veterans and ran races while they cheered.

One day an old-timer walked into the clubhouse on crutches with one pants-leg pinned up. He shook hands and introduced himself as Joe Tinker. Bert was able to give him advice on how to have an artificial limb fitted correctly.

He still says today that modern doctors don't know how to design a leg as well as the Army medics did 57 years ago. To prove it, he still plays 18 holes of golf at the age of 80 without a cart.

But he never got another shot at pitching in the majors. The Senators eventually lost by 1 1/2 games. Did Nluege manage his team right out of the pennant?

In 1946 Bert was pitching batting practice again. A lefty, he raised his right leg to pitch -- and the shoe came off. He landed on his stump and followed through as though nothing had happened.

The shoe was hanging on by a few threads of his sock, and he kicked it into centerfield. Ted Williams, who knew about the foot, laughed his head off, though the Boston fans, who didn't know, sat in horror. Bert merely called for the ball back and threw a couple more pitches, then clumped off the field, step-clump, step-clump.

In the dugout, the trainer rushed over to attend to him. The foot was eventually re-attached. "He did a good job," Bert says, "but he worked on it for five minutes before he realized it was wooden."

*   *   *


By John B. Holway

Philadelphia A's pitcher Lou Brissie didn't lose a foot, as Bert Shepard did, but his World War II story is just as amazing.

His squad was on patrol on a bitter cold day in Italy's Appennine mountains, when a mortar hit in their midst. Lou was left for dead, half-way in the freezing water of a stream, when a graves registration team came through.

"Heh," one guy yelled, "this one moved."

Lou was rushed to a field hospital, where he reportedly became the first person in history to be given penicillin.

And, yes, he came back to pitch, and pitch well, for several years with the A's. He didn't have a foot amputated as Shepard did, but he pitched with a metal plate in his leg. A lefty like Shepard, it was Brissie's his left, or push-off leg, while Bert lost his right, or lead leg.

Like Shep, Brissie also spent many years after baseball giving inspirational talks to victims like himself, though his own leg (unlike Bert's) gave him increasing pain over the years.

Lou loved to tell about the game he pitched against Ted Williams. Ted lined a shot back to the box that caromed off Brissie's leg with a loud "Thonnnnnng!" Ted rushed to the mound, asking "Are you OK? I'm awful sorry."

Lou looked up from his sitting position and growled: "Damn it, Williams, PULL the ball!"

Later that day, with the game on the line, Ted drilled one into the rightfield seats.

"Damn it, Williams," Brissie grumbled, "I didn't mean THAT much!"

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