Here’s the one-legged pitcher you didn’t hear about
Mike Brown

With Memorial Day coming up, it’s an appropriate time to think about American veterans and their sacrifices.

There’s never an inappropriate time to think about them and it’s never too late to bring up the story of someone we may never have encountered before.

Like Bert Shepard.

His is one of the most remarkable athletic stories of all time, but it’s not well known.

Bert grew up in tiny Dana, Indiana, in the 1920s. His dream, like that of so many American boys, was to play major league baseball.

A left-handed “junk ball” pitcher, he never had the stuff to get to the majors.

But, also like some, he had just enough talent to play baseball for a living. He signed with the Chicago White Sox organization and played in the low—very low—minor leagues for a number of seasons.

After his baseball career was over, or so he thought, he became a pilot. Then came World War II.

Bert Shepard’s lifetime baseball stats don’t come anywhere near telling his whole story. Bert Shepard’s lifetime baseball stats don’t come anywhere near telling his whole story. Bert joined the U. S. Army Air Corps and flew 33 missions in Europe. But in May, 1944, on the 34th mission, over the northern suburbs of Berlin, his P-38 was hit by antiaircraft fire and slammed into the ground at more than 300 miles per hour.

Bert survived, but his right foot was almost gone and his right leg was mangled.

Angry German citizens gathered with pitchforks and would have killed him but a remarkable military doctor, Dr. Ladislaus Loidl, held them off at gunpoint and got Bert to a hospital.

His leg had to be amputated.

For the rest of the war Bert was a POW. He was liberated, came home, was put in Walter Reed Hospital and fitted with an artificial leg.

During a tour of Walter Reed, Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson came by. He asked Bert what he wanted to do when he got out. Bert said: “Play baseball.”

Art by Megan Pendergrass, a freshman at Milano High School. Art by Megan Pendergrass, a freshman at Milano High School. Patterson knew Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith and asked him if he’d consider a tryout.

Griffith would. Bert tried out at the University of Maryland. It was 1945 and major league teams were heavily depleted by the war. Bert was put on the roster.

On Aug. 4, in the second game of a double header with the Bos- ton Red Sox, and the Senators virtually out of pitchers, Bert was sent to the mound.

The bases were loaded and there were two outs. Astonishingly Bert struck out George “Catfish” Metkovich to end the inning. Then he pitched another five innings, giving up one run and three hits. Boston won.

That was to be the extent of his major league career, but not his baseball career.

Bert went back to the minor leagues, pitched and managed for several seasons, doing what he loved best.

During one game the opposing team became so frustrated that they couldn’t hit a one-legged man’s slow stuff they started bunting, sure that Bert couldn’t field his position on one leg.

There were nine bunts. Bert threw out all nine batters at first base. “I wish all 27 of them had bunted, I’d have had a perfect game,” he laughed.

Bert won the national amputee golf championship twice. He died at age 87 in 2008.

In 1992, major league baseball flew him to Austria for a reunion with Dr. Loidl. Just imagine.

There was a famous movie in the 1940s called “ The Stratton Story,” about Monte Stratton, a pitcher who lost a leg in a hunting accident, but kept playing. Jimmy Stewart played Stratton.

And there’s nothing wrong with that movie.

I just thought you should hear about Bert Shepard.

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2013-05-16 digital edition

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