When he was a boy, Pete Gray often dreamed of playing baseball in the major leagues. A natural right-hander, the boy excelled in pony league baseball, and by the time he was twelve years old, the coach from his local high school was constantly hounding Pete's father to let the youngster play for his school.
Shortly after his dad agreed to the proposal, tragedy occurred. One day while doing chores on the family's Pennsylvania farm with his father, Pete slipped and fell off his father's pickup truck's running board. Young Pete slipped under the truck, which ran over his right arm, and completely crushed it. A few days later, doctors amputated the limb at the shoulder.
Although he was initially depressed from his accident, Pete soon rallied, and decided that his dream of playing major league baseball would not be deterred. In time, he learned to throw with his left hand and hit while holding the bat with his only hand. To play defense, Gray learned to field the ball in his glove, then quickly flip the ball into the air while he dropped his glove, and catch the ball as it fell into his now bare left hand. His speed, strong throwing arm, and excellent athletic ability allowed Pete to perform this minor miracle quickly enough to be a solid, dependable outfielder.
Prior to the 1945 season, the St. Louis Browns purchased Pete Gray's contract. Gray made his major league debut for the Browns on April 17, 1945. To the amazement of his teammates and the park's fans alike, Gray picked up his first hit, a single to center field, in just his second at bat. A month later, the one-armed outfielder lived out his boyhood dream when the Browns traveled to New York to play the Yankees. The Browns swept the Yankees in the three game set, and Gray played a major role in his team's victory, picking up five hits and two RBI in the series.
During that season, his only year in the majors, Gray appeared in 77 games, hit .218 and drove in 13 runs. He also posted a .958 fielding percentage, stole 5 bases and had 6 sacrifice bunts.
Although Gray was not a Hall of Fame level player, he was an inspiration to the veteran soldiers returning home from World War II, many of whom were missing limbs. He was featured in newsreels form the era, and often visited hospitals and rehabilitation centers, speaking with amputees and reassuring them that they could still have a productive life.
Gray's major league career ended on September 30, 1945 when the Browns released him. The outfielder bumped around the minors for three more years before finally hanging up the cleats in 1949. Left to wonder whether the Browns signed him simply because of his draw as a one-armed outfielder, Gray spent many years battling depression, alcoholism, and a gambling problem that drove him to the brink of poverty.
His luck changed for the better in the 1980s when he wrote and sold an autobiography and when ABC Television did a two-hour movie about his life. This led to speaking engagements and card signing shows that helped resolve his financial problems and also helped Gray with his personal problems.
Pete Gray passed away on June 30, 2002 at the age of 87.
Last Week’s Trivia
There are three MLB players who have stolen a base in four separate decades. Two of them are Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. Who is the other player? He is one of the least likely you’d think of. The great Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams had two stolen bases as a rookie in 1939, and one in 1960, his final season. Williams had a grand total of just 24 stolen bases during his entire brilliant MLB career. Who’d have thunk it?!
Trivia Question of the Week
A triple-double is basketball terminology for an individual performance in a game in which a player accumulates double digits in points, assists and rebounds. What is a quadruple-double? Who are the only four NBA players who have ever accomplished it? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.