Quick Takes


    My friend and hockey enthusiast, Rick Dames, and I were in L.A. last week for consecutive nights of NHL hockey:
    St. Louis @ L.A. on 2/21. There were seemingly more employees and players than fans at Staples Center. You could virtually sit anywhere you wanted, ala the Forum before Gretzky arrived. The published attendance was 14,132, an absolute joke. They apparently were counting eye balls and noses to come up with that number. What was definite about the attendance was the presence of the magnificent Alyssa Milano.    
    Then St. Louis @ Anaheim on 2/22. The announced attendance was 17,174. That was real; the place was a sellout as usual. However, there were only hints of the Ducks being the Stanley Cup champions once inside the building. Signs, banners, p.a. announcements, apparel for sale, etc. suggesting that the Stanley Cup champions reside in Honda Center were at a minimum. What was on display at Honda Center was an obvious lack of Stanley Cup promotional ingenuity.
    Bottom line: Californians may know and appreciate B cups and C cups and D cups, but they sure as hell don’t know and appreciate Stanley Cups.


    Jerry Goldman wrote to ask me why I haven’t written about Bobby Knight’s retirement. Two reasons. One is that I have space constraints, and I don’t write about every subject every week. The other is that I’ve never had any respect whatsoever for Knight. As Rodney used to say, no offense.


    Jonathan Krost wrote to (correctly) advise me that Super Bowl XLII was not the first time the New York Giants spoiled a perfect season in the NFL Championship game. In 1934, the 8-5 Giants were major underdogs to the 13-0 Chicago Bears. The Bears led 13-3 with 10 minutes left in the title game. The Giants scored four touchdowns and three pat’s in those closing minutes to win 30-13.
    The game came to be known as the Sneakers Game. The Polo Grounds was frozen. NY head coach Steve Owen sent equipment manager Abe Cohen to get sneakers for his team to replace their regular cleats. That did it.
    Had I known this story before Super Bowl XLII, I’d have put $100k on the Giants on the money line.


    My basketball bubble burst when Memphis lost to Tennessee. Not a surprise; their inability to shoot free throws had to do them in eventually, and it did. It looked like a Shaq performance from the foul line.

Story of the Week


    As you read this article, please think about the tremendous adversity Pete Gray had to overcome to accomplish what he did. It’s an incredible story.


    Pete Gray was baseball’s best physically-challenged player, a one-armed outfielder. When Pete Gray lost his arm in a childhood accident, he thought his dream of playing professional baseball would never come true. He was wrong. He is literally the poster boy for overcoming incredible adversity to succeed, no matter what the odds against.


    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.


    By the time he was 15 years old, Pete Gray was playing for the same coach who fell in love with the kid's skills just three years earlier. After graduating from high school, Pete knocked around the lower minor leagues and the semi-pro circuits in the hopes of catching on with a major league franchise. Against all odds, he latched on with the Memphis Chicks of the Southern League in 1942, and by the 1944 season, the one-armed outfielder batted .333, stole 63 bases, and won the league's MVP award. The major league scouts who began following him that year were astounded.


    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.