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Peter Gray – the one armed Major Leaguer

Posted by mikelink45 , 09 February 2018 · 681 views

Peter Gray – the one armed Major Leaguer As you probably know, if you have been ready my blogs, I like the stories that are part of the lore and history of baseball more than the gold rush for free agents. Maybe it is because I am old I like to think about players who really loved the game and not the agents and owners. I recognize the talent and the ability of the Hall of Famers and even those who struggle for years in the minors without making it to the big spotlight. In fact I have my own strange sense of hall of fame with deaf, one legged, and one armed players, players who had a double life as spies and players who lost prime years to the service and still put up great careers. So I thought I might put up some profiles of these personal favorites over the next couple of months starting with Peter Gray who was born in Pennsylvania in 1915, as Peter Wyshner, and lost his left arm at age six when he fell off a farmers wagon and got his arm caught in the spokes of one wheel.

Still he continued to play his favorite game and play it well. He was known for his speed which certainly helped him, but speed alone does not make up for the loss of one arm. He played on local teams and even semi-pro teams like the Canadian-American League where, in 1942 he hit 382 in 42 games!

This performance got him into the minor leagues which most of you know was much different in those days where we had so few major league teams. Many of the minor league teams were close to major league – check out Joe DiMaggio’s success and records with the Seals in the Pacific League. He almost did not want to go to the majors, but that is a different story.

Gray caught on with the Memphis team in the Southern Association in 1943, played centerfield and hit 281! That got everyone’s attention and allowed him to continue at this high level where he hit 344 with 5 home runs and 68 stolen bases in 1944, giving him recognition as the minor league player of the year.

Then in 1945, he made the majors as a St Louis Brown. http://www.baseball-...php?p=graype01Yes, this was the war years and they needed bodies to fill out the rosters. He might not have made it if not for WWII, but never-the-less he did make it. I wish I could say he blew everyone away with an amazing line of statistics, but he didn’t. He got in to 77 games and hit 218 with 13 RBIs and 5 stolen bases.

He was done in by the breaking ball, with one arm he could not alter his swing as other batters could. His best hitting weapon was the bunt – he would tuck the end of the bat into his side and guide the bat with his hand. But of course he could not bunt every at bat and both infielders and outfielders played in to take away his speed and hits
His fielding was still exceptional and his managers – Luke Sewell said, "He shows us something everyday. You really don't believe some of the things he does. Believe me, he can show plenty of two-handed outfielders plenty." The statistics do not back up this quote as he had 7 errors in 61 games.

“As he played, Gray wore a glove without the padding. When the ball was hit to him, he made the catch with the glove directly in front of him -- normally about shoulder height. As the ball hit the glove, he would roll the glove and ball across his chest from left to right.

Somehow, in this process, he learned to separate the ball from the glove. In the motion, this glove would come to rest under the stump of his right arm and the ball would end up in his left hand.
In handling ground balls, he would let the ball bounce off his glove about knee height in front of him. He would flip off the glove and grab the ball while it was still in the air.

Some said this process allowed Gray to field balls faster than other outfielders he was playing with who didn't face the same handicap. When he was backing up another outfielder, he would drop the glove and be ready to take the ball in his hand.” http://http://www.hi.../gray_pete.html As I read this quote I thought about Jim Abbott, another player on my list who was a one armed pitcher with some real success in the majors, and how he handled his glove.

That wartime effort was not appreciated by all the players – in fact many resented it and considered it a stunt to get bigger gates as his New York Times obituary stated, “''He didn't belong in the major leagues and he knew he was being exploited,'' his manager, Luke Sewell, recalled in ''Even the Browns'' by William B. Mead (Contemporary Books, 1978). ''Just a quiet fellow, and he had an inferiority complex. They were trying to get a gate attraction in St. Louis.''

He was evidently resented by some teammates: ''Some of the guys thought Pete was being used to draw fans late in the season when the club was still in the pennant race and he wasn't hitting well,'' Don Gutteridge, a Browns infielder, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1994. ''But I certainly marveled at him. He could do things in the outfield that some of our other outfielders could not.''

He was sent down after that 1945 season with veterans returning from the military and he would not play major league ball again, however, he did not give up. He hit 290 Elmira in 1948 and played on barnstorming teams into the 1950s.

His effort was an inspiration to many, but especially to injured service men who were returning to learn how to succeed in a peace time world. Gray visited many of them in their hospital wards. His numerous visits to Walter Reed hospital gave a lot of veterans hope.

He lived out his live in Nanticoke where he suffered depression and alcoholism for years until he turned his life around with his biography and a television movie. He never married and died in 2002.

https://youtu.be/1UG6bxkq5L4 This short film gives you a glimpse of Pete as a professional.

If you want to know more about him try – the 1986 television-movie A Winner Never Quits, starring Keith Carradine and Mare Winningham; https://youtu.be/OINjftexuC4 and Gray's biography, One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream written by William C. Kashatus, published in 1995 by McFarland & Company.

His glove is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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