Pete Gray – Baseball’s One Armed Phenom

9 Jan

Pete Gray, born in 1915, like many kids at the time had a dream of one day playing professional baseball. What separated him from most though was he had the talent to do it. At only twelve years old he was already so good the local high school coach had been pestering his father to let him play for his team. Mr. Gray said no over and over, but finally one day agreed to give it a shot. He didn’t truly believe it would get Pete off their rural Pennsylvania farm and lead to a a career in professional baseball, but he did want to give his son every opportunity he could. Then fate intervened and changed their plans.

While crossing the farm standing on the running board of his fathers pick-up, Pete lost his grip and fell to the ground. More precisely he fell in such a manner as to wind up under the truck enough that the rear wheel ran directly over his arm. The injury was serious enough, and care far enough away even by vehicle, that Pete lost his right arm, the arm he used to throw a ball as well as do everything else. Rather than give up on his dreams at twelve, Pete remarkably decided that losing an arm didn’t mean the dream of professional baseball was lost as well.

By the time he was 15 he had learned how to throw with left arm. He devised a system in which he could catch the ball in his glove, flip it in the air while dropping his glove, and bare-hand it. The seamless transfer of the ball from the glove to his hand was as efficient as any player with two hands. He tirelessly stood in the batters box and taught himself how to hit again. True talent continued to shine. By the time he graduated high school he already had semi-professional teams clamoring for him to play. In some cases people just wanted to sign him as a drawing card because seeing the one armed ballplayer come to town was sure to sell tickets at least one time. In some cases though people saw beyond that understood that Gray was an excellent ballplayer one armed or two.

In 1942 he was signed to play with the Memphis Chicks. Quickly Gray proved he was no sideshow. He was so good in fact that in 1944 he won the leagues MVP award hitting .333 and stealing 63 bases. Pro scouts were astounded to see that the rumor of the one armed player was true. They were even more amazed when they actually saw him play. In 1945 the St. Louis Browns purchased his contract and Gray had realized his dream of making it to the pros. He singled in his first at-bat and manned center field flawlessly.

While that was the only year he appeared in the major leagues and he hardly lept up the standards he set in the minors, Gray did get into 77 games. More importantlym Gray was a great inspiration to many. Given the fact that many trrops returning from WWII were now faced with physical challenges not much unlike him, he was a shining example that those challenges need not be a barrier to achieving any goal a person set for them self.

Unfortunately after running out of baseball jobs in 1949, Gray spent nearly thirty years living in poverty battling alcoholism and depression. By the 1980;s however he found himself a point of interest again and began cleaning up his life. he got sober, wrote an autobiography which was optioned and made into a two hour movie by ABC, and finally found peace in his life. With the rise of hobby shows, Gray found himself in demand to sign autographs and garner numerous speaking engagements. He continued to do so as long as he was physically able before passing away in June of 2202 at the age of 87. While it is great we remember what Gray did on the field, it is better we remember the inspiration he was to millions throughout his life.

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