LOS ANGELES, May 14, 2013 — Turn Back the Clock Tuesday goes way back to the year 1945 today. World War II was still six months away from ending and many Major League players were fighting in the war. Pete Gray could not join the army, but he could play baseball.
The reason Pete Gray could not fight in the war is because you need two functioning arms to be sent out to fight. Pete Gray had to have his arm amputated above the elbow after he was in a truck accident as a kid.
Most people think you probably need two functioning arms to play baseball as well. Luckily, nobody told that to “One-Armed Wonder,” Pete Gray. He had a .382 batting average in his first year of professional baseball in the Canadian-American League in 1942. Over the next two years in the minor leagues, he batted .312.
The lack of qualified major leaguers created a need and an opportunity for Pete Gray. He made his Major League debut on April 17, 1945 for the St. Louis Browns. Gray played 35 games in left field and 29 games in center field.
Gray would catch the ball with his left hand and then, in one very fluid motion, tuck his glove under his arm, get the ball from the glove and then throw the ball. Batting from the left side of the plate, Gray could both swing away and bunt. In order to bunt, Gray would have to dig the bat into his side and slide his left hand down the bat.
Pete Gray had a batting average of .218 in 253 plate appearances over 77 games for the Browns. Because he only had one arm, he was unable to check his swing once he committed and, thus, had a hard time hitting the curve. Remarkably, he only struck out 11 times.
Pete Gray’s best game came on August 19 against the Boston Red Sox. He went 4 for 7 and scored three runs.
World War II ended in September of 1945. After that season, Gray’s services were no longer needed. His final game in the majors was on September 30, 1945. Major League Baseball would not see another one-armed player until Jim Abbott came up with the California Angels as a pitcher. Abbott was born without a right hand.
Pete Gray would keep the dream alive for a few more years in the minors before finally calling it quits in 1949. In 1986, a movie called A Winner Never Quits was made about Pete Gray’s life. In 1995, William Kashatus wrote Gray’s autobiography, One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream.
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