Pete Gray (March 6 1915 – June 30 2002) was a professional baseball player best known for playing in the major leagues despite having lost his right arm in a childhood accident.
Pete Gray was born as Peter Wyshner
in the mining town of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania
. He was right-handed until he lost his right arm, at age 6, when he slipped while riding on a farmer's wagon and his right arm was caught in the spokes. The arm had to be amputated above the elbow. Gray's enthusiasm for baseball led him to learn to bat and field one-handed, catching the ball in his glove and then quickly removing his glove and transferring the ball to his hand in one motion.
His speed and placehitting ability made him a successful minor league outfielder. Gray attained a batting average of .333 and a stolen-base record of 63; as a result, he was named the 1944 Southern League Most Valuable Player.
During his career, Gray played for semi-pro teams including the Trois Rivieres Renards of the Canadian-American League, the Memphis Chicks of the Southern Association and the Brooklyn Bushwicks.
The St. Louis Browns purchased his contract in 1945 from the Memphis Chicks. Wearing uniform number 14 , Gray played left and center field for the Browns. He appeared in 77 games, batting .218 with a .958 fielding percentage in center field. He played competently in the outfield, transferring the ball from glove to hand with remarkable quickness.
He collected his first major league hit (a single) against the Detroit Tigers on April 17, 1945. On May 19, he played in Yankee Stadium, collecting five hits and two RBI as the Browns swept the Yankees. Gray also proved to be an accomplished bunter. In order to bunt, he would plant the knob of the bat against his side. Then he would slide his hand about a third of the way up the shaft of the bat.
As the season progressed, however, it became apparent that Gray could not hit breaking pitches. Once he started his swing, he could not change his timing because he had no second hand to check the swing. Opposing pitchers discovered that fact and would throw curve balls.
Gray's on-field exploits set an inspirational example for disabled servicemen returning from World War II, as was portrayed in newsreels of the period. He visited army hospitals and rehabilitation centers, speaking with amputees and reassuring them that they too could lead a productive life.
Boys, I can’t fight, and so there is no courage about me.
Courage belongs on the battlefield, not on the baseball diamond.
Later years and death
Gray’s major league career ended on V-J Day
when many of baseball’s stars returned from the battlefront. From 1946 to 1949, he played on as a journeyman minor leaguer with the Toledo Mud Hens, Elmira Pioneers and Dallas Stars. Left to wonder if he had made the majors on his playing abilities or because of his one arm, Gray returned home to Nanticoke where, although a local hero/celebrity, he struggled with gambling, alcohol and lived in near poverty.
The 1986 television-movie A Winner Never Quits starring Keith Carradine, and the publication of 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, renewed public interest in Gray.
He died on June 30, 2002.
- Bill Gilbert, They Also Served: Baseball and the Homefront (New York: Crown, 1992).
- Richard Goldstein, Spartan Seasons: How Baseball Survived the Second World War (New York: Macmillan, 1980).
- William C Kashatus, Baseball's One-Armed Wonder: An Interview with the Late Great, Pete Gray Pennsylvania Heritage (Spring 2003).