Original Document
Original Document
Excerpts of Pete Gray Interview

When you lost your arm at the age of six, how did you expect to play professionally?

If anything, losing the arm made me more determined to fulfill my dream of playing in the majors. Initially, the other kids made me a batboy just to make me feel part of the gang. I didn't want their sympathy, I wanted to play ball. I knew that I had a better eye for hitting than most of those kids; I just had to learn how to hit and throw with one arm. The trick was to train myself to become left-handed. Until then I had been a right-hander. So, I'd go up to the railroad tracks in town, find a long stick, and throw up a rock to practice my hitting. I'd do that for hours every day to develop a quick wrist. Hitting was actually the easy part. Learning to field and throw was the real challenge.

I knew that there was no way that I could play the infield because of the quick change of direction and reaction time that was required to stop a ball to my right. But if I could find a way to release the ball from my glove quickly after fielding it, I could become a very good outfielder.

Eventually, I learned that by removing almost all the padding from my glove and wearing it on my fingertips with the little finger purposefully extended outside of the mitt, that I was able to catch the ball and exchange it to my throwing hand in one swift motion. I'd catch the ball in my glove and stick it under the stub of my right arm. Then I'd squeeze the ball out of my glove with my arm and it would roll across my chest, droop to my stomach, and into my hand. My small finger prevented it from bouncing away.

By the time I was sixteen, I was a better player than those other kids. It wasn't because I had any more ability either. It was simply because I respected the game more than they did. I worked damnside harder than anyone else to become a good ballplayer. When you only have one arm, you learn to take nothing for granted!

If I was to choose one moment when I knew that I could make it to the big leagues if only given the chance, it would have to be watching Babe Ruth's "called shot" in game three of the 1932 World Series between the Yankees and the Chicago Cubs. I was seventeen years old at the time and I hitchhiked all the way from Nanticoke to Chicago just to see that series. It was quite a series, to say the least! There was some bad blood between those two teams and in game three anything could have happened.

New York was leading the Series two games to one. Chicago had a diehard attitude and fought their way back into the Series during game three. Ruth came to bat in the top of the fifth inning with the score tied at four. Cub pitcher Charlie Root got the first pitch across the plate for a called strike. Then Ruth held up his hand and pointed to the centerfield bleachers, signaling where he was going to hit the next pitch. Cub fans were booing as loud as they could. Some even began throwing fruit at the Babe. Ruth took the next pitch for a second strike and repeated the same gesture with his hand. The stadium was going wild by now. No one could believe that Ruth was that confident to be able to call his own home run. He was. The Babe drilled the next pitch deep into the centerfield stands and the Yankees went on to win that game, seven to five, and sweep the series.

That event marked a turning point in my life. Until that time, I dreamed of playing in the major leagues, but thought it was out of the question. After all, who ever heard of a one-armed ballplayer? But when the Babe hit that pitch into the bleachers for a home run, I said to myself, "Pete, the whole trick is confidence in yourself. If you are sure you can do it, you will do it."

How do you rate your performance in that one season of major league baseball with the St. Louis Browns?

Statistically, I didn't have a good year. I appeared in only seventy-seven games and hit .218 for the season with seven RBIs and only five stolen bases. I gave it my all every time I set foot on the field. I could hit anybody's fastball. You name him, Bob Feller [Cleveland Indians" Hall of Famer], Hal Newhouser, I could hit ‘em. But I had trouble with the breaking pitch. Had I been thrown nothing but fastballs, I would have been a .300 hitter in the majors. When the pitchers discovered that I couldn't hit the slower-breaking balls, they fed me a steady diet of curves.

I figured I had a bad year and I knew that I was going to be sent somewhere else–but I didn't care just as long as I was playing baseball and that it was every day. Playing major league baseball is great when you're hot, but when you're not having much success at the plate, it can be really tough.

Why do baseball historians fail to credit you for the remarkable achievement of being a one-armed major leaguer?

Actually, I think they do admit to the fact that I was an exception for what I had but I always felt they never credited me for my athletic ability. You know, I never wanted to be viewed as a one-armed player as much as a player, period. Whether you liked it or not, I realized that I had to make good as a gate attraction. After all, the Browns were willing to give me my big chance, it was my duty to make money for them.

As far as historians are concerned, well, they're going to write whatever they want to and I can't change that. Those who say that my performance cost the Browns a chance to repeat as American League champions should examine the team's statistics more carefully. The pitching left much to be desired. With the exception of Bob Muncrief, who managed to post thirteen victories, no one was able to duplicate their performance from the forty-four season. The hitting wasn't much better.

With the exception of Vern Stephens who led the league with twenty-four home runs and hit for a .289 average, no other regular hit above .277 or collected more than seven home runs. The team batting average dipped to .249, down three points from the previous season. And the forty-five Browns scored eighty-seven fewer runs than they had in 1944 when they captured the pennant. As a member of that forty-five team, I'll admit that my performance contributed to those mediocre statistics, but a team is made up of more than one person. It's a bit presumptuous to say that any one person cost the team a chance to capture the league championship.

Little has been written about the inspirational role you played on the home front during World War II. What do you feel was your greatest contribution as a professional baseball player during the war years?

In 1944 the Philadelphia Sportswriters honored me as the "Most Courageous Athlete of the Year." However, I had mixed emotions over that award. As much as I appreciated it, I had to admit there was no courage about me. Courage belonged on the battlefield during World War II, not on the baseball diamond. I only hope that my example proved to any boy who had been physically handicapped during the war that he, too, could compete with the best. If my professional baseball career accomplished that, then I've done my little bit.

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