Strange But True: The One-Armed Major Leaguer

When Peter J. Wyshner was six years old, he fell off a truck. His right arm was caught in the spokes of a wheel and was so badly mangled that it had to be amputated a few inches below the shoulder.

The youngster had always loved sports, and he decided that he would participate along with other boys who had two good arms. He played football, basketball, softball, and other games, practicing constantly. He would wander down near the railroad that passed through his hometown of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, and there he would toss small rocks into the air, hitting them deftly with a stick. Peter’s father encouraged his handicapped son as much as he could. In time Peter’s left wrist became extremely powerful.

When Peter’s brother decided to become a prizefighter, he changed his name to Gray. Peter liked the name and changed his own to Pete Gray. He was determined to carve a career for himself as a professional baseball player.

In 1942, at the age of 25, Pete Gray was signed by the Three Rivers, Ontario, team of the Canadian-American league. Pete suffered a broken collarbone that year, but he recovered and went on to bat a rousing .381.

The following season he played for the Memphis Chicks of the Southern Association. In 1943 he hit .289, and in 1944 he raised his average to .333. But it wasn’t only his hitting that earned so much respect for Pete Gray He was truly a complete ballplayer.

He could run like a frightened deer. In 1944 Pete stole 68 bases. He stole home 10 times! In the field he could really go get ’em. Pete used a special glove with no padding. He would grab the ball, swiftly tuck the glove under the stump of his right arm, dig out the ball, and fire it back to the infield, all in one easy, fluid motion. That season 14 Southern Association sportswriters sent in ballots naming the league’s Most Valuable Player. Pete Gray’s name topped the list of players submitted by 12 of those sportswriters.

Pete was still playing during World War II. By 1945 the major leagues had very few good players, since most of the stars were still in the armed services. The St. Louis Browns of the American League decided to take a chance on Gray. The bought him from Memphis for $20,000.

Not only was Pete Gray a pretty good player by wartime standards, he was also a tremendous drawing card. Huge crowds turned out to watch this one-armed wonder in action. For example, despite bad weather, almost 40,000 fans came to see him play at Yankee Stadium. He drew a crowd of 65,000 in Cleveland. Whenever his name was announced, the fans gave him a standing ovation.

Pete didn’t always enjoy good days, but every one in a while his bat came alive and he got plenty of hits. In a 1945 doubleheader against the Yankees, Pete got three singles and drove in a run as the Browns won the first game, 10-1. In that game he also went back to the wall to snare a long fly ball. The Browns won the second game too, as Gray helped himself to another single and a base on balls.

On July 4 Gray hammered out a double and two singles against the Philadelphia Athletics. Sportswriter J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, “It was a great exhibition of courage, and you can use that word without restraint or blush, even in these war-torn days, when you sing of a gamester like Peter Gray.”

Of course, Gray also made errors and lost some games for the Browns. Even he had to admit, “The pitching is a little too tough for me up there in the majors.” He appeared in 77 games and batted only .218.

In 1946 the stars of baseball began to come home from the war and there was no longer any room in the majors for Pete Gray. He played in the minors for a while in Toledo, Ohio; Elmira, New York; and Dallas, Texas. In 1949 he retired from baseball.

Strangely enough, Pete Gray wasn’t the only one-armed major leaguer. In the 1880s a pitcher named Hugh Daily played for Cleveland, which was then in the National League. During his career he won a total of 74 games, including 19 shutouts. One of those whitewash jobs was a no-hitter against the Philadelphia team.

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Gray

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5 Comments

  1. I’m not a big sports guy but as a child I had a book. I think it was titled Amazing But True Sports Stories, and I got it somehow from Scholastic Books, which was a company that sold books to schoolchildren (still does, as far as I know). 
     
    I remember reading this story about Pete Gray. The book said he caught balls, tucked his glove under his stump, and grabbed and threw the ball so fast it was hard to follow with the naked eye. It’s cool to see footage of that. 
     
    It also said he used a specially designed lightweight bat. He couldn’t get a lot of range swinging with one arm. 
     
    Anyway, thanks. I read the cover off that book. 

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