Miami– Baseball makes you feel that no matter your weight, size, race or physique, you can play it and be good at it. One of the stories that prove, that in baseball there is nothing impossible is the one of Peter Gray’s.
Gray, was born in the city of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania on March 6, 1915. He was one of the five children of Lithuanian immigrants, Antoinette and Peter Wyshner. Pete was a normal child, until he lost his right arm at the age of six when he had a truck accident in 1923. His arm was amputated above the elbow. Pete, was passionate about baseball, and his total love for the game led him to learn to hit and throw the ball with one hand. To defend, he caught the ball in his glove and then quickly removed it and in a single movement, he passed the ball to his left arm and throw it.
Seven years after his accident, he completed elementary studies, and began working with 13 years old. As expected, life was difficult for Pete, who could not bear to be treated with sympathy for his disability. His great passion for baseball did not stop, and already at age 19, he was playing as a outfielder for the Hanover Lits Baseball Club. Then he would become semi-professional with Pine Grove in Pennsylvania and Scranton in Brooklyn, New York.
On December 7, 1941, the terrible attack of Pearl Harbor occurred. At that time Gray, like many Americans, wanted to join the army to defend his country, but unfortunately, he was denied due to his physical disability. Even though Gray told them, «I learned how to play baseball like this, I’m sure I can handle a rifle.»
In 1942, he signed a contract with the minor league team: Three Rivers Club of the Canadian-American League. His first match was historic, many people went just to see it. In the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases loaded, it was his turn to hit. At the first pitch, Gray connected a line drive to right field, bringing home the winning run. The fans were so happy and excited that they threw money into the field, about $ 700 total. At the end of the season, he hit 381, but an injury kept him out and he only participated in 42 games. The journalists called him: the «One Arm Wonder». Pete’s qualities, made him a successful minor league outfielder for about 6 seasons. Gray against all odds, average 333 and stole 63 bases; and to the admiration of many, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the Southern Association of 1944. The following year, the St Louis Browns in the American League, bought his contract for $ 20,000, and Pete signed for $ 4,000. Wearing number 14th in his uniform, Gray played in the left and center field of the Browns. He appeared in 77 games, batting for 218, with a fielding percentage of 958 in center field. His first hit in the Majors, was against the Detroit Tigers, on April 17, 1945. On May 19, he fulfilled his lifelong dream, which was to play at the baseball cathedral: Yankee Stadium. That day, he finish the match with five hits and two runs batted in. Unfortunately, as the season progressed, many scouts realized that Gray, due to his condition, had troubles to hit curved balls, mostly low and away, and that made him lower his average a lot. The last time he played was on September 30, 1945.
That season, Pete had joys but many sorrows. His relationship with his teammates was not good, and many were upset because they were in the fight to repeat as American League champions, and felt that Pete, stopped his success. They also felt, that he was really just there to sell tickets and to increase the attendance of the fans. The previous year they had won the championship, but only 508,644 fans had been brought to the park, throughout the season. These protests, have no statistical facts, since the team had a winning percentage of .600 when Pete was on the field, and only .425 when he sat on the bench. That season, they finished third, and the next season without Gray, they fell to the seventh place. That year with Gray would be the last winning season of the Browns, before moving to Baltimore in 1954. What Gray showed, on a ball field, was an inspiring example for the disabled military returning from World War II. To help, he visited army hospitals and rehabilitation centers, talking with amputees and assuring them that they too could lead a productive life. His career ended in that same year (1945), when many of the baseball stars returned from the battle front and assumed their previous positions in the diamond. He would continue playing in the minors from 1946 to 1949, and he do not stop being a local hero and even a celebrity.
Gray, spent the rest of his life wondering if he ever was good enough, to have been there or if it was just an attraction for owners to earn money. This personal struggle was one of the possible reasons that led to his addiction to gambling and alcohol, after leaving baseball. Before his death, however, he regained a sense of integrity about his achievements, when they decided to make a film about his life and also a biography.
Peter Gray, died on June 30, 2002, at the age of 87 years. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. His career was not that of a Hall of Fame, but the courage, dedication and ability to overcome a difficulty make him one of the unforgettable figures of the king of sports: baseball.
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