Despite losing his right arm in a childhood truck accident, Gray became a major league ballplayer. The naturally righthanded youngster learned to throw and bat from the opposite side. Batting with one arm, Gray sprayed line drives around the field. On the basepaths, he displayed speed and daring, and fielding was a study in agility and dexterity. After catching a fly ball, Gray would tuck his thinly padded glove under his stump, roll the ball across his chest, and throw, all in one fluid motion.
Gray was a semi-pro star in the coal towns of his native Pennsylvania and with the famed Brooklyn Bushwicks. He entered pro ball in 1942 with Three Rivers (Canadian-American League) and hit .381 in 42 games. In the Southern Association in 1943, Gray hit .289 in a full season with Memphis. He won national attention in 1944 when he batted .333 for Memphis, hit five HR, tied a league record by stealing 68 bases, and was named the Southern Association's MVP. This outstanding showing earned Gray a spot with the 1945 St. Louis Browns.
Even with the quality of major league play at an all-time low due to the WWII player shortage, Gray was overmatched. But he was capable of remarkable performances. In a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium in May, Gray had four hits, scored twice, drove in two, and handled nine chances in the outfield. When baseball returned to full strength in 1946, the Browns sent Gray down. He continued to play in the minors and barnstorm with exhibition teams until the early 1950s. Gray retired to his hometown of Nanticoke, PA, and became a recluse. (JL)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»March 5, 1945: Bert Shepard, a one-legged veteran of the war, tries out as a pitcher for the Senators. The symbol of wartime baseball, outfielder Pete Gray of the Browns, will field and bat with only one arm.
»April 17, 1945:
Pete Gray, the one-armed OF, plays his ML debut game with the St. Louis Browns. He singles once, off Les Mueller, in four at bats, and handles no chances in the outfield. St. Louis beats the Tigers 7–1, for their 9th straight Opening Day win, a major-league record that the 1975-83 Mets will tie.
»May 20, 1945: In St. Louis, Pete Gray stars, as the Browns sweep the Yankees 10–1 and 5–2. Gray has two RBI on three hits in the opener, and in the nightcap he scores the winning run and hauls in seven fly balls, three on spectacular catches.
»May 16, 1948:
Pete Gray, one-armed OF with the Browns in 1945, starts his comeback at Elmira after a year out of baseball. He will hit .290 in 82 games.