Peter J. Gray (Born: Peter Wyshner)
Born: March 6, 1915 in Nanticoke, Penn.
Died: June 30, 2002
Debut: 1945 | Pos: OF
Ht: 6’1″ | Wt: 169 | B: L | T: L
>> Visit the Pete Gray biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
“He shows us something everyday. You really don’t believe some of the things he does. Believe me, he can show plenty of two-handed outfielders plenty.”
— Luke Sewell, manager in 1945
When America went to fight in World War II, many baseball players left the field to take their place in the Armed Services. The absences of players at the top level of the game opened the door for some who might not have otherwise had the opportunity.
One of those is a exceptional athlete who was described as being a fast runner, a proficient fielder and an above average hitter. That description could have been used for many players who have stepped on to the field in Major League Baseball.
Pete Gray, however, was different from the rest. He performed his feats with just one arm.
Gray lost his arm in truck accident during his youth. He didn’t let the injury stop him from playing his favorite game, learning to hit and throw with his left arm.
He found his way onto semi-pro teams in his local area and later joined the Brooklyn Bushwicks. In 1942, he played for Three Rivers of the Canadian-American League and hit .381 in 42 games.
He moved to Memphis of the Southern Association in 1943 and played centerfield, hitting .289 over the course of the season. In 1944, he put together a season that would get him noticed by Major League scouts. He hit .333 with 5 home runs and stole 68 bases. Baseball writers in the minor league circuit named Gray Player of the Year and the Browns paid $20,000 to Memphis for his contract.
His impact wasn’t as great at the Major League level with a higher level of athlete. However, he had moments where he stood out among his peers. He made his debut on April 18, 1945, and collected a hit in 4 at-bats.
On May 20, 1945, he had an incredible performance as the Browns beat the Yankees 10-1 and 5-2 in a doubleheader. Gray had 2 RBI on 3 hits in the first game and scored the winning run in the second game.
Gray played in 77 games and had 234 at-bats. He had 51 hits, 13 RBI and 5 stolen bases. It is reported that outfielders played him so shallow that shots that would have been bloop hits for most players were fly outs for Gray.
He was sent down after the 1945 season as more players who had been in military service returned to baseball. Gray was out of baseball for the 1947 season, but returned to play for Elmira in 1948 where he hit .290 in 82 games. He played in the minors and played on barnstorming teams until the 1950s and then retired to Nanicoke, Pennsylvania.
In the field
As he played, Gray wore a glove without the padding. When the ball was hit to him, he made the catch with the glove directly in front of him — normally about shoulder height. As the ball hit the glove, he would roll the glove and ball across his chest from left to right.
Somehow, in this process, he learned to separate the ball from the glove. In the motion, this glove would come to rest under the stump of his right arm and the ball would end up in his left hand.
In handling ground balls, he would let the ball bounce off his glove about knee height in front of him. He would flip off the glove and grab the ball while it was still in the air.
Some said this process allowed Gray to field balls faster than other outfielders he was playing with who didn’t face the same handicap. When he was backing up another outfielder, he would drop the glove and be ready to take the ball in his hand.
At the plate
Gray, despite having just one arm, used a full weight, regulation bat. He was described as standing back behind the plate and cocking the bat as any other hitter would. His hand was six inches or so up on the handle and he would take a full cut. He was described as being a pure pull hitter.
Sources: Cleveland Press, Baseball Digest, 20th Century Baseball Chronicle