On This Date in Sports April 19, 1945: Pete Gray's Debut

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

 

Pete Gray makes his debut with the St. Louis Browns, getting on hit in four at-bats. The 30-year-old rookie from Pennsylvania becomes an in the inspirational story of 1945 as he is the first amputee in majors, having lost his right arm in a childhood accident. Gray got his chance primarily due to many players still serving in World War II. It would be Pete Gray’s only season in the majors as he hit .218 in 234 at-bats. 

Pete Gray was born Peter J. Wyshner on March 6, 1915, in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. One of five children raised by Lithuanian immigrants. His father worked in Pennsylvania coal mines. Pete Gray lost his arm in a wagon accident when he was six-years-old. Losing his right arm at the elbow did not stop Pete from his passion for playing baseball as he learned to bat and throw left-handed while tucking his glove under his arm.

Taking the name Pete Gray, as his brother, a boxer used the name Whitey Gray began playing semipro baseball at the age of 19. He had several tryouts but was not signed before World War II. Pete Gray had wished to serve after the Pearl Harbor attacks but was rejected by the military due to his disability. 

In 1942, Pete Gray signed to play for the Trois-Rivieres Renards in the Canadian League. After spending the next two seasons with the Memphis Chickasaws, Gray got his chance at the majors when he made the opening day roster of the St. Louis Browns. The Browns were coming off their only American League Pennant in 1944, but still needed plyers that would draw fans as the war was drawing to a close.

Wearing number 14, batting second and playing left field, Pete Gray got one hit in four at-bats as the Browns beat the Detroit Tigers 7-1 at Sportsmen’s Park. Gray appeared in 77 games and hit .218, with 13 RBI, and 26 runs, including six doubles and two triples. As the season progressed, it became clear that Pete Gray could not hit off-speed pitches, which would ultimately end his big league career. 

Pete Gray would return to the minors in 1946, retiring in 1949. Though he spent one season in the majors, Pete Gray remained an inspiration, speaking with disabled veterans and disabled children. Though he always wondered if he made it to the majors on merit or had just been there to sell tickets during wartime. Four decades later, Jim Abbot became the second one-handed player in MLB.