When the Second World War started, several MLB stars were drafted to join the fight. This gave an opportunity for some minor league players to make the step up and play MLB for the first time. One of those people to step up was Pete Gray, the first one-armed player to ever make it in MLB.
Losing an arm
Gray was the son of Lithuanian immigrants and had a tough start to life. He was initially right-handed, but when he was seven, he had an accident and lost his arm. Gray was sitting on a wagon in 1923 when all of a sudden he fell out and got his arm lodged in the spokes. It was a terrible injury, and he needed to have the arm amputated from above the elbow. Despite this accident, Gray absolutely loved baseball, and his enthusiasm never went away, he just had to teach himself how to play with his weaker hand.
Minor league baseball
By the age of 19, Gray was already playing baseball and was at a semi-professional standard. After WWII broke out, Gray tried to enlist in the military but was denied because of his arm. He remarked that if he could teach himself how to play baseball with one arm, he could surely shoot a rifle. Gray was fast, which gave him an advantage over others, and he was very adept at place hitting. These two assets combined made him a successful minor league player, but he always dreamed of playing at a higher level.
Getting the call
In 1945 he had his opportunity, and the St. Louis Browns signed him up. He played 77 times in that season and proved to be a very competent fielder. Gray used a glove without any padding which made fielding easier. To return a ball he would have to quickly transfer the ball from the glove to his hand, which meant a potentially awkward swap, but he had his method mastered.
Gray would allow the ball to hit his glove if it was bouncing toward him, then quickly drop the glove as the ball was still in the air and catch it with his hand. His batting technique was pretty similar to everyone else’s except that he held it about six inches higher than standard. When bunting he placed the bat against his side and held it about a third of the way up.
An end to the magic
As the season progressed, pitchers soon figured out how to play against him. Gray only had the one arm, so was unable to adjust his swing after it started. This allowed pitchers to throw curveballs his way which became impossible for him to hit. Sadly he only lasted one season in the league after this technique made him easy to pitch against.
Despite lasting only one season in MLB, Gray became an inspiration to others. Returning veterans from the Second World War were inspired by his ability to play against able-bodied people. Gray would visit returning heroes and reassure them they could still lead productive lives.