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Jim Frey was the Texas League batting champion when the Cardinals acquired him and gave him a chance to compete for a spot on their Opening Day roster. Frey didn’t get to the majors as a player, but he did as a manager.

Frey died April 12, 2020, at 88. An outfielder who played in the minors for 14 years, including four in the Cardinals’ system, Frey managed the Royals to their first American League pennant in 1980 and led the Cubs to their first division championship in 1984.

A left-handed batter, Frey could hit, but a weak throwing arm kept him out of the big leagues. He played in the farm systems of the Braves, Dodgers, Phillies, Cardinals and Pirates from 1950-63.

Looks deceive

As a student at Western Hills High School in Cincinnati, Frey and classmate Don Zimmer became lifelong friends. Western Hills was the alma mater of multiple major-league players, including Pete Rose, Russ Nixon and Zimmer. Frey, Zimmer, Rose and Nixon all managed in the majors.

In 1957, Frey, 26, was in his eighth season in the minors. Playing left field for Tulsa, a Phillies farm club, Frey batted .336, 28 points better than any other player in the Texas League. He also led the league in hits (198), runs (102), doubles (50), triples (11) and total bases (294).

The Cardinals purchased’s Frey contract and put him on their 40-man winter roster. At spring training in 1958, Frey was a candidate for a reserve outfielder spot with the Cardinals.

“We’ll take a long look” at him, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told The Sporting News.

Listed at 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds, Frey “actually looks smaller,” The Sporting News noted, “but doubts as to his ability are dispelled when he takes his turn at the plate. The little guy, who wears specs and resembles an oversized jockey rather than a big-leaguer, has an A-1 batting style.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Frey “swings a business-like bat. He wears glasses and looks more like a sophomore who leads his class in chemistry and mathematics than he resembles a ballplayer, but he hits the ball where it is pitched, instead of trying for home runs, and what a pleasure it is to see a player so intelligent.”

Have bat, will travel

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson “gave me a real shot” to make the club, Frey told the Kansas City Star. “I hit everything they tossed up that spring, but I couldn’t throw a ball from center to second base. My arm was dead after I banged my shoulder against the fence the year before.”

The Cardinals sent Frey and another outfield prospect, Curt Flood, to their Omaha farm club.

Frey “was handicapped by the fact he has only a mediocre throwing arm and the Cards already are well prepared with left-handed pinch-hitters, Joe Cunningham and Irv Noren,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

“I’ve always been overlooked,” Frey told The Sporting News.

Playing for manager Johnny Keane, Frey hit .283 for Omaha in 1958 and had a team-leading .382 on-base percentage, but the Cardinals kept him off the 40-man winter roster entering 1959.

Frey spent the 1959 and 1960 seasons with the Cardinals’ farm club at Rochester. He hit .296 with a team-leading .387 on-base percentage in 1959. In 1960, he was the International League batting champion, hitting .317. Frey tied Leon Wagner for the club lead in home runs (16) and again was the best on the team in on-base percentage at .381.

In September 1960, the Cardinals traded Bob Sadowski and four Rochester players, Frey, Dick Ricketts, Wally Shannon and Billy Harrell, to the Phillies for Don Landrum.

Frey played in the Phillies’ system in 1961 and 1962. He opened the 1963 season with a Pirates minor-league club, got released and was signed by the Cardinals, who sent him to their Atlanta farm team. Frey, 32, finished his playing career there that season.

Coach and manager

From 1970-79, Frey was an Orioles coach on the staff of manager Earl Weaver. Like Frey, Weaver never played in the majors but he spent multiple years in the Cardinals’ farm system. The Orioles won three American League pennants during Frey’s time as coach.

In October 1979, when Frey became Royals manager, he told The Sporting News, “I think of myself as a guy who helped Weaver win games, not as his protege.”

On replacing the popular and successful Whitey Herzog as manager of the Royals, Frey said, “The name is Frey, as in, ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire.’ ”

Four years later, when he was named manager of the Cubs, who played their home games at Wrigley Field, a ballpark then without lights, Frey said, “We’re going to try to win every night.”

Glenn Beckert rarely struck out, but he did get knocked out by Mike Shannon.

Beckert died on April 12, 2020, at 79. He was the Cubs’ second baseman from 1965-73 and finished his playing career with the 1974-75 Padres. A four-time National League all-star, Beckert won a Gold Glove Award  in 1968.

On April 16, 1969, Beckert and Shannon were involved in a painful play at Busch Memorial Stadium. Shannon crashed into Beckert while trying to stretch a single into a double. Beckert suffered a concussion, was carried off the field on a stretcher and spent a night in a hospital. Shannon became woozy and was removed from the game.

Contact hitter

A Pittsburgh native, Beckert played shortstop at Allegheny College and graduated with a degree in political science. The Red Sox signed him and after a year in their farm system as a shortstop he was chosen by the Cubs in the November 1962 minor-league draft.

Beckert primarily played third base and shortstop in two years in the Cubs’ farm system. After the 1964 season, the Cubs converted him to a second baseman at their winter instructional league. Beckert adapted quickly, impressed at spring training and made his major-league debut as the starting second baseman and leadoff batter in the Cubs’ 1965 season opener versus the defending World Series champion Cardinals. Boxscore

At the plate, Beckert was adept at making contact. When Leo Durocher became Cubs manager in 1966, he took a liking to Beckert for his ability to execute hit-and-run plays and advance runners by hitting behind them. Beckert reminded Durocher of two other favorites he’d managed, Al Dark and Eddie Stanky.

“Glenn always gets a piece of that ball,” Durocher told The Sporting News.

A right-handed batter, Beckert choked up on the bat and perfected a short stroke. “I try not to swing too hard,” he said, “and when the pitcher gets two strikes on me, I concede a little more to him. I don’t choke up any further on the bat, but I cut down more on my swing.”

Bat control

Beckert five times led National League batters in fewest strikeouts per at-bat. In 1968, when he had a career-high in hits (189), Beckert struck out 20 times in 643 at-bats. He averaged one strikeout every 32.2 at-bats that season. By comparison, the next-best, Felix Millan of the Braves, averaged one strikeout every 21.9 at-bats.

In 1,320 career games in the majors covering 5,208 at-bats, Beckert had 1,473 hits and a mere 243 strikeouts. The most times he struck out in a season was 52 as a rookie in 1965.

“In this era of swinging from the heels, he has become the thinking man’s player,” The Sporting News reported in 1968.

Said Beckert: “Once I got home runs out of my mind, I stopped striking out. Now when I go to the plate, all I think about is making contact. I want to hit the ball.”

Beckert only once struck out three times in a big-league game. It happened on May 5, 1967, against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Starter Dick Hughes struck him out twice and Ron Willis got him once. Those were Beckert’s first strikeouts of the season after going 69 at-bats without a whiff. Boxscore

Dazed and confused

Two years later, on a Wednesday night in St. Louis, pitchers Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs and Steve Carlton of the Cardinals were locked in an early-season duel.

The Cubs were ahead, 1-0, when Shannon led off the bottom of the seventh inning and lined a pitch down the third-base line. Shannon said he thought the ball was headed toward the left-field corner for a double. He didn’t see the ball hit Satch Davidson, a rookie umpire stationed at third, and drop to the ground. Cubs third baseman Ron Santo retrieved the ball.

As Shannon neared first base, he saw coach Dick Sisler point toward second base.

“I saw the ball hit the ump, but then I was blocked out by Santo,” Sisler told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought the ball caromed away.”

Santo told the Chicago Tribune, “When I got the ball, I saw Shannon rounding first like he hadn’t seen what had happened.”

Santo threw to first baseman Ernie Banks, hoping to catch Shannon. Said Sisler: “When Santo came up throwing, he surprised everybody.”

The ball arrived too late to nab Shannon, who was steaming toward second.

Banks threw to Beckert and the ball arrived before Shannon did. Beckert braced and applied the tag as Shannon barreled into him, knocking him to the ground.

Santo said he saw Beckert’s head “jerk back and he went flat on the ground like he was paralyzed. He told me he couldn’t see out of his right eye.”

The collision was deemed a clean play. “The runner is trying to knock the ball loose,” Jenkins told the Post-Dispatch. “Shannon didn’t mean to hurt him. If we’d thought he did it on purpose, we’d have had a little brawl.”

While Beckert was taken to a hospital, Shannon complained of dizziness. “I didn’t pass out, but I did see wavy lines,” Shannon told the Post-Dispatch.

Phil Gagliano replaced Shannon at third base the next inning.

Jenkins completed a five-hit shutout for the win. Boxscore

The next day, Beckert was released from the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion and a stiff neck. Two days later, he was back in the Cubs’ lineup.

One ball, two home runs.

Sixty years ago, on April 23, 1960, Cardinals sluggers Ken Boyer and Daryl Spencer each hit a home run with the same baseball.

The unusual feat occurred in the second inning of a game against the Dodgers at St. Louis.

With the Dodgers ahead 4-0, Boyer led off the bottom of the second against Danny McDevitt and hit a home run into the pavilion in right-center. A spectator tried to catch the ball, but muffed it and the ball fell back onto the playing field, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Umpires examined the ball, “found it to be in good condition and put it back in play,” The Sporting News reported.

The next batter, Stan Musial, flied out to right fielder Sandy Amoros, who threw the ball back to the infield.

McDevitt, still using the same ball he threw to Boyer and Musial, delivered a pitch to Spencer, who connected for “one of the most robust home runs ever to dent the bleacher scoreboard” in left, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The ball “almost knocked the cap off” the electronic animated cardinal on the far left side of the scoreboard, according to the Post-Dispatch.

A spectator retrieved the ball and put it in his pocket, The Sporting News noted.

Boyer hit another home run, a two-run shot in the fifth, against Larry Sherry. He also had a run-scoring double and a sacrifice fly and finished with five RBI in a 9-5 Cardinals victory.

The game also was noteworthy for Cardinals right-hander Bob Duliba, who pitched five innings of relief for his first big-league win. Duliba also got his first hit in the majors, a single against Sherry. Boxscore

 

In a World Series filled with epic performances and major controversies, Al Kaline produced with his usual quiet consistency. His steady professionalism calmed, not tamed, the Tigers and inspired them to overtake the defending champion Cardinals.

Kaline died April 6, 2020, at 85. The Hall of Fame right fielder played in the major leagues for 22 years, all with the Tigers, and appeared in one World Series, the 1968 classic.

After the Cardinals won three of the first four games, the Tigers rallied to win the last three, including Games 6 and 7 at St. Louis. The 1968 World Series was highlighted by:

_ The Cardinals’ Bob Gibson striking out 17 batters in Game 1.

_ The Tigers’ Mickey Lolich overshadowing teammate and 30-game winner Denny McLain by earning three wins, including Game 7.

_ Cardinals catalyst Lou Brock trying to score standing rather than sliding and being called out, turning the tide in the pivotal Game 5.

_ Gold Glove center fielder Curt Flood failing to catch a drive by Jim Northrup, allowing the Tigers to take control in Game 7.

Kaline, who got into the World Series lineup as the right fielder because of Tigers manager Mayo Smith’s bold decision to shift Mickey Stanley to shortstop, didn’t do anything epic or controversial, but his performance was integral.

Kaline batted .379 against the Cardinals and had an on-base percentage of .400. He had 11 hits, two home runs and eight RBI. He also fielded splendidly.

After the Tigers’ Game 7 triumph, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “You know what the turning point in the Series was? It was Kaline carrying them all along with him. That’s what beat us.”

Rising up

Kaline was born in Baltimore and grew up in a row house. His father worked in a broom factory and his mother scrubbed floors. His parents encouraged Kaline to play baseball.

“My dad was always there to play catch with me,” Kaline told Joe Falls of The Sporting News. “He’d be on his feet all day long at the factory and he’d come home dead tired, but we’d go down to the corner and start playing catch. He’d hit me some fly balls.”

In a 1965 profile, Sports Illustrated reported, “The Kaline family was poor, proud and hungry _ no Kaline had ever graduated from high school _ and before long the whole clan had decided little Al was going to be something different.”

Like his contemporary, Mickey Mantle, Kaline had osteomyelitis, a bone infection. “When he was 8 years old, doctors took two inches of bone out of his left foot, leaving jagged scars and permanent deformity,” Sports Illustrated reported. “They left him with a set of sharply swept-back toes on his left foot. Only two of those toes touch the ground when he walks, which has forced him to develop a running style on the heel and toes of his right foot and on the side of his left foot.”

Kaline overcame his physical limitations and developed into a top prospect. On June 19, 1953, Kaline, 18, signed with the Tigers for $30,000.

“He turned every penny of it over to his father and his mother,” Sports Illustrated reported. “The mortgage was paid off on the house and Mrs. Kaline’s failing eyesight was saved by an operation.”

On June 25, 1953, a week after his signing, Kaline made his debut in the majors against the Athletics at Philadelphia and never played a day in the minors.

Under pressure

In 1955, Kaline, 20, became the American League batting champion, hitting .340. He had 200 hits and struck out a mere 57 times.

Asked who Kaline reminded him of, Red Sox slugger Ted Williams replied, “Joe DiMaggio,” The Sporting News reported.

Kaline was called the Tigers’ best player since Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer and comparisons also were made to Ty Cobb. For Kaline, it was too much too soon.

“The worst thing that happened to me in the big leagues was the start I had,” Kaline said. “This put the pressure on me. Everybody said this guy’s another Ty Cobb, another Joe DiMaggio. What they didn’t know is I’m not that good a hitter. I have to work as hard, if not harder, than anybody in the league.”

Described by Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch as “gracefully methodical,” Kaline remained the Tigers’ best player, even though he suffered setbacks such as a fractured cheekbone, fractured collarbone, rib injuries and a broken right hand.

According to Broeg, Chuck Dressen, who managed Kaline from 1963-66 after managing the Reds, Dodgers, Senators and Braves, said, “He’s the best player who ever played for me. Jackie Robinson was the most exciting runner I ever had and Hank Aaron the best hitter, but for all around ability _ hitting, fielding, running and throwing _ I’ll go with Al.”

On May 25, 1968, Kaline’s right forearm was broken when hit by a pitch from Lew Krausse of the Athletics. Mayo Smith moved Jim Northrup from center to right and put backup Mickey Stanley in center.

The outfield of Stanley, Northrup and Willie Horton in left excelled, and when Kaline returned to the lineup on July 1 he split time with Northrup in right and with Norm Cash at first base.

After the Tigers clinched the pennant, Smith moved Stanley to shortstop, a position he hadn’t played, for nine games in place of weak-hitting Ray Oyler. Satisfied Stanley could handle the switch, Smith kept Stanley at shortstop for the World Series and went with an outfield of Horton, Northrup and Kaline.

New heights

The Cardinals in 1968 were in the World Series for the third time in five years. The Tigers hadn’t been in a World Series since 1945. Kaline had waited 16 seasons for the chance. Entering Game 1 at St. Louis, “I’d never been so nervous in my life, ” Kaline told The Sporting News.

Kaline hit a double against Gibson but also struck out three times. Gibson tied Sandy Koufax’s World Series strikeout mark of 15 when he fanned Kaline for the first out in ninth before completing the game with strikeouts of Cash and Horton.

Said Kaline: “That was the greatest pitching I’ve seen in a long, long time.” Boxscore

In Game 2, Kaline had two hits and scored two runs, but his defense was the story. In the first inning, the Cardinals had Julian Javier on second and Flood on first with one out when Orlando Cepeda lifted a ball to the corner in right. As the ball sliced into foul territory, Kaline, stationed in right-center, raced over, made a running one-handed catch and crashed through a gate.

“I guess I was only about a step, or a step and a half, away from the sideline fence out there,” Kaline told the Post-Dispatch. “I figured I’d make the catch, stop, pivot and throw, but when I hit the fence, I went through it. It’s well-padded out there, but there’s a gate, and I hit it. I was surprised when the fence opened.”

Kaline’s throw to the infield kept both runners from advancing.

The next batter, Mike Shannon, hit a looping fly to right-center and Kaline made another running one-handed grab. Boxscore

In Game 3 at Detroit, Kaline hit his first World Series home run, a two-run shot versus Ray Washburn. Boxscore In Game 4, Kaline had two of the Tigers’ five hits versus Gibson, but the Cardinals were a win away from clinching the championship. Boxscore

Title run

In the seventh inning of Game 5, the Cardinals led, 3-2, but the Tigers loaded the bases with one out. Kaline came up to face Joe Hoerner, a left-handed reliever. “The situation called for a right-handed replacement,” the Post-Dispatch declared, “but Schoendienst’s lack of regard for his right-handed relievers seemed even more pronounced than his confidence in Hoerner.”

Kaline took a mighty cut at a Hoerner pitch and missed. “He was trying for the home run with the bases loaded,” said Mayo Smith, “but then he realized he had to get the base hit.”

Kaline stroked Hoerner’s next pitch to right-center for a two-run single, giving the Tigers a 4-3 lead on the way to a 5-3 victory. Boxscore

“I wanted to hit it up the middle to get away from the double play,” said Kaline. “I enjoy batting with men on base. When there aren’t, there’s no incentive.”

The Series returned to St. Louis and the Tigers cruised to a 13-1 victory in Game 6. Kaline contributed three hits, four RBI and three runs. In the Tigers’ 10-run third inning, Kaline had two hits, a RBI-single against Washburn and a two-run single versus Ron Willis. In the fifth, he hit a solo home run off Steve Carlton. Boxscore

“I wanted it to go seven games,” Kaline said. “If we lose it, I want it to be to Gibson.”

Gibson and Lolich were locked in a scoreless duel in Game 7 until the Tigers broke through with three runs in the seventh and went on to a 4-1 victory. Boxscore

As his teammates celebrated in the clubhouse and sprayed each other with champagne, Kaline “sat in a dry uniform, one arm resting on a bottle of champagne, and answered questions,’ the Post-Dispatch reported.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine showed his respect by going into the Tigers’ clubhouse to congratulate Kaline and shake his hand.

For the Series, Kaline hit .571 with runners in scoring position. He was 4-for-5 versus Cardinals left-handers. Video of Kaline Series highlights

In the Post-Dispatch, Bob Broeg wrote, “It’s nice that this underrated athlete has made the most of the long-awaited Series opportunity, even if it has come at the expense of the Cards.”

Seeking a way to attract more customers and more revenue, the Cardinals saw the light and broke with tradition.

Seventy years ago, on April 18, 1950, the Cardinals became the first major-league team to play a season opener at night. Club owner Fred Saigh said he opted for an Opening Night game because it gave more working people a chance to attend.

The innovation was a success, though not as much as anticipated.

Expecting a crowd of 30,000 for their Tuesday night game against the Pirates at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, the Cardinals drew 20,871, the largest attendance for a Cardinals home opener. The previous high was 20,754 for the 1928 opener on a Wednesday afternoon versus the Pirates.

Time for a change

Though St. Louis was home to two teams, the National League Cardinals and the American League Browns, Opening Day there then wasn’t the grand event it was in places such as Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.

“This is a good baseball town, but the cash customers here don’t become too excited about Opening Days,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor J. Roy Stockton wrote in April 1950.

On the eve of the Cardinals’ 1950 opener, St. Louis Globe-Democrat sports editor Bob Burnes noted, “The last time anything special was done for Opening Day in St. Louis was 1936” when the Cubs and Cardinals players “appeared downtown in their baseball uniforms. Then they paraded through the downtown and midtown areas in open carriages.”

Later that afternoon, the Cubs thumped the Cardinals, 12-7, before 14,000 customers, putting an end to any more Opening Day parades.

After winning the 1946 World Series championship, their third in five years, the Cardinals drew 11,963 spectators to their 1947 home opener on a Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

The attendances for subsequent Cardinals home openers were 14,071 on a Tuesday afternoon against the Reds in 1948 and 10,121 on a Friday afternoon versus the Cubs in 1949.

In January 1950, Saigh, in his first year in charge of the Cardinals after the 1949 death of co-owner Robert Hannegan, made the decision to have his team become the first in the majors to open a season at night.

Of the Cardinals’ 77 home games in 1950, 54 were scheduled for night, their most since lights were installed at Sportsman’s Park in 1940. Saigh told The Sporting News a club survey showed fans, especially the growing number of women customers, wanted night baseball.

“The national industrious character of the population makes day games conflict with the bread-winning of too many,” Saigh told The Sporting News.

“The fans want night ball and they’re the only ones we have to consider.”

Saigh’s decision to have his team open at night was controversial.

“This is a history-making episode in the game and has caused a split in the ranks of the free thinkers,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports editor Al Abrams wrote. “Some baseball men say Fred Saigh has gone too far in arranging for an opener to be played at night, especially at this stage of unsettled weather conditions. Others see nothing wrong with the innovation and credit Saigh with being foresighted.”

Abrams concluded, “Night baseball has helped attendance everywhere because it gives the working man and woman a chance to see more games. Time will come, and it isn’t far off, when day games will be played only on Sundays and holidays.”

Low-key event

In the Globe-Democrat, Bob Burnes wrote Saigh “is not a man to bow to the ancient dictates of a game which too often keeps itself wrapped in the same mothballs it used in 1910 or thereabouts.”

Saigh “expects at least 30,000 spectators to view this precedent-setter,” the Globe-Democrat reported.

First pitch for the 1950 Cardinals season opener was 8:30 p.m. Game time temperature was 56 degrees, but felt colder. “A change in the wind, which blew toward right field the rest of the night, discouraged late gate sale,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

The playing surface was in bad shape because the field had been used for soccer matches. “It was the first night opening game in big-league history and the first major-league game, probably, played on a grass infield with a skinned outfield,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

For the first time at Sportsman’s Park, pennants with the colors and names of all eight National League clubs hung from the outfield flagpole. The Cardinals’ pennant was on top and the Dodgers’ was on the bottom, even though they were defending league champions, the Globe-Democrat noted.

Opening ceremonies were brief. A Marine Corps Reserve band, accompanied by a color guard, played the National Anthem. Cardinals players were introduced at the plate by broadcaster Harry Caray. St. Louis mayor Joseph M. Darst threw out the ceremonial first ball and it was caught by Pirates infielder Hank Schenz. The park was draped in bunting.

“St. Louis in general has taken tonight’s historic opener in stride,” Bob Burnes observed. “As long as it is baseball, nothing else counts.”

Winning start

The starting pitchers were Bob Chesnes for the Pirates and Gerry Staley for the Cardinals.

In the first inning, Red Schoendienst hit a home run to the roof in right, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Stan Musial also hit a home run to the roof in right, leading off the third.

The Pirates tied the score at 2-2 in the sixth on a two-run single by Johnny Hopp, a former Cardinal. Joe Garagiola’s RBI-single in the bottom of the inning put the Cardinals ahead again, 3-2.

As a light rain began to fall, the Cardinals added a run in the seventh on consecutive two-out singles by Schoendienst, Musial and Enos Slaughter. Before stroking his single, Schoendienst almost hit a second home run, but his long drive into the upper grandstand in right narrowly hooked foul.

Staley pitched a complete game and limited the Pirates to six hits. He threw 95 pitches, including 66 for strikes.

The triumph “‘thrilled a chilled and damp gathering,” the Post-Dispatch reported. The Globe-Democrat noted the “first nocturnal opening game proved very gratifying to 20,871 chilled spectators.” Boxscore

Four days later, on Saturday afternoon, April 22, 1950, the Browns played their home opener at Sportsman’s Park against the Indians and drew 10,166.

The Cardinals played four consecutive home openers at night before returning to a daytime home opener in 1954 under Anheuser-Busch, which bought the club from Saigh. Since then, the Cardinals have had multiple day and night home openers. Their most recent night home opener, a scheduled 6:15 p.m. start, was 2018 versus the Diamondbacks.

A solid performance in an exhibition series against the Cardinals convinced the Browns their one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, could play in the major leagues.

Seventy-five years ago, on April 17, 1945, Gray made his debut in the big leagues as the left fielder in the season opener for the defending American League champion Browns at St. Louis.

With rosters depleted because of players serving in the military during World War II, the Browns took a chance on Gray, 30, who learned to hit and field at a professional level despite his physical disability.

No quit

Peter Wyshner Jr. was born in Nanticoke, Pa., about seven miles from Wilkes-Barre. Years later, he began calling himself Pete Gray because he thought it would be an easier name for people to grasp. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Lithuania and his father worked in the coal mines.

In a 1985 interview with Gene Kirby of the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice, Gray recalled how he lost his right arm.

“When I was 6 years old, I was helping some huckster peddle his fruits and vegetables from his truck,” Gray said. “We’d go from door to door, selling right to the people. One day, I jumped on the truck, but before I could sit down, the truck started to move. I fell back and got my right arm caught in the spikes of the rear wheel.”

Taken to a hospital, Gray was told the arm was too mangled to save and it was amputated above the elbow.

Gray was right-handed. After losing his right arm, he learned to do everything left-handed, including swinging a bat and throwing a baseball.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a ballplayer,” he told The Sporting News.

The youngster practiced his baseball skills every day with a rock and stick, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

Gray had excellent eyesight and speed. He developed a one-armed swing and could hit consistently. He also developed a way to release the ball from his glove after a catch and quickly throw in what appeared to be almost one motion.

In 1945, Frederick G. Lieb of The Sporting News wrote, “You’ve got to see Pete’s fielding to appreciate the speed with which he catches a ball, gets his glove under his right armpit, slides the ball across his chest, gets it back into the palm of his hand and then snaps the arm back for his throw. It is difficult to see the mechanics of the operation, for Pete’s hand is quicker than the eye.”

Turning pro

In 1934, Gray, 19, started playing semi-pro baseball for local teams. Eight years later, Three Rivers in the Canadian-American League signed him. Though limited to 42 games because of a broken collarbone, Gray hit .381.

The Memphis Chickasaws, a minor-league club in the Southern Association, took notice and Gray played for them in 1943 and 1944.

“In my two seasons in Memphis, they got me out on strikes only 15 times,” Gray told The Sporting News.

Gray batted .289 with 131 hits in 1943 and .333 with 167 hits and 68 stolen bases in 1945.

“Pete swings a 35-ounce bat, somewhat heavier than the cudgel used by the average player, and holds it well up on the handle,” The Sporting News reported. “He doesn’t swing it back too far, and gets much of his power as he breaks his powerful left wrist. He also is adept at bunting.”

Browns general manager Bill DeWitt Sr. was impressed and signed Gray to a 1945 contract.

Big chance

DeWitt “was a little annoyed when some persons got the idea he signed Gray as a freak and intended to exploit him,” The Sporting News reported. DeWitt said manager Luke Sewell would determine whether Gray played for the Browns.

“Luke never would play Gray merely for the sake of his possible value as a gate attraction,” DeWitt said.

In recalling his first meeting with Sewell at the Browns’ spring training site in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Gray told the Wilkes-Barre newspaper, “When I arrived in the clubhouse, Luke called me aside and said, ‘Pete, I’ll play you as long as you can help this ballclub.’ Then he paused and confirmed, ‘I’ll say this much for you: You’ve got a hell of a lot of guts to play this game with one arm.’ ”

The Browns needed a left fielder. Al Zarilla and Chet Laabs made the most starts in left for the 1944 Browns but both were unavailable in 1945. Zarilla entered the Army and Laabs was working at a defense plant in Detroit.

After watching Gray at training camp, The Sporting News observed, “What was particularly impressive about his early batting practice hitting was the keenness of his eyesight and his really remarkable timing.”

Said Sewell: “He surely gets a good piece of the ball, is unusually fast, and it is fascinating to see what he can do with that one arm.” Video

To help with his fielding, Gray made alterations to his glove. “He takes out all of the padding and wears only about two-thirds of the glove,” The Sporting News reported. “He keeps his little finger outside, and the palm of the glove is on his remaining long fingers. He figures he catches a ball better that way and it also is easier to discard the glove.”

After breaking camp, the Browns went to St. Louis to play a six-game exhibition series against the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park before opening the regular season. Six months earlier, the Cardinals won four of six games versus the Browns in the 1944 World Series.

Gray had six hits in the six exhibition games and fielded 14 chances without an error. Most fans “came away with the belief Pete Gray was more of a ballplayer than a freak,” the St. Louis Star-Times reported.

Said Sewell: “He started out in this series under a big handicap, with people expecting miracles and Pete trying to deliver miracles … but I think he showed them something.”

Sewell named Gray the Opening Day left fielder.

Browns debut

The Browns opened on April 17, 1945, against the Tigers at St. Louis. Gray was in left field and batted second. An announced crowd of 4,167 attended on the Tuesday afternoon.

Pitching for the Tigers was left-hander and future Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, who the season before was 29-9.

In his first two at-bats versus Newhouser, Gray grounded out to short and struck out.

“That left-hander was really rough,” Gray told the Associated Press. “He threw me every pitch in the book. When I was called out on strikes, he used a fast curve that was almost by me before I figured out where it was headed.”

In the fifth inning, Gray lined a Newhouser pitch to right-center. Tigers center fielder Doc Cramer made “a remarkable shoestring catch,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

“Gray had already rounded first when Cramer reached for the ball,” the Associated Press noted. “It would have been good for at least a double” had Cramer missed.

In his last at-bat, in the seventh, Gray faced right-hander Les Mueller and reached base on “a sharp infield single” over second base, the Associated Press reported.

Gray “had the Tigers jittery” after the leadoff hit, according to the St. Louis Star-Times. He advanced to second when Mike Kreevich walked and, one out later, scored on a Milt Byrnes double.

“You have to see it to believe it,” the Detroit Free Press reported. “This one-armed Pete Gray … is a cunning fellow at the plate who swings his bat as if it were a baton.”

The Browns won, 7-1. Boxscore

Gray made no putouts but wrenched his shoulder “when he slipped on the wet grass” while pursuing a ball Eddie Mayo drilled for a double in the first inning, The Sporting News reported.

One and done

In his first two months with the Browns, Gray struggled. He batted .188 in April and .189 in May.

Four decades later, Sewell told the Wilkes-Barre newspaper, “He could hit the fastball. He got around on that pitch OK, but he had trouble with the slow stuff. He’d be out in front of the ball and after a while that’s all he ever saw.”

After hitting .259 in June and .255 in July, Gray batted below .200 the last two months of the season. In one of his best games, Aug. 19, he had four hits and scored three runs against Red Sox rookie Boo Ferriss at St. Louis. Boxscore

Gray finished the year with a .218 batting average. He had 51 hits, 13 walks and struck out just 11 times. He also handled 172 fielding chances and made seven errors. The Browns finished in third place at 81-70, six games behind the champion Tigers.

With World War II ending and players returning from military service, the 1945 season was Gray’s only one in the majors. He played three more years in the minors at Toledo, Elmira and Dallas.