The Cleverest Cubs Fan Ever

One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream

As I watch still another Chicago baseball loss, probably numbering well over four figures in my career as a fan, I am reminded of three different people: Warren Brown, a one-armed man, and the only Cubs fan I ever met who displayed good judgment.

Brown was a legendary sports writer for the Chicago Tribune and other papers. He witnessed both the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and every baseball World Series for 50 years beginning in 1920. Additionally, he wrote a memorable history of the Cubs.

Naturally, Brown covered the 1945 World Series, the last time the Cubs appeared in such an event. Atypically, it featured less than the best American baseball players. The reason? Most of the able-bodied men were serving in the army, navy, air force, or the marines. The Second World War had only just ended earlier in the year. The rosters of the Detroit Tigers and the Cubs therefore featured players who were either too old or too infirm to be considered prime cannon-fodder: the left-over athletes who could still play baseball passably well, if not to the pre-war standard.

Indeed, to give you a sense of how dramatic was the war’s effect on the quality of Major League play at that time, you need to hear a little bit about Pete Gray, who you can see in action here: Pete Gray

Gray played for the St. Louis Browns in the American League that year. The Browns eventually moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. But as the war ended, they were so desperate for athletic talent that they required the services of Mr. Gray, who had the distinction of being a one-armed man. He had lost his right arm in a farming accident at age 12.

Gray swung the bat from the left side, but had trouble stopping the motion of the wooden club once he’d started it, making him pretty easy pickings for the opposing pitcher. Nonetheless, in 77 games during the regular season, Gray batted .218 and had a .958 fielding percentage. Unfortunately, enemy base-runners also discovered that Gray’s routine in the field — catch the ball, flip the ball into the air, remove the glove, grab the ball coming down, and ready himself to throw — allowed them time to take an extra-base. Once the war heroes returned in 1946, Gray was expendable.

It was in an atmosphere such as this that Warren Brown was asked a simple question: which of the two teams in the 1945 World Series, the Tigers and the Cubs, did he think would become the World Champion?

Brown thought for a moment and then uttered the unforgettable line:

“I don’t see how either team can possibly win it.”

That brings me to a man I met who was a Cubs fan in that same year, 1945. He got angry at the team because it confirmed the half of Warren Brown’s prediction that was in its control: the Cubs lost the World Series.

As a result, this fellow decided he would never root for the Cubs again, never ever.

And, as I said, the Cubs have not been in the World Series since he made that vow.

Talk about good timing and superb judgment!

He was eight years old.

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