Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Baseball and players with disabilities

From Black Athlete Oct. 6:

CALIFORNIA -- There was an open and honest discussion this year centering on disabled athletes in the world of sports. Many American asked would these individuals ever step across the lines in professional sports?

In the past standout disabled athletes like Pete Gray of the St. Louis Browns playing the field with one arm in the 1940's, Wilma Rudolph (track and field in the 1960's) Tom Dempsey, placekicker with the New Orleans Saints in the 1970's, who held the record for the longest field goal 63 yards beating the Detroit Lions.

Later in the 1980s, a deaf African American named John Curtis Pride took the baseball field. The 1990's produced a wonderful young man Mike Edwards of the University of Notre Dame played basketball with one leg.

So far this decade produced three outstanding disabled Olympic athletes went to Beijing, China to compete against non-disabled athletes.

Most Americans believed that disabled athletes could not play professional sports and that it would never happen in the major league baseball or any other sport because it required the disabled athletic to have super athlete skills.

We all asked, "How could the disabled run fast enough, how could the disabled player field the ball, and how could the disabled pitch? If they were deaf, how could they hear the crack of the bat?"

"How could they hear the coaches screaming instructions? If the disabled use an access device would the device hinder other players on the field?" These were the questions many disabled athletes asked.

It seems that baseball is more accepting of disabled players in their game. Here is a short history of the famous disabled baseball players.

Three Finger Brown began the journey for disabled baseball players Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown played for the Chicago Cubs and The Saint Louis Cardinals most of his carrier with a record of 239 wins and 130 loses.

He truly pitched with three fingers and had a wicked curve ball 90 years ago.

Pete Gray who played one year for the St. Louis Browns at the end of world War II. He became an inspiration for returning veterans that were amputees. Gray became the first player to ever don a professional uniform with one arm.

On May 19, 1945 he personally destroyed the New York Yankees with five hits two RBI as the Browns swept the Bronx Boomers in New York City. Near the end of the season pitchers finally found a weakness in Gray's batting style.

He could not hit braking balls because once he started his swing he could not stop. Gray's one year statistics (a .218 average in 77 games) are small but it was another step for the disabled.

Eddie Gaedel, who also played for the St. Louis Browns, stood 3-foot-1 and was the smallest baseball player in history. Bill Veeck, owner of the Browns did this as a stunt to attract fans to the last place team. He is the only major league player of short stature ever to play in the Major Leagues.

John Curtis Brown, an African American, was the last disabled player in the Major Leagues. He was drafted by the New York Mets in high school and played most of his carrier for the Atlanta Braves, Montreal Expos, and Detroit Tigers.

He was one of the first deaf players in modern Major League History. William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy (1862-1961) was the first deaf player to have a long career in the major leagues.

While Hoy is noted for being the most accomplished deaf player in major league history, he's also credited by some sources with causing the establishment of umpire
signals for safe and out calls.

Many people change the lives of people around them; these are just a few examples of greatness in sports. One more example of sports disabled history; you only need to ask the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees about the special talents of pitcher Jim Abbott (pictured).

Abbott is one of these individuals people never forget. He will forever be in the annals of baseball be the first disabled man to throw a no hitter with the New York Yankees. This feat was done with one hand.

Abbott became the second one-armed player in Major League Baseball.

He was born with a disability he had only one arm but this little boy wanted to play baseball. He did so at the protest of many little league teams fearing the young Abbott would get injured by a line drive.

When Abbott pitched, he had to put on his glove right after he threw the ball with his stub hand. He would hold the glove under his elbow of his stub arm, just as Pete Gray did many years before.

It always amazed me at the speed Abbott accomplished this with each pitch. He was a very good fielding pitcher too with only nine errors in his career.

The date of September 4, 1993 should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame because as a New York Yankee, he tossed a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first disabled person in professional sports to do so.

Abbott is one player that won more games (87) never playing a single inning of minor league baseball -- this is an outstanding feat.

Abbott, like many other disabled athletes, was an overachiever playing high school football along with baseball. He was the star quarterback but loved baseball and when he enrolled at the University of Michigan stayed on the diamond.

The Toronto Blue Jays drafted him while he was in high school in 1986 but he passed and went to college instead. Two years later, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim drafted him in the first round.

Abbott played most of his career with the Angels and Yankees. He retired in 1999 and now works with the Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy to encourage other businesses to hire disabled Americans.

Disabled Americans are now looking for the next disabled baseball player. We have many other role models to follow.