SI Vault
Armen Keteyian
March 31, 1986
The first assistant director checked the camera crew and eyed the extras in the stands. "All right, ladies and gentlemen," he boomed through a megaphone, "this is picture."
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March 31, 1986

Lights! Camera! Action! Our Myopic Hero Makes The Catch Of His Career

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"That's O.K.," said Pace. "You'll only have to run about 15 yards. Someone will throw you the ball. It shouldn't be too tough."

"Oh...O.K.," I said.

Pace caught my concern. "By the way," he said, "just how bad are your eyes?"

He found out the next day. I was standing in leftfield, worried. The only way I could focus on the batter was by blinking my eyes. After a while, I felt like a traffic light. The first ball hit to me—a hard grounder—bounced off my glove and rolled behind me.

"All right," said Pace, who was responsible for orchestrating the baseball scenes. "We're only live if the ball's hit to leftfield. We want to set up the Canzoni catch."

The hitter was Mike Paciorek, brother of Tom, the Texas Ranger utility man. Like his brother, Mike—who played college ball at Michigan—is well built and hits with power. He ripped the next pitch, deep down the line. Instinctively, I turned, trying to focus on the blurry object, and sprinted to the wall—an imposing concrete slab 12 feet high. Miraculously—at this point I could have used a guide dog—I was able to make a beautiful running catch inches in front of the wall. Even my teammates let out a few congratulatory whoops.

"Nice grab," said Pace, as I ran off the field. "You didn't even turn and look at the wall. Good instincts. But don't get cocky. We'll need that tomorrow."

As I ran to the bench to rest, I noticed Carradine warming up. At 35, he has earned a reputation as an actor willing to take risks, to accept the offbeat. Gray's life story was no exception.

Gray was six years old when his right arm was crushed by the wheel of a milk truck and had to be amputated above the elbow. He worked endlessly at his game, earning a shot at the majors after winning the MVP award in the Class A Southern Association with Memphis in 1944. He hit .333 that year and tied the league record with 68 stolen bases. His career was inspiring enough to warrant a movie, and, in fact, the notion of doing one had been talked about in Hollywood for almost 40 years. Among the obstacles that kept the cameras from rolling were the demands of the starring role. It required an actor to spend hours in a rigid shoulder harness that held the right arm snugly across the chest. Catching and throwing one-handed on the sidelines, Carradine wielded his black glove to snare the baseball, then slipped the mitt under his right armpit, pulled the ball out and threw. His throws were swift and accurate, remarkable because Carradine, a natural righthander, was forced to learn to throw lefthanded.

A gate attraction because of his handicap, Gray was hailed as an inspiration to wounded vets returning from World War II. His superb defensive skills won him the admiration of New York sports-writers, who dubbed him a "one-armed wonder." Gray did his best to downplay his disability. But as time wore on, the publicity surrounding the handicap began to bother him. He played 77 games with the Browns in 1945, hitting .218; then the war ended and he returned to the minors. After leaving baseball in 1949, he had a bout with alcohol. He is described in stories written in the 1970s as a "frightened" and "bitter" man. Today a non-drinker, Gray, 68, guards his privacy. He lives in his hometown of Nanticoke, Pa., has no phone and resists all requests for interviews. "I don't want to be bothered, that's all," he says.

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