Recently I have been scanning McAmis photos and histories, saving them for future generations who may have more historical sensibilities than admittedly I possess – but copies of newspaper reports of a Petty relative who played major league baseball piqued my interest.
My dad Delbert Wesley McAmis was a semi-pro baseball player who passed up the chance at the big leagues because of family commitments, but he remained active in the game (as a player, coach, umpire and arm-chair-critic) throughout his life. From time-to-time he spoke about the Petty’s who married into the McAmis clan, and about Jess (Jesse L.) Petty.
Jess Petty was born in Indian Territory, Oklahoma, in 1894. While we don’t know much about his early baseball career, much of it would have been played on sandlots, and talents such as his were discovered primarily by happen chance. Somewhere around 1917 he was drafted as a left-handed pitcher by the Cleveland Indians but soon afterward he went into the U.S. Army and fought in World War I.
The war was hell (as are all wars). Petty contracted rheumatics in the damp forest, was gassed and nearly lost his sight, and in 1919 returned to civilian life in poor physical health. But deep down, he considered himself to be a ballplayer and he fought his way back into the majors. Several lackluster years followed with trades that included Milwaukee and Indianapolis, and then a chance to play with Brooklyn in 1925.
Senior scouts criticized the purchase. Petty had gray streaks at his temples and was undeniably 33-years-old, much older than other rookies, older than most experienced pitchers. One scout noted, “I don’t think he will make the grade with Brooklyn. He’s too old, for one thing. And then I am not sure he can take it.”
But Petty had his defenders, including one sports writer whose by-line only read “Daniel.” He later wrote, “What a joke on that scout to doubt Petty’s ability ‘to take it.’ What a travesty to cast that aspersion on his gameness! Why, this man Petty had gone through hell without flinching. For two years he had been a dispatch rider with the American army in France. For two years he had gone through that shambles – through the Meuse, through the Argonne – and you baseball men asked: — ‘Could he take it?’”
Jess Petty did take it, building a career as a pitcher with Brooklyn, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs through 1930. While he did not make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, like most major league players of that era, his likeness was enshrined on a Big League Playing Card and was distributed by a bubble gum company. From 1935-1936, he coached in farm clubs for the big leagues.
As I recall Dad’s stories, because of the age difference, Dad never met Jess Petty but he often spoke admiringly of the only relative who made it into the Major Leagues. And I have often wondered — was Dad also a tiny bit envious that he gave up the chance to live the same life as Jess Petty. Petty was at best an average pitcher who fought through tremendous odds to craft a modest career. Dad was a superior athlete, a power hitter that rarely failed to connect with the ball. And he had the spit and spunk equal to his Petty relative. He would have been a star. If Dad did not mourn that loss, I certainly mourned it for him.
— Jonnie Martin