James L. Ray
We often read or hear about pitchers developing arm strength and accuracy in their youth by throwing rocks at a target. Hal Gregg’s missile of choice was citrus—specifically, an orange. Born in Anaheim, California, on July 21, 1921, Harold Dana Gregg grew up on an orange farm. His parents, Calvin and Margaret (Smylmo) Gregg, were orange farmers, and they had a large grove right behind the family house.
Young Hal had no interest in baseball; he wanted to be like his father. At a very young age, he began working on the farm: planting, picking, watering, and doing every chore his father assigned him. Hal competed with the other workers during breaks to see who could “pick” an orange off a branch by firing another orange at it.
Although he didn’t play baseball in his youth or adolescence, he developed a feeling for the game by watching his older brother. James Gregg was a standout baseball player in high school and eventually played some semipro ball. Hal had another brother, Malcolm, born in 1914, two years after James.
One day James noticed that his little brother could throw as hard and as far as he could. Accordingly, he encouraged Hal to try baseball, but the younger Gregg wanted no part of the game. He wanted to go to work. It was the heart of the Great Depression. Money was tight. Jobs were scarce. So when he was offered a job at a local feed mill loading 160-pound sacks of grain onto trucks, Hal jumped at the opportunity. The decision would affect him for the rest of his life.
Hal Gregg was the Dodgers’ winning pitcher in the historic
Teenagers rarely got such chances to work at what was then considered a good job, but even as a fifteen-year-old Hal was already very big and very strong. (He eventually grew to a height of 6 feet 3½ and a weight of 195 pounds.) He used that brawn to load the trucks with those heavy sacks. It was brutally hard work. After a couple of years, the repeated stress of lifting more than thirty tons of grain every day—about 375 sacks—