This summer, the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team inspired hundreds of Bay Ridgeites as the heroes took the field at Shore Road Park to play against able-bodied teams.
However, long before the WWAST brought their talents to the community, another amputee team played ball in Brooklyn. On June 10, 1950 veterans wounded during their service in World War II played a baseball game that was highly attended. Players whose arms had been amputated called themselves the ‘Broken Wings.’ The ‘Flat Tires’ was the name given to players whose legs had been amputated.
Eighty-one-year-old Korean War veteran Dom Valletta, who managed and played catcher against the amputee team, recalls how the historic game came to fruition.
“We had a team called the Comets that played with the Red hook Community Center,” said the southern Brooklyn native, who was just a 17-year-old high school student during the historic game. “We were asked if we wanted to play this amputee team.”
The able-bodied team was thrilled to play the country’s heroes and honored them by giving the amputee baseball team their best effort. “You had to play the game right (and be competitive). If you didn’t, they would walk off field,” Valetta recalled. “The only thing you weren’t allowed to do was bunt.”
According to Valletta, the team was formed due to the inspiration generated by former Major Leaguer Pete Gray, who played centerfield for the St. Louis Browns despite having just one arm.
The game was played at the Parade Grounds and was highly attended. “The place was packed. My father and sister came late and had to stand behind home plate,” Valletta said.
The game was scoreless until the fifth inning, when the amputees scored first. However, in the bottom of the frame, the Comets countered with four runs. It was the only inning they scored.
“They blanked us out the rest of the game,” said Valletta, as he recalled the competitive nature of the game. “I’ll never forget facing a pitcher named Bill Marino who had one arm. He said ‘I heard you could hit, but I’m going to strike you out every time you get up.’ He struck me out three times, in front of my family,” Valletta laughed.
The Comets ended up winning 4-2. “It was amazing how they played with one arm and one leg. They had a way of throwing the ball. It was something phenomenal,” Valletta said. Like the WWAST, the amputee team played all over the country. “They were pretty popular.”
Over six decades later, Valletta still talks about the game to his former teammate. “I get together with Jerry Testa, who played second base on my team. He’s in Florida now and we always bring it up. I also do volunteer work for St. Ephrem School and I talk to kids and explain the game.
“They couldn’t believe the stories of the amputee team,” he said. “I played a lot of baseball but that had to be the highlight of my baseball career.”