Monty Franklin Pierce Stratton (May 21, 1912 – September 29, 1982), nicknamed "Gander" for a trick pitch he developed), was a Major League Baseball pitcher. He was born in Palacios, Texas, United States, but lived in Greenville, Texas for part of his life. His major league career ended prematurely when a hunting accident in 1938 forced doctors to amputate his right leg. Wearing a prosthetic leg, Stratton played in the minor leagues from 1946 to 1953. His comeback was the subject of the 1949 film The Stratton Story, in which he was portrayed by Jimmy Stewart.
Major league career
Stratton began his career with the Van Alstyne Grays before playing for the Chicago White Sox. Stratton pitched five years with the White Sox (1934–38), compiling a career 36–23 record with 196 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA in 487.1 innings.
A 6-foot-5-inch right-hander, Stratton made his debut with the White Sox on June 2, 1934. He became a starter in 1937, winning 15 games with a 2.40 ERA and five shutouts, and made the American League All-Star squad. The following season, he again won 15 and completed 17 of his 22 starts.
On November 27, 1938, Stratton was hunting rabbits on his family farm when he fell, accidentally discharging his shotgun. The pellets struck his right leg, damaging a main artery enough to require amputation the next day. Fitted with a wooden leg, Stratton worked with the White Sox the next two years as a coach and batting practice pitcher. In 1939, White Sox management sponsored a charity game in Comiskey Park against the Cubs, the proceeds of which (about $28,000) went to Stratton. In a touching, courageous display, Stratton took the mound to demonstrate that he could still pitch, though he was unable to transfer his weight effectively to the artificial leg.
When World War II began, he attempted to enlist but was rejected. Then, he organized a semipro baseball team at Greenville, Texas, and constantly practiced coordination on the field.
He spent much time experimenting and learning how to pitch despite the prosthetic leg, primarily pitching to his wife, Ethel (Milberger) Stratton, and against the side of a barn.
In 1946, Stratton pitched for the Sherman Twins of the East Texas League (Class C) and compiled a record of 18–8, with a 4.17 earned run average. In 1947, with the Waco Dons of the Big State League (Class B), Stratton went 7–7 with a 6.55 ERA. A major challenge for Stratton was moving nimbly enough on his prosthetic leg to field the bunts that were commonly sent his way by opponents. After 1947, Stratton never appeared in more than four games in a season, though he joined multiple minor-league teams ranging from Class B to Class D in 1949, 1950, and 1953.
Legacy and life after baseball
His comeback attempt was the subject of the 1949 film The Stratton Story which starred Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson, with big-leaguers Gene Bearden, Bill Dickey and Jimmy Dykes in cameo appearances. He had spent most of one year in Hollywood serving as an adviser for the movie. The film was a financial success and earned an Academy Award for best original screenplay.
The Strattons, who lived for many years on a 93-acre farm in the Ardis Heights area of Greenville, were members of Wesley Methodist Church and were also active in the Greenville community. Monty Stratton helped start the Greenville Little League baseball program and was recognized for his efforts by the naming of Monty Stratton Field near Greenville High School.
Stratton died in Greenville, Texas, on September 29, 1982, at the age of 70 due to cancer. He was survived by his wife, Ethel; a son, Monty Jr.; two brothers; a sister; and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by their son Dennis, who died in 1964 at age 23 (Dennis was survived by his wife, Jean). Ethel, who served for many years as a volunteer at Hunt Regional Medical Center in Greenville, died in 2006 in Arlington, Texas at age 90. Monty and Ethel Stratton are buried at Memoryland Memorial Park in Greenville.