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Baseball History as American History: Lost Stories of Influential Ballplayers

Kiersten McMahon, Austin Hawkins, Gabe Foltz, Hannah Young, Tyler Storm, Miranda Nelson, Authors

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Walking Away from the Game

He began the 1971 season in Gastonia with the team, but his father fell ill. He asked the Pirates front office if they saw any opportunities for him to move up in the ranks, but the news they gave him was not what he wanted to hear. They told him he wasn't hitting the ball well enough, which was true. Defensively he was arguably more talented than some of the major league outfielders in front of him. His fielding percentage was higher than that of Pirates' 1971 All-Star Willie Stargell. But he couldn't hit the big league curve balls. They would "tail in with intentions to take your head off, then make your knees buckle faster than your significant others ever could make you." If you can't hit, you won't make it. Plain and simple.

Joe decided it was time to walk away from the game. His mother couldn't take care of things at home all by herself while his father was passing away, so he opted to leave the organization to help out at home.

He began work as a carpenter in the South Side of Chicago. Now removed from baseball, he enrolled at DePaul University in the Fall of 1971. Life without baseball had now begun. Joe enrolled aspiring to be a history teacher. For being the kid who slept in class in high school, he achieved very good marks academically. At this time the Vietnam War was in full swing. Living at home and being enrolled in school kept him from being drafted into the Armed Forces.

He began his second semester at DePaul in the Spring of 1972. In March that year his father passed away from a massive heart attack so things were already difficult. But it got worse. Somehow he was only enrolled in 10 credit hours that semester, dropping him below full-time status as a student. He received a letter that started out with "Greetings from the President of the United States..." He knew what that meant. He was being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War.

Joe decided to enlist in the Navy rather than the Army. This gave him a little more time to get his affairs in order. He felt his life spiraling out of control. He was done playing baseball, his father was gone, and now he had been drafted into the war. During this whirlwind time of his life he married a Hispanic woman in fear of not being able to carry on the Grigas name - which he claims was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

One month after getting married, it was off to California for basic training.
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