Legends: ‘Dolly’ Gray was a true enigma
HOUGHTON — As Copper Country sports legends go, William Denton “Dolly” Gray certainly ranks near the top.
Gray, who was born in Houghton in 1878, went on to become a major league pitcher in Washington and who played with legends like Walter Johnson and Gabby Street.
But he was also suspiciously linked to playing a pro football game against the Green Bay Packers — a claim has never been verified.
More on that later.
Growing up during the Copper Boom in Houghton, Gray was, by all accounts, an excellent athlete.
He was said to have starred in football and baseball at Houghton High, although he could have also dabbled in hockey.
The late Merv Youngs was the sports editor at the Daily Mining Gazette in those days. He remembers Gray as a standout in sports.
“He (Gray) was quick on his feet and he ran the football with power,” Youngs said in one account. “He was very talented.”
The time period would have pitted Gray, who was 6-foot-2, 160 pounds, against the immortal George Gipp of Calumet in both football and baseball.
Of course, Gray’s real talent was throwing the baseball.
In a five-year stint in the Pacific Coast League, he put up numbers good enough to draw the attention of big league scouts.
Between 1905 and 1908, the lefthander compiled a record of 58-25, striking out an impressive number of batters.
Those stats earned him a trip to Washington where the Senators were struggling.
The team posted a record of 44-110 in 1909 and Gray went 5-19. Johnson was a 13-25 with a 2.22 earned run average.
Things improved in 1910 for the Senators and Gray, who started and won the first game ever played at the newly built Griffith Stadium.
But his 8-19 record ranked below Johnson, who was starting to put together his Hall of Fame career with 25 victories.
Gray’s big league career ended after a 2-13 record the following season.
His stats of 15-51 were not impressive, but he managed to post a very respectable 3.52 ERA in that span.
After he left Washington, he went back to the PCL in 1920. Overall, he had a 155-74 record in the league and was also known for his hitting prowess.
His name resurfaced briefly in 1923 when Green Bay Packers coach Curly Lambeau maintained that Racine had illegally used him in a game at left end.
Though the name is still listed in Packers record of opposing players, he would have been 44 years old at the time of the game. That appeared to rule him out.
Still, his T206 baseball card gained some notoriety when it was found the wrong stats were on the card bearing his name. That made the card more valuable (about $1,300) in the trade.
Gray, who passed away in 1956, was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.