Jeff Gray

This article was written by Len Pasculli

Jeff Gray (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Jeff Gray1 pitched four years for collegiate baseball power Florida State University, followed by eight years of professional baseball, including parts of one season with the Cincinnati Reds and two with the Boston Red Sox. Gray’s admirable playing career was cruelly shortened at age 29 in 1991, when he suffered a stroke-like brain injury. Despite his valiant efforts to regain his skills, Gray was unable to pitch professionally again.

Gray saved seven games while primary closer Jeff Reardon was on the disabled list during Boston’s division championship run in 1990. For that and for his “What if?” baseball career, Gray holds a prominent place in the memories and hearts of Red Sox Nation.

Although sources disagree, it appears that Jeffrey Edward Gray was born on April 10, 1962, in Alexandria, Virginia.2 His parents were Jack E. (1935-1988)3 and Patricia Elaine (née Nealey, 1936-1996)4 Gray; they had two children, Jeff and Pam. Jack was a manager of operations for Eastern Airlines. Pat worked in different administrative jobs, including positions in the headmaster’s office at Palmer Trinity School in Miami5 and the admissions office at the University of Miami.6 The family moved to Chapin, South Carolina, in 1980.

Jeff Gray played varsity baseball for three years at Miami Southridge Senior High School. Fred Burnside, his head coach in the first two of those years, called Gray “one of the most ferocious competitors I ever coached. He was always looking for an edge.”7 In his senior year (1980), Gray was named to the All-Dade County team. The third baseman/pitcher batted .405, had an 11-3 record with 148 strikeouts in 102 innings, and led the Spartans to a 25-6 season and the district championship.8

Miami Southridge, built in 1976, is a baseball powerhouse that has produced over 30 players who went on to play professional baseball, five of whom were teammates of Gray. In his sophomore year he played alongside Rick Behenna, Mike Browning, and Nelson Santovenia.9 In his senior year, sophomore Fredi González – who later played minor-league ball and managed the Florida Marlins and the Atlanta Braves for 10 seasons – was his batterymate. Junior Robbie Smith played Double-A for three years.10

Gray went from one elite baseball program to another when he chose to attend Florida State University in 1980. Gray initially chose the University of South Carolina but switched schools before his freshman year when USC withdrew its offer to board Gray rent-free in its athletic dormitory. He met with a totally unexpected circumstance after he transferred. In his first month at FSU, on the third day of fall practice, he had a stroke. Although the stroke was eerily similar to the debilitating attack he would suffer almost 11 years later, this time he recovered quickly enough to pitch in Florida State’s spring season in his freshman year.11

At Florida State, Gray’s teammates dubbed him “Psycho” for his fierce intensity.12 In his four years there, his record was 28-13 with eight complete games, seven of them victories, two of them shutouts. One of the shutouts was a one-hitter against Mercer University on March 5, 1982.13 In the other, on March 22, 1982, Gray struck out 14 batters from St. Xavier of Chicago.14 The 6-foot-1, 175-pound right-hander was never a power pitcher – his fastball registered about 85 mph. Fortunately, head coach Mike Martin Sr. (the winningest baseball coach in NCAA Division 1 history) emphasized the importance of control. That asset carried Gray into and through his professional career. At FSU, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 214:88 (2.43); in the minor leagues it was 407:132 (3.08); and in the majors it was 96:29 (3.31).

Once he established himself, Gray was primarily a starting pitcher at Florida State, until the middle of his senior season. His record in 1981 was 3-1; in 1982 it was 8-2 (most wins on the staff); and in 1983 it was 9-3 (second most wins). On April 17, 1983, he pitched 7 1/3 innings of a combined five-hit shutout to defeat defending NCAA World Series champion University of Miami.15 On May 15, 1983, in the Metro Conference Tournament championship game, he allowed Tulane only two runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He was the pitcher of record as FSU won, 9 to 6.16 The win avenged the 11-7 loss to Tulane that FSU suffered in the championship match the year before (in which Gray was tagged with the loss). That was Gray’s only season at FSU in which the Seminoles did not win the conference championship.17

But Gray struggled in his senior year. After 11 starts, his record was 4-6 and Martin moved Gray to the bullpen. The strategy worked. Gray went 4-1 with four saves down the stretch. “Give the credit to assistant coach Mike McLeod,” Martin said. “He recommended it.”18 That move shaped Gray’s entire professional baseball career.

In the 1984 Metro Conference Tournament, Florida State faced Tulane on May 11 in an early round. Gray came on in relief with two outs in the sixth inning. He allowed the Green Wave only one run over the final 3 1/3 innings while the Seminoles scored four times for the win.19 In the championship game two days later against South Carolina, Gray entered the game in the seventh inning with his team leading 11-9. He allowed only one run in three innings for the biggest save in his college career. FSU held on for the 11-10 victory and a second straight tournament championship.20

Gray was named to the Metro Conference All-Tournament team in both 1983 and 1984.21 Jody Reed – Gray’s college teammate, roommate, future Boston Red Sox teammate, and business partner – was named the 1984 tournament’s Most Valuable Player.22 Both Gray and Reed were elected into the FSU Hall of Fame in 1992. Their commemorative Legacy Walk markers are located in the shadow of legendary football coach Bobby Bowden’s statue on FSU’s Tallahassee campus.23

His teammates Reed and Doug Treadway were drafted in the 1984 June amateur draft, but Gray was not. However, Philadelphia Phillies scout Andy Seminick – the former big-league catcher and a Sunshine State Conference Hall of Famer – had been bird-dogging Gray. Seminick signed him to a professional contract with the Phillies on June 14, 1984. Gray was assigned to the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies. He led the team in both wins (6) and saves (7) in the summer of 1984.

In 1985 Gray was promoted to the Clearwater Phillies (Class A), where he led the staff in appearances (55), saves (23), and K/BB ratio (2.42). On December 11, 1985, the Phillies traded Gray and 1983 Cy Young Award winner John Denny to the Cincinnati Reds. Reds manager Pete Rose was happy to reconnect with Denny, with whom he had played when they were both in Philadelphia, and to pick up a promising prospect in Gray in exchange for a discontented Gary Redus and an aging Tom Hume: “You just got to keep getting your pitching stronger and stronger,” Rose said.24

In 1986 Gray was named the Eastern League (Class AA) Relief Man of the Year as he helped the Vermont Reds to a second-place finish.25 He led the club’s pitchers in games played (55) and wins (14), both tops in the league. He also led Vermont in winning percentage (14-2, .875), saves (15), and K/BB ratio (2.50). He had 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.35 ERA, which were better than the numbers posted by bullpen mates and first-round draft picks Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble in those categories.26

Gray’s steady advancement in the Reds organization continued in 1987 when he was assigned to the Nashville Sounds (Class AAA). He led that staff or tied for the lead in appearances (53), saves (14), and K/BB ratio (2.69). In 1988 he began the season in Nashville but earned his call-up on June 20, 1988, after the Reds shed two more aging players as part of their youth movement – they traded 36-year-old third baseman Buddy Bell to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later and released 31-year-old pitcher Mario Soto.

Gray made his debut against Houston at the Astrodome on June 21, 1988. The Astros scored three in the seventh off starter Jack Armstrong (also making his major-league debut) and relievers Frank Williams and Rob Murphy to take a 3-1 lead. Gray entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. Although the Astros sent six batters to the plate, Gray escaped without allowing a run. The Reds failed to score in the ninth and the game ended, 3-1.

Gray appeared in just five games (9 1/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA) for the Reds in 1988; he was sent back to Nashville on July 13. For the year, he appeared in 42 games for the Sounds (best among the team’s pitchers) with five saves (tied for second best). He trimmed his ERA to 1.97 (second best) and ratcheted up his K/BB ratio to 4.06 (best).

With Gray in their system for three seasons, the Reds knew what they had. On the mound, he was methodical and deliberate. His best pitch was his forkball. Off the mound, he was serious and quiet (and private – he declined to be interviewed for this biography). The Reds also knew what they still wanted from Gray. They sent him to the Puerto Rican League in the winter of 1988-89.27 The organization specifically wanted him to sharpen all of his repertoire, to reduce the number of pitches he threw per batter, and to take less time between pitches.28

In spring training 1989, Gray and several others were in the mix for the two remaining slots on the nine-pitcher roster. “It’s like they’re trying to stuff too many people into a telephone booth,” complained teammate Armstrong.29 But Gray did not make the club that headed to Ohio; he was assigned to Nashville for the third consecutive year. He again was one of the Sounds’ top pitchers.

Gray had begun to get impatient with the Reds organization when the 1989 season began.30 Six months later, when the Reds shipped him back to the Phillies to complete the deal that had brought Bob Sebra to the Reds in July, Gray thought he would be glad. Instead, during the strike-shortened spring season in 1990, the non-roster rookie did not get much of a look from a Phillies team that already had several young right-handed relievers. On March 29, 1990, Gray allowed four runs on four consecutive hits, including two home runs, to lose a Grapefruit League contest in the bottom of the ninth inning.31 The Phillies released him the next day.32

Gray thought about quitting.33 His agent, however, immediately contacted Lou Gorman, general manager of the Red Sox – and the timing could not have been better.34 Gorman had been working hard to fix Boston’s pitching staff. As he later said in his memoir, “I desperately wanted to be the one to lead the Red Sox to the Promised Land and bring them a world championship.”35 In 1988, Boston manager Joe Morgan had steered a team with little offensive punch and a patchwork pitching staff to the playoffs. Gorman hoped that “Morgan Magic” would work again in 1990.36 As spring season was winding down, Boston had just released four pitchers: Rob Woodward, Steve Ellsworth, Charlie Puleo, and Shane Rawley. Woodward and Ellsworth, plus Mike Rochford, who won the job as the club’s fourth starter in 1990, had been on Triple-A Pawtucket’s roster the year before. Gray signed with the PawSox to help fill the void.37 It was the turning point of his career.

Gray was sharp for Pawtucket in 1990: 3.41 ERA, 35 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings, and a career-high 5.00 K/BB ratio. With only one day off scheduled until the All-Star break, the Red Sox needed pitching help. They brought Gray up on June 5, releasing 40-year-old Bill Buckner to make room.38 As a middle reliever between June 10 (his Red Sox debut) and August 18, Gray recorded 25 strikeouts in 32 innings, while allowing only three of the 18 runners he inherited to score.

Boston’s closer in 1990 was Jeff Reardon, whom the Sox had signed as a free agent during the previous off-season. When Reardon required back surgery on August 4, 1990, Morgan first turned to Rob Murphy (who’d been acquired from the Reds in December 1988) to take over the closer duties, but Murphy floundered.

On August 19 against the California Angels, Morgan instead gave the ball to Gray in a save situation. Ever self-confident, Gray said, “I’ve always felt from the very first day I started playing this game, I could be a quality major league pitcher – and not just the No. 10 guy on the staff.”39 Gray picked up that save and five more in August. Gray’s six saves in one month by a rookie stood as a Red Sox record until Jonathan Papelbon got 10 in April 2006.

As the team’s closer until Reardon returned on September 10, Gray collected seven saves and one win. The only closer in either league who had more saves during that stretch was Bobby Thigpen of the Chicago White Sox with 10, on his way to 57 that season, a record that was not broken until 2008. Gray’s nine saves for the year tied him with Steve Frey of the Montreal Expos for the most saves by a rookie in 1990.

The Red Sox held on and clinched the Eastern Division on the last day of the season, only to be swept by the Oakland Athletics in the 1990 American League Championship Series for the second time in three years.40 In the ALCS Gray appeared in Games One and Four, allowed four hits and one earned run, and struck out two of the 16 Athletics he faced in 3 1/3 innings.

Gray’s 1990 season was no fluke. In 1991, even his tune-up in spring training was strong: four saves and 1.29 ERA in 14 innings.41 From Opening Day through July 29, Gray was the best relief pitcher on the Red Sox and one of the best in the American League. Among Boston’s four relief specialists – Reardon, Gray, Dennis Lamp, and Tony Fossas – Gray had appeared in the most games (50, which led the American League as well) and pitched the most innings (61 2/3); he had the lowest ERA (2.34), lowest WHIP (0.79), and the most strikeouts (41).42 Gray was clearly on his way to a breakout season.

On Tuesday morning, July 30, 1991, Gray completed his pregame warmup ritual: throwing in the outfield, then light lifting in the weight room. While sitting on a stool in front of his locker, suddenly his nose burned, and his legs went numb. He became lightheaded and his speech slurred. The right side of his body became paralyzed. Gray was rushed to the hospital, where he stayed for several days.43

Team physician Dr. Arthur Pappas first called the episode a spasm or migraine attack, denying that it was a stroke: “The CAT scan was negative, so we’re 99 percent sure it was not (a stroke),” said Pappas.44 Further tests were done and determined that a blood vessel in Gray’s brain may have constricted and reduced the blood flow.45 It turned out to be a congenital problem, unrelated to baseball activities.46 It was similar to the stroke Gray suffered in September 1980, but that time he recovered fully and pitched in the spring of 1981. This time he sustained brain damage that kept him from ever fully regaining the strength and velocity in his pitching arm or the overall control and coordination that he needed to take the mound again.

His friends were shaken. Jody Reed said, “This certainly puts things in perspective.”47 Tony Fossas said, “It makes you appreciate life.” Knowing that if anyone could come back, Gray could, Fossas added, “In his life, he’s always battled.”48 Amid fear and hope, doubt and grit, Gray swore, “I will pitch again.”49

Meanwhile, the pennant chase was in full swing, and the Red Sox played inspired baseball after Gray went down. After their game on September 21, they were 81-67 and only half a game behind Toronto. Wade Boggs admitted, “It’s sad to say, but it may have taken something like that to bring this team together.”50 However, Boston lost 11 of their final 14 games and watched the Blue Jays go to the ALCS that year.51

For the next two years Gray worked obsessively at a rehabilitation center near his home in Hillsborough County in Florida. In November 1992, the Red Sox released him but gave an invitation to spring training as a non-roster player in 1993. Gray’s condition improved but not enough. On February 1, 1994, he called it quits. He was 31 years old.52

Throughout Gray’s rehab, his wife Clare (née Carpenter) helped him every step of the way. The couple had met when Gray played for Nashville. Clare, a Vanderbilt University graduate, was working in the Sounds front office.53 They married in 1989 and have two children: Haley “Lila” Gray was born in 1993 and Jeffrey “Reed” Gray – named for Jody Reed54 – was born in 1995.55 After Gray’s recuperation, Clare launched a career as a personal trainer, first in Tampa, then in Nashville. In 2017 she became a licensed realtor; she and her son Reed work at the same agency in Greenville, South Carolina.56 Clare and Jeff divorced in 2001.57

The Red Sox did not abandon Gray after his comeback failed. In 1994 the organization offered him a contract to be the pitching coach for the GCL Red Sox in Fort Myers, Florida. After that, he served as the pitching coach for the Class-A Sarasota Red Sox for the next four seasons. Gray stayed in Sarasota but switched uniforms when he coached for the GCL Reds from 1999 through 2003.58 In 2019, he was named the head baseball coach at Freedom High School in Orlando, Florida.59 In all, he has coached baseball for over 20 years.60

In 1997, Gray (who had majored in business management at Florida State61) and Jody Reed bought and operated a Beef O’Brady’s restaurant in Sarasota. They dissolved the ownership entity in 2002.62

Perhaps the high note of Gray’s career was receiving the Jackie Jensen Hustle Award (aka the Spirit Award). From 1990 through 2018, Boston-area writers voted on this honor, named for the former Red Sox outfielder, three-time All-Star, and 1958 American League MVP who fought a “complex struggle” of anxiety and life/work balance.63 It was given to the Red Sox player who demonstrated the most spirit and determination.64 Gray received the award in 1991.65

Last revised: January 11, 2022


Acknowledgments and Sources

Special thanks to Jeff Gray’s Miami Southridge High School baseball coach, Fred Burnside (now head baseball coach at South Dade High School in Homestead, Florida) for speaking with the author by telephone on November 16, 2021, and Cassidy Lent, manager of reference services at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, for supplying copies of news clippings from the files in Cooperstown.

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted,,,,,,,, and

This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Rory Costello and fact-checked by John Gregory.



1 According to, two other players named Jeff Gray played professional baseball. Jeffrey Michael Gray (dob: 11/19/81), a pitcher, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 32nd round of the 2004 June Amateur Draft and pitched professionally for 10 seasons (2004-2013), five of them in the majors with the Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins. Jeffrey Allen Gray (dob: 6/18/66), an outfielder, was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 16th round of the 1984 June Amateur Draft and played professionally for three seasons (1985-1987), but never played above Class A.

2 The April 10, 1962, date appears on Gray’s birth certificate according to, Virginia, U.S., Birth Records, 1912-2015, Delayed Birth Records, 1721-1911 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Operations, Inc, 2015, as well as in Gray’s profile in the Florida State University Baseball Media Guides for 1982, p.24 (, and 1984, p.26 ( Websites such as and Gray’s baseball cards show his birth date as April 10, 1963.

3 Jack E. Gray Obituary, The State (Columbia, South Carolina), May 5, 1988: 10-C.

4 Patricia Elaine Gray Obituary, Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat, August 12, 1996: 4B.

5 Garry Kelly, “Mom Won’t Miss Game Next Time Son Squeezes Out Victory for Southridge,” Miami News, March 21, 1978: 2C.

6 Len Pasculli interview with Fred Burnside, November 16, 2021. Pat Gray relocated to Chipley, Florida, after Jack’s death.

7 Len Pasculli interview with Fred Burnside, November 16, 2021.

8 Barry Horn and Mark Rodgers, “Baseball Cruel—Even for All-Stars,” Miami (Florida) Herald, May 20, 1980: 7D.

9 Behenna was drafted in the fourth round in 1978, played three major-league seasons, eight professional seasons overall; Browning—who was also drafted in 1978 but elected college instead—was again drafted in 1981 and played nine minor-league seasons; and Santovenia, after being drafted on two previous occasions, was drafted in the first round in 1982, and played seven major-league seasons, 13 professional seasons overall. As of 2021, four other Miami Southridge Spartans made it to the big leagues: Orlando Palmeiro (Class of ’87), Shannon Stewart (’92), Robert Andino (’02), and Yan Gomes (’04).

10 Smith attended Louisiana State University, was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the fourth round in 1985, and played for the Orlando Twins for three years. He was killed while on duty as a Florida Highway Patrol Trooper by a drunk driver on July 26, 1997, and the Miami Southridge High School Field was re-named Robbie Smith Stadium in his honor. Michael J. Alter, Miami Southridge Senior High School 1976–1979: A History: 12.

11 Gerald Ensley, “Gray’s Rocky Road Getting Smoother,” Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat, July 16, 1981: 1B.

12 Gerald Ensley, “FSU Hitting Riot Buries Mercer Again,” Tallahassee Democrat, February 19, 1982: 1C.






18 “1984 in Review,” Florida State University Baseball 1985 Media Guide: 19.


20 The Seminoles were also Metro Conference Tournament champs in 1981.

21 Gray’s FSU teammates selected as All-Tournament players in 1984 include major leaguers Jody Reed, Luis Alicea, and Paul Sorrento. Mike Yastrzemski, who is the son of Carl Yastrzemski and the father of Mike Yastrzemski, but who never played professional baseball himself, was named to the 1981 and 1983 Metro Conference All-Tournament Teams.


23;; and×920.jpg. Other Florida State University Hall-of-Famers who played major-league baseball include J.D. Drew, Johnny Grubb, Dick Howser, Terry Kennedy, Doug Mientkiewicz, Buster Posey, and Woody Woodward.

24 Greg Hoard, “Pete: Pride Precludes Letdown,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 29, 1985: A-1, A-4.

25 “Jeff Gray,” Boston Red Sox 1991 Media Guide: 53.

26 Associated Press, “Reds Form Winter Roster; Youth Move Eliminates Rose,” Xenia (Ohio) Daily Gazette, November 12, 1986: 8.

27 Gray played for Indios de Mayaguez in both the 1988-89 and the 1989-90 winter seasons. See “Puerto Rican League,” Miami Herald, January 14, 1990: 13D.

28 Hal McCoy, “Gray’s Itching to Pitch, Keeps Getting Scratched,” Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, March 18, 1989: 2-B.

29 Hal McCoy, “Armstrong Sorry for ‘Rookie Mistake’,” Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, March 16, 1989: 2-B.

30 Hal McCoy, “Gray’s Itching to Pitch,” 2-B.

31 Associated Press, “Cards Rock Phillies, 7-4,” Daily Journal (Vineland, New Jersey), March 30, 1990: C-1.

32 Larry Holeva, “Phils Send Eight Player to Minors; Malone, Moore, McElroy Survive Cut,” Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), March 31, 1990: B-1.

33 Steve Ellis, “Gray Proves He May Belong in the Major Leagues After All,” Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat, June 13, 1990: 1B, 3B.

34 Nick Cafardo, “For Starters,” Boston Globe, October 5, 1990: 59-60.

35 Lou Gorman, High and Inside: My Life in the Front Offices of Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008), 212.

36 Lou Gorman, High and Inside, 216-218.

37 Some publications give the contract date as April 2, 1990 (see, e.g., “Jeff Gray,” Boston Red Sox 1991 Media Guide: 53); others give it as April 7, 1990.

38 Steve Fainaru, “Gray Joins Staff as 11th Pitcher,” Boston Globe, June 6, 1990: 48.

39 Mike Lopresti, “Little Things Help Boston,” Florida Today (Cocoa, Florida), August 27, 1990: 1C.

40 Gray’s former team, the Cincinnati Reds, swept the Athletics in the 1990 World Series.

41 “1991 Spring Training Statistics,” Boston Red Sox 1992 Media Guide: 266.


43 United Press International, “Red Sox’ Jeff Gray Hospitalized After Suffering Blood Vessel ‘Spasm’,” July 30, 1991.

44 Seth Livingstone, “Gray and Teammates Get a Scare,” Telegraph (Nashua, New Hampshire), July 31, 1991: 11.

45 Sean Horgan, “Jeff Gray Slowly Recovering from Stroke,” Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, November 24, 1991.

46 Marc Topkin, “I Will Pitch Again,” Tampa Bay Times, October 10, 2005.

47 Free Press Wire Reports, “Red Sox End Skid, Get Lesson on Life,” Detroit Free Press, July 31, 1991: 4D.

48 Mel Antonen, “Baffled Doctors Say Gray Should Be OK,” USA Today, August 5, 1991 (Courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum).

49 Marc Topkin, “I Will Pitch Again.”

50 Seth Livingstone, “Gray Providing Inspiration,” Telegraph (Nashua, New Hampshire), August 1, 1991: 11.

51 The Minnesota Twins defeated the Blue Jays four games to one in the ALCS, then defeated the Braves four games to three in the 1991 World Series.

52 Seth Livingstone, “Gray’s Fight Over,” Telegraph (Nashua, New Hampshire), February 3, 1994: 19.

53 Marc Topkin, “I Will Pitch Again.”

54 As related to Karl Cicitto in interviews for his SABR biography of Jody Reed.

55 Lila Gray became a licensed real estate agent in Nashville after she graduated from Belmont University ( Reed Gray played baseball for Lander University in Greenville, South Carolina, for three years. He had the highest batting average on the team in 2017 ( After he graduated, Reed was an assistant baseball coach at two different colleges and then became a real estate agent in Grenville, South Carolina.


57, Florida, U.S., Divorce Index, 1927-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Operations, Inc, 2005.

58 “Jeff Gray,” Cincinnati Reds 2003 Media Guide: 527.



61 “Jeff Gray,” Seminole Baseball 1984 Media Guide: 26.



64 The Jackie Jensen Award was discontinued in 2019 when the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association began awarding its Heart & Hustle Award to a player from each team.


Full Name

Jeffrey Edward Gray


April 10, 1962 at Richmond, VA (USA)

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