Petway dropped his pursuit of a career in medicine at Nashville’s Meharry Medical College in 1906 to play pro baseball. He quickly became known as one of the best black catchers; he proved himself in a series against the Detroit Tigers played in Cuba in 1910 in which he batted .390 and threw Ty Cobb out at second several times. He is reported to have been the first catcher to consistently throw to second base without rising from the squat. A good baserunner, he led the Cuban League with 20 stolen bases in 1912. He played on the dominating Chicago American Giants from 1911 to 1918, then served as a player-manager for Detroit until his retirement. A consistent hitter with little power, he batted .349 in 1923 and .341 in 1924 as his career was winding down.