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League Park - Ray Chapman


Ray Chapman

On August 16, 1920, life was good for 29 year old shortstop Ray Chapman. The speedy, slick fielding Chapman, anchor of the Cleveland infield, was hitting .303 with 97 runs scored and his team was in the thick of the American League Pennant race. The Indians were at the Polo Grounds in New York to take on the Yankees. Nasty submariner Carl Mays was on the hill for the Yanks. Chapman was 0 for1 in the game when he led off the fifth against Mays. Chapman was known to crowd and sometimes lean over the plate. Mays, known for his nasty disposition, had a reputation for throwing "high and tight."

Mays threw one of his patented rising side armed pitches inside to the Indian's shortstop who was again crowding the plate. The pitch hit him in the temple fracturing his skull. Chapman collapsed, blood ran out of his ears, nose, and mouth. His teammates rushed out and helped him to his feet. According to some accounts Chapman regained consciousness, but quickly collapsed again before reaching the dugout. Emergency surgery, which included the removal of a piece of his skull, was performed that night to no avail. Chapman died at 4:30 the next morning, about twelve hours after being hit by Mays' pitch. It remains the only on field casualty in MLB history.

Ray Chapman with his teammates

Carl Mays voluntarily appeared in front of the homicide bureau of the district attorney's office that night and was cleared of all wrong doing. Despite that fact the players of the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox threatened to start a petition to get Mays banned from baseball.

Back in Cleveland, H. O. Van Hart, the owner of First National Bank began "A Flower from a Fan" campaign in which fans would contribute ten cents for a flower to be displayed at Chapman's funeral.

With rookie Joe Sewell in Chapman's place at shortstop, the Indians went onto win the franchises' first World Series that year, wearing black arm bands as a tribute to their fallen teammate. Ray Chapman's wife, Kathleen, received his full World Series share, just under $4,000.

For his career Chapman hit .278 with 233 stolen bases, 1053 hits, and 671 runs in 1051 games over 9 big league seasons. He was known for his speed, he finished in the top ten in stolenbases three times and in runs four times and his fielding - he was considered one of the finest glove men of the time. Chapman was selected as one of the "100 Greatest Indians" when the team celebrated it's centennial in 2001. Noted baseball historian Bill James said Chapman "was probably destined for the Hall of Fame had he lived."

Carl Mays went on to win 26 games for the Yankees in 1920 and 27 more in 1921. He became the first man to win 20 games with three different teams in 1924 when he went 20-9 with Cincinnati (he also won 20 with Boston in 1917 & '18). Mays retired in 1929 with a 207-126 record and 2.92 ERA. He felt the Chapman incident denied him admission into the Hall of Fame. Others believe that rumors that he threw at least one game in the 1921 World Series, which his Yankees lost to the cross-town Giants, is to blame. A better explanation maybe that he simply didn't have the numbers.

With the advent of batting helmets and significantly better medical technology available, an incident like this would probably never happen in todays' game. It is important to remember, however, the legacy of Ray Chapman, who was by all accounts an upstanding member of the community, a favorite of teammates and fans, as well as a great ball player.

-David Zingler

* Thanks to Simply Baseball Notebook: Forgotten In Time

Ray Chapman, a Tribute
By Ed Bang

Published in "The Cleveland News" April 17, 1920

Ray Chapman is dead!

The dots and dashes spelling out this doleful and heartrending message came over the wire from New York shortly before 6 o'clock Tuesday morning. Although the news was somewhat anticipated, as it was known that the fracture to Ray's skull might prove fatal, still it came like a thunderbolt from a clear sky.

The greatest shortstop, that is, considering all-around ability, batting, throwing, base running, bunting, fielding and ground covering ability, to metion nothing of his fight, spirit and conscientiousness, ever to wear a Cleveland uniform will never again be seen covering two-thirds of the ground between second and third. Never again will we hear the fans yell: "Atta boy: Chappie!" "Speed up, Ray, old boy," "Show 'em where you live, Chappie." Never again will we see the speeder among the fastest men in baseball score from first on a short hit, or scoot from first to third on a bunt. Chappie has lived his baseball career and what a wonderful one it was, and his life, which was the sort that every mother would have her son live.

The writer has known Ray Chapman ever since the first day he came to Cleveland and donned the regalia of the then Naps back in the fag (sic) end of the 1912 season. And we rejoiced in the success he attained year after year, for we formed a liking for him on that first day. With all the fight and determination at his command he never admitted defeat until the last man was out.

And Ray lived his life the same way. He was clean cut, high minded, honest and straightforward. He had a personality that was contagious, for once you met Ray Chapman you were glad to list him among your friends. Chappie was just as much at home in the ballroom in the highest society as he was among his diamond associates on the field, on the bench or in the clubhouse. He was his 100 percent self all the time, no frills, or furbelows, and it was this trait that won him fast friends among the heads of manufacturing, industrial and mercantile concerns as well as among the newsies on the street corners. All of them will mourn the passing not only of Chappie the great shortstop, but Ray Chapman the man and their friend.

I was proud to list Chappie among my closest friends and on more than one occasion he flattered me by making me his confidant. Ray has his little troubles now and then but nothing could long cast a cloud over that wonderful sunny and cheery disposition. It was his smile and words of cheer that oftimes brought his teammates out of their "case of dumps" after losing a hard fought game. And it was this same disposition that brought joy to hundreds in the everyday walks of life.

Chappie did not live to realize his life ambition, that of playing on a pennant-winning and possibly and world's championship team, and that when it seemed almost within his grasp. There was some talk about Ray's retirement following his marriage to Miss Kathleen Daly last fall, but Ray said he would not quit the game until he helped his best friend, Tris Speaker, win a pennant and world's championship.

"Then, well, I guess I'll be a real business man, but gee! It'll be hard to pull away from my pal Spoke (Speaker) and the rest of the boys," said Chappie.

But if the Indians should win the pennant and world's championship and there is not one of the players who not willingly pass up the honor if it would only bring Chappie back everybody will realize that the achievement could not have been accomplished without the aid given by the great little shortstop in the past, who has been called to his reward.

The NY Times

NEW YORK – Wednesday – August 18, 1920. The body of Ray Chapman, the shortstop of the Cleveland Indians who died early yesterday at St Lawrence Hospital after being hit in the head by a pitched ball thrown by Carl Mays of the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds Monday afternoon, was taken to his home in Cleveland last night. A gathering of baseball fans stood with bared heads at the Grand Central Terminal as the body was taken through the gates to the train. The ballplayer's widow, who went with the body, was accompanied by her brother, Daniel Daly of Cleveland; Miss Jane McMahon, a friend; Tris Speaker, player-manager of the ball club, and Joe Wood, one of the players.

Chapman's death has cast a tragic pall over the baseball fans of the city, and everywhere the accident was the topic of conversation. Chapman was a true sportsman, a skillful player and one of the most popular men in the major leagues. And this was to have been his last season in professional baseball.

Carl Mays, the New York pitcher who threw the ball which felled Chapman on Monday, voluntarily went before Assistant District Attorney Joyce and was exonerated of all blame.

The game which was to have been played between Cleveland and New York was put over until Thursday and the and the players of both clubs joined in mourning.

Although there is some bitterness against Mays among some of the Cleveland players, Tris Speaker, in a telephone conversation with Colonel T. L. Huston, part owner of the New York club, said he and his club mates would do everything in their power to suppress this feeling.

"It is the duty of all of us," said Speaker, "of all the players, not only for the good of the game, but also out of respect to the poor fellow who was killed, to suppress all bitter feeling. We will do all in our power to avoid aggravating the unfortunate impression in any way."

Chapman died at 4:40 o'clock yesterday morning following an operation performed by Dr. T. M. Merrigan, surgical director of St Lawrence Hospital. Chapman was unconscious when he arrived at the institution.

The operation began at 12:20 o'clock and was completed at 1:44. The blow had caused a three-and-one-half inch long depressed fracture in Chapman's head. Dr. Merrigan removed a piece of skull about an inch and a half square and found the brain had been so severely jarred that blood clots had formed. The shock of the blow had lacerated the brain not only on the left side of the head where the ball struck but also on the right side where the shock of the blow had forced the brain against the skull.

For a time following the operation, Chapman breathed easier and his pulse improved. His teammates who had been waiting anxiously in the hospital were relieved. They went back to their hotel with the hope that the dawn would bring encouraging news. They were notified, instead, of Chapman's death.

This news spread rapidly. Among Chapman's club mates and among their rivals for the American League pennant alike, it caused universal grief. With all the players, Chapman was popular. To many of them he had confided his hopes and plans. If Cleveland got into the World Series this season, he would retire from baseball and enter business in Cleveland. He wanted to be with the wife whom he had married only a year ago, and to whom he gave his last conscious thoughts. As the injured ballplayer was being taken from the club house at the ballpark on his way to the hospital, he tried to speak to Percy Smallwood, trainer of the Indians. Before the game the player had placed in the trainer's custody his diamond ring, a gift from his wife. Several times the stricken man tried to say "ring," but he could not speak. He pointed to his finger. Smallwood then understood and gave him his wife's gift.

Mrs. Chapman had been notified of the accident shortly after it occurred and before it was believed to be so serious.

Unaware of her husband's death, Mrs. Chapman arrived in New York at 10 A.M. to be at Chapman's bedside. She was met at the train by Father Connors, a Philadelphia friend of the ballplayer, who had come to New York immediately on hearing of the accident. Father Connors accompanied Mrs. Chapman to a hotel. There he told her of her husband's death. She fainted.

Chapman's body was removed Tuesday afternoon to the undertaking establishment of James F. McGowan, 153rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. There it was viewed by hundreds of baseball fans, many of who had gone to the Polo Grounds expecting to see a game only to learn that it had been postponed until Wednesday. The players of both the New York and Cleveland teams also viewed the body. Several completely lost control of their emotions, and at one time there was not a dry eye among the scores of men who thronged the room about the bier.

Carl Mays is greatly shocked over the accident. He said he had tried to be unusually careful this season to avoid just such an accident. Mays said that when close friend Chick Fewster was seriously injured in the same way last spring, the horror of the accident made a deep impression on him. Mays believed that one of the reasons for his failure to pitch successfully earlier in the season was due to the fact that he pitched the ball too far away from the batsmen because he was always thinking of the Fewster accident.

Mays said he threw a high fastball at a time when Chapman was crouched over the plate. He fielded the ball and tossed it to first base because he thought the ball hit the handle of Chapman's bat. It wasn't until after he saw umpire Tom Connolly calling to the stands for a physician that he realized he had hit Chapman in the head.

"Chapman was one of the gamest players and one of the hardest men to pitch to in the league," said Mays. "I always dreaded pitching to him because of his crouching position at the bat."

The pitcher first learned of Chapman's death through a telephone message from a newspaper. He immediately communicated with the District Attorney's office, and visited Assistant District Attorney Joyce of the Homicide Bureau at 1 o'clock..

"It is the most regrettable incident of my baseball career," he said, "and I would give anything if I could undo what has happened. Chapman was a game, splendid fellow." After hearing Mays's version of the accident, the Assistant District Attorney exonerated Mays from all blame, and as far as the office is concerned, the case is closed.

Manager Tris Speaker stayed in his room at his hotel and received no callers.

Manager Miller Huggins of the Yankees believes Chapman's left foot may have caught in the ground in some manner which prevented him from stepping out of the ball's way. Huggins explained that batsmen usually had one foot loose and free at just such moments and Chapman had got out of the way of the same kind of pitched balls before. The fact that he did not move his feet made Huggins believe his spikes might have caught when he tried to duck.

Ray Caldwell, one of the Cleveland pitchers, and a former member of the Yankees, said that, as it looked to him from the Cleveland bench, Chapman ducked his head right into the path of the ball. He said that if he had stood up straight and not attempted to duck, the ball probably would have hit him on the shoulder.

The fatality is expected to have a depressing effect on the Cleveland and New York players. It is feared that it may impair Mays's effectiveness as a pitcher, although he said if would do him no good to brood over something which seemed unavoidable. The Cleveland players are so badly affected by the loss of one of their star players that their chances of winning this year's pennant have received a severe setback. Manager Speaker has no seasoned played to put in the vacant position, and grief among the players over Chapman's death is sure to affect their playing for some time to come.

When Colonel Huston of the New York club was asked about the reported action of the Boston and Detroit players to have Mays barred from organized baseball, he said the New York club viewed the fatality purely as an accident, and he did not care to express an opinion on any action which the players mentioned might anticipate. If these players, however, do send a petition to the League asking for the removal of Mays, the New York club will then take action.

John Heydler, President of the National League yesterday ordered all flags at National League parks at half-mast for a week. Similar action is expected by American League President Ban Johnson.

Raymond Chapman was born in McHenry, Kentucky on January 15, 1891. He had been a member of the Cleveland American League team since August 30, 1912, and was considered one of the best shortstops in the game.

Chapman played his first professional baseball in 1909 with Mount Vernon, Illinois. In 1910 he went to Springfield, Illinois and from there to Davenport, Iowa in the Three I League.

Cleveland first obtained Chapman from Davenport in 1911 and sold him to Toledo in the American Association on option. He was recalled to Cleveland in 1912 and had played in more than 1,000 games in an Indians uniform.

Chapman was one of the fastest men in baseball. On September 27, 1917, Tim Murnane Day in Boston, he won a loving cup for the fastest time in circling the bases, doing it in fourteen seconds.

In 1917 he broke all major league sacrifice hit records with a total of sixty-seven and also led the American League in sacrifices in the following two years.


View Ray Chapman's stats at Ray Chapman stats