Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16, 1920: Tragedy Strikes Ray Chapman

On August 16, 1920, tragedy struck at the Polo Grounds in New York, when shortstop Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians suffered what proved to be a fatal injury after being hit in the head by a pitch from Yankees hurler Carl Mays. Chapman came to the dish in the fifth inning with his team up 4-0 on that fateful day, he squared to bunt but Mays' pitch sailed up and in at him and hit him in the head. The ball hit him so hard that Mays thought it was the crack of the bat and as the ball came back toward the mound he threw it over to first thinking the 29 year old shortstop made contact, unfortunately that was not the case. Chapman suffered severe head trauma, he was rushed to a hospital where two operations were performed but they couldn't save him. At 4:30 a.m the next day Chapman was gone, his wife Kathleen who was 3 months pregnant at the time did not make it to the hospital in time to be with her husband before he passed away. The tragedy of Ray Chapman continued after he died, Kathleen committed suicide in 1928 and his daughter Rae that he never got the chance to meet passed away in 1929 after a bout with the measles, she was just 8 years old. The Indians won the ill fated contest 4-3 but the shock of losing one of theirs in his prime had to overrule any good feeling they had from winning a ballgame. However, the team rallied together and made a run that ended with a World Series Championship. The Championship was bittersweet, many of the Cleveland players had tears in their eyes after achieving something their fallen teammate never got to experience. The man that went by the nickname "Chappie" broke into the league in 1912, when the Indians were called the Cleveland Naps. He batted .278 over  9 seasons in the bigs, he topped the .300 mark three times and was a true weapon when it came to bunting. To this day he sits 6th on the all time list for sacrifice hits. He not only could get he job done with his bat he was a threat on the basepaths as he led the team four times in that department and even set a team record for stolen bases with 52 in 1917, it wasn't until 1980 that the record was broken. He could also flash the leather at short, he led the league three times in putouts and led in assists once.  After Chapman's death Mays suffered as well, some thought he threw at his head because he had a reputation for backing men off the plate. There was never proof that was the case but some players around the league threatened to sit out games if he was on the bump. Mays didn't help his reputation by trying to place blame on the umpires for not removing the ball that appeared to be damaged, it was a feeble attempt at diverting the negativity towards him elsewhere. Mays was able to move on, he led the American League with 27 wins the next season and would pitch until 1929. Some even considered him Hall of Fame worthy even though he never made it to Cooperstown. The accident brought forth the need for batting helmets in Major League Baseball, while it shined a light on the need it took 30 years for it to become a rule. To date, Chapman is the only player in the history of Major League Baseball to suffer on field injuries that ended in death. In the end it was a tragic accident, I'm sure if Mays would have known what would come after he threw that pitch he would have never thrown it.

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