Ray Chapman: An Indians Legend, Part 2
Staff Special | On 15, Jan 2012
By Matthew Van Wormer
January 15th marks the birthday of a great Indian; Raymond Johnson Chapman. Born in 1891, Ray played for the Indians until August 16, 1920, when a ball pitched by Carl Mays struck him in the left side of the head. He died just 12 hours later and inspired the team to win the World Series, the first of two Championships for the Cleveland Indians. This two part series will cover Ray Chapman from a fan’s perspective and also look at the career of two men, Chapman and Mays, who couldn’t have been more different.
Ray Chapman’s career was supposed to end in 1920, just not the way it did. Before the season started, Chapman married Kathleen Daly who was the daughter of wealthy Cleveland businessman, Martin B. Daly. It was insinuated by Chapman and a few people close to him that he would be retiring after the season to take a job within Daly’s successful business. He had played nine seasons in the Major’s and was ready to be a business and family man. Not a lot of people knew this, especially not the man who threw the pitch that killed Chapman, Carl Mays.
While Mays was known for using the inner half of the plate and wasn’t afraid to brush a hitter back, he was not a head hunter, although many of the players of that time would argue otherwise. He threw submarine style, making it that much more difficult for right-handed hitters who were at the plate against him. In addition to his unusual delivery style, Mays was even more of a challenge to face being that he used an array of pitches that included the spitball.
But Mays wasn’t a mediocre pitcher who got through games by throwing junk. On the contrary, he won 207 games in his career and finished with an ERA under 3.00. He won championships with the Red Sox and Yankees and was always one of the best pitchers on whatever team he played for. He did not have a lot of friends in the baseball world and it was an altercation with Ty Cobb that led to Mays’ label as a head hunter.
Chapman lived on the opposite side of the spectrum. He was well liked by all of his teammates, most of his opponents. Tris Speaker wasn’t just Chapman’s teammate and manager, he was also the Best Man at his wedding. Ironically, Chapman was one of the few players that Mays considered a friend himself. Chapman had a positive outlook on life and a great work ethic. He did whatever he could to make himself and those around him better.
The Indians shortstop was no slouch on the baseball diamond either. When he died, Chapman was hitting .303 with 38 extra base hits. He had also swiped 13 bases and driven in 49 runs. He was a very important part of the team, especially in the clubhouse. No one knew that the tragic events of August 16th, 1920 would drive the Indians to their first World Series title, doing it in memory of their fallen teammate.
When the game started that afternoon, the Indians and Yankees were in a tight race for the league lead with the White Sox. Cleveland and Chicago were in a virtual tie, both holding a half game lead on the Yankees. Stan Coveleski and Carl Mays were set to take the mound for their teams in the first of a three game series. Both men were looking for their 19th win on the season and a win by Coveleski would put the Tribe up by half a game over the idle South-Siders.
It was the fifth inning and the sun was setting when the pitch that ended Ray Chapman’s life left the hand of Carl Mays. Chapman was hit squarely on the left side of his head. Some believe he never saw the pitch coming. The ball hit off of Chapman so hard that it bounced back into the field of play where Carl Mays, who had thought that the ball had been hit, fielded it and threw to Wally Pipp at first base. Later, Babe Ruth said that he heard the thud from his position in right field. Chapman collapsed. After doctors attended to him, he tried to get up and walk off on his own power. He didn’t make it off the field as he collapsed again and had to be helped off.
Just 12 hours later, Chapman was dead. The Indians ended up winning that game, 4-3, but lost a teammate and friend in the process. What could have torn the club apart and sent them into a tailspin down the standings instead brought them closer together. After playing two more games against the Yankees, a win and a loss, the Indians went back to Cleveland to say goodbye to their friend. The funeral was on Friday, August 20 and what seemed like the entire city of Cleveland was there to pay their final respects to the man born on January 15, 1891 in Beaver Dam, Kentucky.
In The Pitch that Killed, by Mike Sowell, we are told that Chapman’s two best friends on the team, Speaker and Jack Graney, were supposed to be pall bearers for Chapman’s casket. Neither man made it to the funeral service. Speaker was so upset about losing his friend and teammate that he had collapsed at the Daly home prior to the service starting and had been put on bed-rest by a doctor. Graney, who was Chapman’s roommate on the road, was also stricken with grief and had to be taken away from the Daly home by former Indians great, Nap Lajoie, who drove him out of the city to calm him down.
For the rest of that season, the Indians wore black arm bands in honor of Chapman and went on to a great September that vaulted them to the top of the American League standings, representing the American League in the World Series. The Indians beat the Brooklyn Robins, five games to two, to conclude their tribute to their friend and teammate.
A bronze plaque was created and mounted at League Park to memorialize Chapman. It was moved to Cleveland stadium when that became the Indians full-time home but was taken down at some point and lost. It was still in a crate when the team moved to Jacob’s Field in 1994 and wasn’t re-discovered until 2007. When it was found, the Indians restored it to its original luster and it now hangs in the lower level of Heritage Park behind centerfield.
Chapman was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in 2006. He finished his career with a batting average of .278, over 1,000 hits, 238 stolen bases and 334 sacrifice hits, which places him sixth on the all-time list. Chapman remains, to this day, the only player to die as a result of being hit by a pitched ball. After the incident, helmets became common and pitches like the spitball and shineball were outlawed. A great man was lost on August 16, 1920, but his memory lives on and like many others, he will never be forgotten.