Tribe Pitcher Withstood Lightning Bolt to Finish Game

Indians manager Tris Speaker took a big chance signing Ray Caldwell. He was a gifted pitcher, but his taste for nightlife and bizarre antics kept him from being one of the best.

So when Caldwell made his debut for the Indians on Aug. 24, 1919, at League Park, he wasn’t going to let anything keep him from finishing the start – not even an act of God.

Caldwell took the hill with a 2-1 lead against the Athletics in the top of the ninth and a chance to finish out the game. Both Indians runs were scored in the fourth inning without the benefit of a hit, as Ray Chapman and Speaker were both walked, and came around to score on a sacrifice, an infield out and an error. Caldwell hit George Burns in the top of the fifth, and Burns ultimately scored as well.

With two outs in the ninth, a storm blew up quickly, and a bolt of lightning struck the infield – and Caldwell! He later described it as feeling like someone came up and hit him with a board. He laid unconscious and motionless on the pitcher’s mound for a few moments, but revived and got up unaided.

Caldwell then did what anyone who was just struck by lightning would do: He demanded the ball so he could finish the game. He got Dugan to ground out to Larry Gardner at second.

Less than two weeks later, Caldwell took the bump at the Polo Grounds in Harlem against his old team, the Yankees. Joe Harris smacked a two-run home run in the first for the Indians, and it would be all the offense Caldwell would need. He faced just two more batters than the minimum of 27, with one walk and one batter reaching on an error by second baseman Bill Wambsganss.

All told, Caldwell went 5-1 in a little more than a month for the Indians in 1919. They ended the season on a 10-game winning streak, and although they were able to close the gap, they couldn’t come all the way back to overtake the White Sox, who won the pennant by two and a half games.

By the time Caldwell had come to the Indians, he was regarded as washed up, but he’d proven he had a little left in the tank. He was a 20-game winner for the Indians as they won the World Series in 1920 (his only 20-win season), but got tagged early in game three of the series and lifted after two-thirds of an inning.

Caldwell went 6-6 for the Indians in 1921, but he had fallen back into the habit of drinking (despite Prohibition) and staying out late. He was released, and although he pitched another 12 years in the minors, including a pair of 20-win seasons, he was never called up to the show again.

After his playing career ended, Caldwell managed a minor league team in Fremont, Ohio, and conducted baseball schools there as well. He died Aug. 19, 1967 – 48 years to the day Speaker signed him for the Tribe.

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