Shortstop Chapman was Fan Favorite, Team’s Heart

Tris Speaker was the leader of the 1920 Indians, but the heart and soul of the team was its shortstop, a man who led singalongs in the clubhouse and smuggled baseballs out of League Park to give to kids after baseball games.

By 1920, Ray Chapman was regarded as one of the best all-around shortstops in Major League Baseball. F.C. Lane of Baseball Magazine said Chapman was as good as the legendary Honus Wagner. But after a seven-year career, Chapman was teetering on a farewell tour.

Chapman had come up with the Indians in 1912, and he was part of a team that had risen from the second division on the American League to the verge of a pennant. And the only reason he was committed to playing in 1920 was because he thought the Indians could win a World Series – and he wanted to be a part of it.

Raymond Johnson Chapman was born in Beaverdam, Kentucky, in 1891. As a teenager, he moved with his family to Perrin, Illinois, and he followed a career path similar to most major leaguers at the time: semi-pro ball, then latching on to a minor league team that ultimately sold him to a major league team, in this instance, the Cleveland Naps.

Chapman, a shortstop, was brought up from the Toledo Mud Hens (a minor league team also owned by Indians owner Charles Somers) in August 1912. While in Toledo, Chapman was called the best infielder in the American Association. Once brought to Cleveland, Chapman was able to play alongside Nap Lajoie in the infield, and by 1913, had established himself as the everyday shortstop – and was already making an impression on the team.

In spring training in 1914, Chapman broke his leg. He was one man on the roster, but manager Joe Birmingham said that he had lost more than half his team. Accounts of the day indicated that the team kind of lost its way in Chapman’s absence, and didn’t really seem to play together until he returned.

When Somers was facing cash flow problems in 1915, he was willing to sell Shoeless Joe Jackson, but Chapman was off limits. And the following year, when new owner Jim Dunn opened up his checkbook to sign Speaker, he made it a point to inform Cleveland fans and the press that the infielder the Red Sox would get in trade would emphatically not be Chapman.

Chapman’s speed was the envy of the league (he’d beaten Ty Cobb around the bases in an exhibition in Boston in 1917), and he was more than willing to take one for the team, having led the majors in sacrifices in the previous three years.

His play distinguished himself on the field. Off the field, he was a warm and ebullient personality, even if he wasn’t above pranking his friends. During spring training, he started talking with catcher Steve O’Neill about which one of them could hit a golf ball farther. O’Neill was vehement in his boasting, and Chapman set up a golf ball for him to hit – but it was a golf ball made of plaster of paris. O’Neill swung back and connected with the ball – which then disintegrated into a million pieces, leaving him confused and Chapman and their teammates in wild uproarious laughter.

Ed Bang, the sports editor of the Cleveland News, said Chapman 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.”

In 1916, Chapman met Kathleen Daly, the daughter of one of the richest men in Cleveland. Her father Martin Daly was the president of the East Ohio Gas Company. When he became president in 1906, the company served more than 85,000 customers. It reorganized in 1910 as the only gas company in the city, overtaking its onetime competitors. By then, Cleveland was referring to itself as the sixth city, for its size in the country, trailing only New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Boston. By 1920, Cleveland was the fifth biggest city in the country.

The Daly family lived in the millionaire’s row along Euclid Avenue on the city’s east side, and was driven by limousine to their box at League Park. She inquired about the handsome shortstop, and her father arranged a meeting between her and Chapman. In 1918, Chapman proposed marriage, and she accepted. The season was cut short by World War I, and Chapman went through training in the U.S. Naval Reserves, but no farther, as the Armistice ending World War I was signed.

After the 1919 season, Chapman married Kathleen Daly. The ceremony was in the parlor of the family’s mansion. Daly was Catholic; Chapman was not, but considered converting. His teammates, many of whom weren’t just Protestant but anti-Catholic, were aghast at the thought of a papist wedding, so the wedding was performed by a priest, but in the Daly home.

The celebration was a veritable who’s-who in Cleveland sports and society. Chapman’s bachelor  party was attended by Mayor Harry Davis and boxing champion Johnny Kilbane. Speaker was Chapman’s best man.

Martin Daly told people he wasn’t losing a daughter; he was gaining a business partner. Chapman was the secretary-treasurer of Pioneer Alloys, thanks to some intercession by his father-in-law. Chapman was 29, in the prime of his career, but was ready to devote his life to being a husband, father and captain of industry. But he had one more thing to do in 1920.

“I’ll play next year, for I want to help give Tris, Mr. Dunn and Cleveland the first pennant Cleveland ever has had,” Chapman said. “Then I will talk about quitting, but I want to help bring that championship here first.”

Photo: Associated Press photo file

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