League, city plunged into mourning after Chapman’s death

Tris Speaker didn’t sleep a wink the night Ray Chapman died. He stayed up in his room, along with Jack Graney and Steve O’Neill, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Their worst fears were confirmed when Ray Chapman died at 4:40 a.m., Aug. 17, 1920.

The team visited the mortuary that day for a viewing. Graney and O’Neill passed out. Chapman’s teammates wept as they recollected his playing skill and his sunny disposition.

“It is not the baseball player I mourn,” Speaker said. “It is the pal, the truest pal man ever had.”

The August 17 game was canceled as the team worked out the logistics of a full schedule of baseball games sandwiched around a funeral for one of their own. The Yankees and Indians would play their scheduled game Aug. 18, play the canceled game Aug. 19, and then go to Cleveland for Chapman’s funeral Friday. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee offered no resistance to rescheduling the weekend series with the Indians, which would feature doubleheaders Aug. 21 and 22.

Because Tuesday’s game was canceled with little advance notice, fans had to be turned away at the gate of the Polo Grounds, with 3,000 of them walking several blocks to James F. McGowan’s funeral home at 153rd and Amsterdam. The Polo Grounds was at West 155th and Eighth Avenue. Among the people who didn’t visit the funeral home was Carl Mays, the pitcher who threw the fatal beanball. Some took it as a sign of disrespect, but Mays said he didn’t go because “I knew that the sight of his silent form would haunt me as long as I live.”


Back in Cleveland, the city plunged into mourning. Mayor William S. Fitzgerald issued a statement saying, “Ray Chapman, I believe, represented the American ideal of a baseball player. He was a clean, high-principled sportsman, typical of those who have kept the game of baseball on a high plane.”

National League President John Heydler ordered all ballpark flags flown at half-staff in memory of Chapman. Indians owner Jim Dunn was in Cincinnati visiting a sick relative when he got word of Chapman’s death, and returned home immediately to confer with Speaker.

Tuesday night, Chapman’s body was loaded onto the New York Central’s Lake Shore Limited at Grand Central Terminal, drawing an impromptu crowd of mourners. Chapman’s widow accompanied the body, with Speaker and Smoky Joe Wood. Plans would have to be made for a funeral – and those plans would cause a rift between the people who loved Chapman the most.


Chapman had grown up Protestant. His wife and her family was Catholic, and their wedding was performed in the Daly home by a Catholic priest. Kathryn Daly said her husband was planning to convert to Catholicism, and he would have a Catholic funeral at St. Philomene’s Church, not far from the Daly home.

However, in light of expected attendance, the funeral Mass was relocated to St. John’s Cathedral on East Ninth Street downtown, at 10 a.m. on Aug. 20. Tris Speaker and Jack Graney were supposed to be pallbearers, but neither of them attended the funeral. The story for public consumption at the time was that Speaker had suffered a nervous breakdown because of the death of his friend and was confined to his bed, and Graney was too emotionally distraught to attend the funeral.

However, in “The Pitch That Killed,” author Mike Sowell came to another conclusion. Speaker was a Protestant – and a master Mason – from Texas. His uncles fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and Spoke’s hometown of Hubbard, Texas, had a strong Ku Klux Klan presence. As immigrants started to flood into America in the early 20th century, anti-Catholic feelings were strong, and contributed to a revitalization of the Klan, particularly in industrial areas in Indiana and Northern Ohio.

The story was that Speaker got into a fight with Graney and neither were in any condition to attend the funeral. Steve O’Neill might have jumped in as well, on Graney’s side. He was at the funeral, but he had bruises on his face and injury reports for the next few days made mention of a bruised right hand. (Ironically, Speaker got married by a Catholic priest in the cathedral home in 1925.)

The church was packed, and a crowd milled outside as well. More than $2,000 was raised for flowers at the funeral, with the remainder going toward a proposed memorial for Chapman at League Park. There were representatives from most of the American League, and other league and city officials attended too. Many major league and minor league teams paused in their games that day in remembrance of Chapman.

“Our friend was the spirit of the American youth,” said the Rev. William Scullen at the funeral. “The friend that understands, the friend that sympathizes, the friend that sees only the best in us.”

Although Chapman would have a funeral Mass, the burial was changed from the Catholic Calvary Cemetery to the non-denominational Lake View Cemetery, causing mourners who went to the Catholic cemetery to have to rush to the actual burial site.

And the Indians would have to rush off as well. A 700-mile train ride to Boston awaited them. The season had to go on.

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