Indians Return Home in First, Memorialize Chapman
Vince Guerrieri | On 06, Jan 2015
On Sept. 3, the Indians returned to Cleveland following a 15-game road swing. The eight-team American League was informally divided into a western group of cities – Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis – and an eastern group consisting of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
The Indians had just gone through the eastern cities, starting with the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Ray Chapman was fatally beaned in the first game of the road trip, and the rescheduling had played havoc with the team, which had lost eight of the first 12 games of the trip, dropping them into third place, trailing the Yankees and White Sox.
The Indians recovered to take the final three of a four-game series from the Senators to climb back into first place. The final game of the series marked the debut of Duster Mails, who had been out of the major leagues for four years before he was signed by the Indians from Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League. Mails gave up three runs in the first inning and walked the leadoff man in the second, inspiring no confidence in manager Tris Speaker, who lifted him for Guy Morton. Still, Mails got the win in the 9-5 contest.
The series in Washington had salvaged the road trip to almost .500, and improbably, the Indians returned to Cleveland in first place in the American League, half a game up on the White Sox and Yankees. The Tribe had 29 games remaining, and of those, 21 would be within the friendly confines of League Park. The pennant was theirs for the taking.
The team continued through the grieving process for Chapman, but seemed to be improving in spirits. Henry Edwards of the Plain Dealer reported that team members were happy enough to sing on the train trip home. Chapman would sing – in fact, he once was introduced as a famous tenor, and accommodated the lie by singing songs and signing autographs – and the fact that his teammates were happy enough to do so again was taken as a positive sign for the rest of the season.
The first game on their return home – and the first of an 18-game homestand – would be Ray Chapman Memorial Day. The 15,000 fans who showed up for the game received a 12-page booklet including written tributes by Chapman’s widow Kay, sportswriter Ed Bang and a transcript of the Rev. William Scullen’s eulogy from Chapman’s funeral. A bugler from Chapman’s Naval Reserve unit played taps, and a choir sang “Lead Kindly Light” as flags were lowered to half-staff.
Stan Coveleski threw what his teammates described as his best game of the year, but Tigers pitcher Dutch Leonard also put up goose eggs. In the top of the ninth, Ralph Young hit a chopper up the middle. Bill Wambsganss snared the ball, but bounced the throw into the dugout, and Young advanced to third. Two batters later, Ty Cobb hit a seeing-eye single into right field for what turned out to be the only run of the game.
The Indians were able to take the next two to win the series, and then swept a Labor Day doubleheader against the Browns. But after four straight wins, they still were holding on to just a one-game lead over the Yankees and White Sox – and the Yankees were coming into town, making the first trip to Cleveland since Chapman’s death.
However, Carl Mays would not be making the trip to the Sixth City. It was a decision made by Yankees owner Tillinghast Huston. “We are not taking Mays to Cleveland, not because we think there is danger of any trouble, but out of respect to the feelings of the people there,” Huston said. “We don’t want to offend them. It is largely a matter of sentiment.”
In the meantime, Harry Lunte had filled in at shortstop for the Indians after Chapman’s death. Lunte was a capable replacement in the field, but he couldn’t even begin to make up for what Chapman offered at the plate or in the clubhouse. A replacement would have to be found. One was, and he would make debut against the Yankees, less than four months after graduating from college.