It was on this date 92 years ago that the Indians were forced to deal with the tragic death of infielder Ray Chapman, who was killed after he was hit in the head by a pitch.  I wrote about this on last year’s anniversary and due to time constraints, and a desire to avoid “reinventing the wheel” so to speak, I figured I’d repost today as a memorial to what was probably the darkest day in Indians history.

Here’s the text of last year’s post:

It was on this day in 1920 that Cleveland Indians shortstop (and occasional second baseman) Ray Chapman “Chappie” passed away.  The day before, Chapman was hit in the head by New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays in the top of the 5th inning in a game at the Polo Grounds.  In 1920, Major League Baseball players didn’t wear batting helmets; the pitched ball actually fractured Chapman’s skull.  The 29-year-old Chapman lived through the night and died the next day in New York’s St. Lawrence Hospital.

Mays had a reputation as a “headhunter,” someone that would throw high and tight at opposing players.  He was shocked by the incident though, and believed he’d actually hit Chapman’s bat with the pitch (reportedly, the collision made a loud, sickening crack).  The ball actually ricocheted back to Mays off of Chapman’s head; Mays fielded it and threw to first since he mistakenly thought the ball left the bat.  After Mays saw the umpire signaling to the stands for a doctor, he realized the pitch actually connected with Chapman’s head.  The Yankees manager, Miller Huggins, theorized that Chapman’s spike caught in the dirt and kept him from getting out of the way.  While possible, Mays also had a very deceptive submarine delivery, and there were supposedly odd shadows on the field that day.  It’s possible that Chapman didn’t see the pitch until it was too late.

Chapman’s body was escorted back to Cleveland by his wife, his wife’s brother, a friend of his wife’s, Indians Manager/Player Tris Speaker and player Joe Wood.  It was actually reported that Chapman planned to retire after the season in order to settle down with his family and work on a business.  The Indians were in the midst of a pennant race at that point in the season, and had to return to Cleveland and continue their push for the World Series.  Joe Sewell took over for Chapman at shortstop, and the team wore black armbands for the remainder of the season to honor Chapman.

The Indians not only won the pennant and went to the World Series, but they defeated the Brooklyn Robins 5 games to 2 to win their first title in franchise history.

Chapman joined the Indians in 1912 and had a .278 batting average, 1,053 hits, 364 RBI and 17 home runs over his 9-year career.

An interesting, and more current note to the Chapman story – after he was killed a plaque was created in his memory.  It hung at League Park, and was later moved to Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  After the Indians moved to Jacobs Field, the plaque was packed up with the rest of their items, but never made it back to hang at the ballpark.  In 2007 it was found, restored, and hung in Heritage Park.  To my knowledge, it remains the only item that was a part of all three of Cleveland’s major league baseball parks.  Even though that dark day was 92 years ago, it remains the most tragic moment in Indians history.

6 Comments

  • kevin says:

    Interesting bit of info about the plaque, I don’t think I ever saw it at Municipal Stadium.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I don’t remember seeing it either, but it has supposedly gone missing for large stretches of time. I also like stories about the 1948 AL Pennant…Bill Veeck famously buried it in a ceremony in 1949 after the team couldn’t repeat as champions. Everyone has a different story as to what happened to the pennant at that point (dug back up a short time later, it’s here or there, nobody has any idea where it is) and I still don’t know for certain where it’s located at this point. I keep meaning to do a little investigation on it and write something about it, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.

  • Jay says:

    Have you read the book, “The Pitch That Killed.” I think it’s about Chapman and the 1920 season. I want to read it. It seems that 1920 was an important year for MLB.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I haven’t read it yet, but I’m familiar with it. It’s a time period I’m interested in, but haven’t done as much reading/research as I’d like. I was working on a project involving the mafia last year and read a lot about gambling and the 1910s…I’ve been interested in that for a while.

  • mike fitzpatrick says:

    I’m reading Pinstripe Empire by Marty Appel right now. I was shocked to learn that Chapman walked off the field with the help of his teammates after being beaned. I always assumed he died on the field. You seem like a diehard Tribe fan, but I recommend this book about the Yankees. There is also a story in the book about a pitcher for the Indians who was struck by lightening during a game and survived.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I like reading books about other teams…I’ll put it on my “to do” list and check it out!

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  • [...] Ninety-two years ago yesterday, the Indians were struck by tragedy with the loss of Ray Chapman. It’s Pronounced Lajaway recounts the sad occasion, “It was on this day in 1920 that Cleveland Indians shortstop (and occasional second baseman) Ray Chapman “Chappie” passed away.  The day before, Chapman was hit in the head by New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays in the top of the 5th inning in a game at the Polo Grounds.  In 1920, Major League Baseball players didn’t wear batting helmets; the pitched ball actually fractured Chapman’s skull.  The 29-year-old Chapman lived through the night and died the next day in New York’s St. Lawrence Hospital.” [It's Prononced Lajaway] [...]

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