Beyond Rare

This kicks off a series of five posts about players involved in unique acts on the field of play. What each did no one else has ever down. Two are pitchers who won consecutive games; one is a hitter who set a record that will never be broken (well, maybe some day—the odds are several billion to one); another is a fielder; and one, the fielder’s double-play partner, was killed by a fastball. I begin with the last.

Ray Chapman was a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians from 1912 to 1920. An all-around excellent player, Chapman was agile and fast; he ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds. He was a popular teammate, a story teller and a piano player who could belt out a song like a line drive. One reporter said he “was as much at home in the ballroom as on the ball diamond.”

On August 16, 1920, in the middle of a pennant race, the Indians met the Yankees at the Polo Grounds in New York. Chapman, leading off the fifth inning, stepped into the batter’s box against Carl Mays, the Yanks’ “mean and surly” right-hander. According to Baseball Magazine, Mays had a weird wind up and low release that was difficult to pick up and looked “like a cross between an octopus and a bowler.

Chapman worked the count to 1-1. Mays then threw a high fastball up and in, headed for the batter’s head. Chapman did not move. Babe Ruth, playing in right field for the Yankees, said later, “You could hear the ball—POP—when it hit Chapman.” Fred Lieb, a reporter in the press box, heard a “sickening thud.” The ball rolled to the right of the mound, where Mays fielded it and threw to first.

Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp caught Mays’ toss, then looked toward home. Chapman was on his knees, his face contorted; blood flowed from his left ear. The umpire yelled for a doctor. The Yankee team doctor rushed over to Chapman and applied ice. Chapman rose to his feet and began walking toward the clubhouse in center field, then his knees gave way, and he was carried off the field by teammates.

At the hospital, doctors made three incisions in the base of his skull and found a ruptured lateral sinus and much blood. Chapman died the next morning, the only major-league ballplayer in history killed by an act on the field of play.

(From an article by Don Jensen for the SABR bio project)

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