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Ray Chapman

From BR Bullpen

Ray Chapman.jpg

Raymond Johnson Chapman

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 10", Weight 170 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

"... [Ray was the] greatest shortstop, that is, considering all-around ability, batting, throwing, base-running, bunting, fielding and ground covering ability, to mention nothing of his fight, spirit and conscientiousness, ever to wear a Cleveland uniform." - Cleveland News


Shortstop Ray Chapman played nine seasons in the majors, entirely with the Cleveland Indians, and was a regular in eight of them, accumulating 1,053 hits and a .278/.358/.377 line from 1912 to 1920. But he will always be remembered as the only player to die from injuries suffered during a big league game.

Born in Kentucky, Chapman grew up in southern Illinois. He began his pro career in 1910 with the Springfield Senators of the Three-I League. He began the next year with the Davenport Prodigals, hitting .293 with 75 runs scored and 50 stolen bases in 139 games, before his contract was purchased by the Cleveland Naps. He ended 1911 and spent most of 1912 with the Toledo Mud Hens, hitting .310 with 101 runs scored and 41 steals in the latter year. This performance earned him a late-season call up to the Naps, and he hit .312 and scored 29 runs scored in 31 games.

Ray hit .258 and led the AL with 45 sacrifice hits in his first full season in 1913, playing alongside Hall of Fame Nap Lajoie in the Cleveland infield. Limited to 106 games by a broken leg in 1914, he bounced back the next year, hitting .270 while scoring 101 runs. He had perhaps his finest all-around season in 1917, hitting .302 with 98 runs scored. He also stole 52 bases, a club record for more than 60 years, and set a major league record with 67 sacrifice hits, a mark that still stands today. In 1918, he led the AL with 84 runs scored and 84 walks and served in the Naval Reserve after the season, until World War I ended.

Chapman had put together a fine season in 1919 (.300/.351/.420 in 115 games) and was in the midst of another in 1920, hitting .303/.380/.423 with 97 runs scored through his first 110 games. Facing the New York Yankees on August 16, he was struck in the head by a pitch by Carl Mays, the ball meeting skull so loud that Mays assumed it had struck his bat and thrown the ball to first to retire him. He was knocked to the ground and bleeding from his left ear but, improbably, was able to walk toward the clubhouse with the assistance of teammates. However, he collapsed near second base and was rushed to a hospital. He died the next day and was buried in Cleveland's Lakeview Cemetery, where his grave features a large marble baseball.

It is possible that Chapman, had he lived to play a full career, might have made the Hall of Fame. He was a good defensive shortstop and, compared to most shortstops of his era, a very good hitter. Through age 29, he compared favorably to contemporaries Dave Bancroft and Rabbit Maranville, who both made the Hall. With a fuller career, he almost certainly would have been first or second all-time in sacrifice hits; as it was, he ended up sixth (through 2013) with 334. With the reinstatement of the Cleveland Indians team Hall of Fame in 2006, Chapman was one of the first new inductees. A plaque in his honor that had hung at League Park was restored in 2007 and hangs at Progressive Field.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL Runs Scored Leader (1918)
  • AL Bases on Balls leader (1918)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1915)
  • 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 1 (1917)

Records Held[edit]

  • Sacrifice hits, season, 67, 1917

Further Reading[edit]

  • Howard Camerik: The Curse of Carl Mays, a novel, VBW Publishing, 2006
  • Molly Lawless: Hit by Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2012.
  • Mike Sowell: The Pitch that Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman and the Pennant Race of 1920, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, IL, 2004. (originally published in 1989)
  • Rick Swaine: Do It for Chappie : The Ray Chapman Tragedy, Tucker Bay Publishing, Crawfordville, FL, 2019. ISBN 9781733673556

Related Sites[edit]