Little Bits of History

Ray Chapman

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 16, 2010

Ray Chapman

August 16, 1920: Ray Chapman is struck in the head with a fastball delivered by pitcher Carl Mays – he will die the next day. Chapman is the only person to die as the direct result of a baseball injury. Chapman, the short stop for the Cleveland Indians was crowding the plate, waiting for a pitch. His patience at the plate was one of his great strengths. Carl Mays threw a spitball, still legal at the time, and struck Chapman in the head with his pitch, just barely out of the strike zone.

Spitballs have since been banned from the game. The spitball was coated on a portion of the ball with some slimey substance – grease, oil, lard, peanut butter, or rarely, spit. This made the ball’s path erratic and also made it more difficult to hit effectively. Batting helmets became mandatory in Major League Baseball in 1971 after many more head injuries – none of the others resulted in death.

Chapman was a much loved player and his death resulted in a team slump that went almost unnoticed by the grieving fans. Mays was almost as disliked as Chapman was loved and it was felt by some that the pitch was a deliberate attack. This has never been proven. The Indians came out of their slump, ending the season first in the American League and went on to win the World Series 5-2 over the Brooklyn Robins, later to become the Dodgers.

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” – Walt Whitman

“When you’re in a slump, it’s almost as if you look out at the field and it’s one big glove.” – Vance Law

“Baseball is a game where a curve is an optical illusion, a screwball can be a pitch or a person, stealing is legal and you can spit anywhere you like except in the umpire’s eye or on the ball.” – Jim Murray

“It’s hard to win a pennant, but it’s harder losing one.” – Chuck Tanner

Also on this day, in 1819 the Peterloo Massacre leaves hundreds wounded after cavalry charges a crowd near Manchester, England.

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