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The Sad Ending of Ray Chapman

The Sad Ending of Ray Chapman
August 16
06:02 2021

The Sad Ending of Ray Chapman

“I’m okay, tell Mays not to worry … ring … Katie’s ring…”

Ray Chapman

After uttering those final words on August 16, 1920, Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman slipped into a coma. He would be pronounced dead shortly after 4 A.M. the next morning.

Chapman, 29, was – and remains – the only Major League baseball player to die as the result of an on-field injury.

He was hit in the head by a pitch from New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. The accident resulted in several major rules changing – including the outlawing of spitballs, the umpire replacing a dirty ball and the eventual use of batting helmets.

Raymond Johnson Chapman was a star shortstop for the Indians, known as being an exceptionally skilled fielder and his amazing bat control.

Though he batted over .300 three times, Chapman was regarded as one of the greatest bunters in baseball history. His 67 sacrifice hits in 1917 is still the one-season record. He still ranks 6th on the all-time list for sacrifice hits – and only one right-handed batter (Stuffy McInnis) has more sacrifices than Chapman.

Chapman’s 52 stolen bases in 1917 remained the Cleveland team record until 1980.

Carl Mays was a superb pitcher – racking up a stellar 200 career wins against only 126 losses. He threw a submarine pitch – releasing the ball in a side-arm fashion. He was also known to rely on the spitball.

Mays had a strict religious upbringing (refusing to pitch on Sundays) and when his father died when Mays was still a boy, the youngster internalized his bitterness at life. He grew to become a prickly, difficult to get along with adult. He had few friends among the other players.

Thus, the stage was set for August 16, 1920. Mays – a player that even the fiery Ty Cobb hated – versus Chapman, a beloved player that even Cobb considered a friend.

Mays was going for his 100th career win. In the first inning Chapman got the final sacrifice hit of his career. He popped out in the third.

In the fifth, reports say that Mays grew agitated because of Chapman’s crowding the plate. When he delivered that fatal pitch, Chapman never moved – apparently not even seeing the underhanded pitch.

The ball struck Chapman’s head with such a loud crack that Mays thought the pitch had hit the bat. Mays fielded the ball as it bounced out to him and threw it to first base.

As Indians and Yankees players suddenly became aware that something was terribly wrong, Mays remained standing alone on the mound.

Mays would always maintain that he had not tried to hit Chapman, and that the pitch was in the strike zone. But he already had the reputation as a “headhunter,” and the death of Chapman cemented that image.

Although his career statistics on comparable to many Hall of Fame pitchers, Mays was never inducted – the Chapman affair often stated as a reason.

Featured Photo: Ray Chapman’s resting place, near Cleveland’s current stadium, Progressive Field.

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