Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Baseball - Ray Chapman


Now in the Great Baseball Firmament


To the front on the Diamond – Has Surprised Lovers of Sport


            It is not perhaps generally known that Mr. Ray Chapman, who is at present the sensation in baseball circles, is a native Ohio County boy. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Everett Chapman and was born at McHenry, a mining town of this county, about 22 years ago. When he was about 16 years old he moved with his parents to Herrin, Ill., where his family have since resided. When a boy he was a pupil of Attorney E. M. Woodward, of Hartford, who taught school at McHenry. Since moving to Herrin he has graduated from the high school there. He was always a bright student and during playtime at school his chief recreation was ball-playing. He was a great devotee of the game and early manifested fine talents. He is a modest young man of lovable personality, strictly moral habits, and bears his honors easily and good naturedly. He is not boastful of his prowess, but just “plays ball” and lets the lovers of the game see what he can do. His home folks here are proud of his distinction. He is a first cousin of Mr. and Mrs. Ike Sanderfur and a second cousin of Masters Park and Gail Taylor, of Hartford.

            Concerning his career in the baseball field, the following is what the sporting editor of the Louisville Herald has to say of Mr. Chapman:

            From the infield of a country town high school nine to the American League in three years – such has been the flash across the baseball firmament of Ray Chapman, the chain-lightning short stop of the Cleveland club and the latest sensation in baseball.

            Like Ralph Capron, that other sensation of the association, Chapman is a speed marvel. He used to do a hundred yards 10 2/5 seconds, and the 220 yards in 23 flat, when a student in the Herrin, Ill., high school, and was quite some football player.

            Chapman has been burning up the American Association this season, and it was only a question of time when he would be sold, traded or drafted into one of the major leagues.

            If there was any likelihood of a fair chance at Chapman, the record of $22,500 set by Barney Dreyfuss when he bought Marty O’Toole would be broken.

            In fact, Frank Farrell, owner of the New York American League club, has said he would make this price look cheap if Somers would put his star on the block.

            But Somers isn’t selling Chapman – not while the Naps need men like him – and they do right now. At the beginning of the season Olson was the Nap captain, but a little matter of boxing skill between him and Pitcher Mitchell resulted in his reduction to the ranks and the appointment of the brains of the Cleveland team – Joe Birmingham.

            Chapman is a short stop, and a whirlwind short stop, too. He has a powerful throwing arm and the ability to throw from almost any position. He is so fast that he gets in front of the ball when another would be trying for it with his finger tips.

            Every big league scout has looked at Chapman this summer, although each knew the time was wasted.

            In forty-eight games Chapman stole twenty bases, and from his position as clean-up batter, fourth, scored thirty-seven runs. He made sixty-one hits, his average being .351. And best of all, he hits in the pinches. His fielding has been sensational and his base running one of the marvels of the game.

            Chapman hesitated, when he left high school, between a scholastic inducement and a contract from the Springfield Three I League club, finally accepting the latter.

            Lack of experience held him back, and Springfield was about to release him when Davenport, of the same league, bought him for $250. This was a league joke, but in a short time Chapman had them all watching him.

            Bill Armour, then president of the Toledo club, bought Chapman for $1,000 last summer. Chapman played for Toledo one month last fall, but it was late and his skill was overlooked. On his first trip this spring he started like an explosion of gun cotton and has continued at the same pace since.

            Chapman is the real thing sure enough, and if he plays the same game on the big ring that he has everywhere else, his name will become a household necessity before the peach crop is picked.

Hartford Herald, September 18, 1912



Was One of Fastest Players In American League – Reared in Ohio County

New York. August 23, 1920. Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, one of the really great shortstops of big league baseball, died at St. Lawrence Hospital shortly before 5 o’clock Aug. 17. He never recovered from an operation performed three hours before to remove a fragment of bone pressing into his brain following the blow on the head he received when Carl Mays, the Yankee pitcher, hit him in Monday’s ball game.

            Mays went to the District Attorney’s office the morning after Chapman’s death had been announced.  He showed much depression, but told a straightforward story to Assistant District Attorney Joyce, in charge of the Homicide Bureau, asserting that he pitched a fast straight ball, aimed for the inside of the plate, to Chapman and with no intention of hurting him. Mr. Joyce heard his story & declared the occurrence an accident and formally released the pitcher from custody.

            Mays says that he thought the ball hit Chapman’s bat and fielded it to first base with that idea and did not know that the shortstop had been hurt until he saw him sink to the ground. He says he looked at the ball after the accident and found that it was slightly roughened on one side. He showed it to the umpire and called his attention to the spot. The roughening probably caused Chapman’s death, for it made the ball “sail” – that is, take a freakish jump which the man throwing or the batter watching would not expect.

            Mays tales great comfort from the fact that when Chapman regained consciousness in the club house before being removed to the hospital he said to John Henry, the former Washington catcher, who was one of his closest friends, “I’m all right. Tell Mays not to worry.”

Well Known Here

            Raymond Johnson Chapman was born near Render, Ohio County, Ky., January 15, 1891, and was a son of Everett Chapman and a grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Chapman, of Beaver Dam. He has many relatives and friends in Ohio County. While Mays was yet a youngster, his father removed with his family to Herrin, Ill., where young Chapman and Bob Veach, the famous Detroit outfielder, began their baseball careers both becoming professionals in 1910, Chapman going to Springfield, Ill., and thence to Davenport, Iowa. A Cleveland scout, Babe Myers, looked him over in 1911 and bought him for the Naps but turned him over to Toledo for further development. He was called to the Naps in August 1912, reporting the day Harry Davis resigned as manager.

            He batted .312 that last month of the 1912 campaign. His sensational work at short in 1913 was a big factor in making Cleveland the runner-up to the Athletics most of the year. In sliding to third base on the training trip of 1914 he broke his leg and was out nearly half of the season. The Indians finished way down in the race as a result. He played a phenomenal game in 1915 but dislocated one of his knees and was out for 50 games. Since then he has played wonderful ball and has been one of the greatest stars of the league. He has played well over 1,400 games in a Cleveland uniform.

Beautiful Tribute

            Copies of Cleveland papers printed on the day of ray Chapman’s funeral devote many columns to the ceremonies that attended it. They contain among other tributes to the former Ohio County boy a copy in full of the sermon preached over his remains.

            In opening his sermon Dr. Scullen dwelt on the mysteries of life and death, and took for his text the words of  the Bible, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me shall not taste death forever.”

            “In paying this, one last tribute to one whom we loved and admired as much for his sterling manhood as his ability as a ballplayer,” Dr. Scullen said, “we are reminded of the mysteries of life and death, and wonder how he who had played his part so honorably in our country’s great war and in his chosen field could be so suddenly taken from among us. The answer is in my text – that he that believeth in Me though dead shall live.”

            Chapman played the game of life and he played the game of his profession cleanly and honestly. He was our friend as a ball player and as a man.  Sterling athlete that he was, he never knew defeat. Courageous, he played his part in life honorably and was a shining type of typical American youth and a great example for others.

            “Clean, wholesome, gentle and true, he was the idol of Cleveland as a ball player – but above all, was his gentleness and kindness as a man.”

            Referring to the incident that caused Chapman’s death, Dr. Scullen pleaded that “no hostile word should be uttered against the man who was the cause of the unfortunate accident.”

            “He feels the outcome of it more deeply than most of us do,” he said. “The great American game of baseball does not develop men who would willingly try to injure another participant in the game, and the game could not produce a man capable of killing another man. Chapman, we know, would be the first to decry any thought of revenge if he could but speak.”

            Dr. Scullen’s final words were, “May the soul of this gentle, kindly youth, whom all Cleveland loved, rest in peace.”

Hartford Herald, September 1, 1920

From Wikipedia

Chapman was born in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, and raised in Herrin, Illinois. He broke into the Major Leagues in 1912 with the Cleveland team, then known as the Naps.

Chapman led the American League in runs scored and walks in 1918. A top-notch bunter, Chapman is sixth on the all-time list for sacrifice hits and holds the single season record with 67 in 1917. Only Stuffy McInnis has more career sacrifices as a right-handed batter. Chapman was also an excellent shortstop who led the league in putouts three times and assists once. He batted .300 three times, and led the Indians in stolen bases four times. In 1917, he set a team record of 52 stolen bases, which stood until 1980. He was hitting .303 with 97 runs scored when he died. He was one of the few players whom Ty Cobb considered a friend.

There was conjecture that 1920 was going to be Chapman's last year as a pro baseball player. Shortly before the season began, Chapman married Kathleen Daly, who was the daughter of a prominent Cleveland businessman. Chapman had indicated he was going to retire to devote himself to the family business he was marrying into, as well as to begin a family.

At the time of Chapman's death, "part of every pitcher's job was to dirty up a new ball the moment it was thrown onto the field. By turns, they smeared it with dirt, licorice, and tobacco juice; it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, scarred, cut, even spiked. The result was a misshapen, earth-colored ball that traveled through the air erratically, tended to soften in the later innings, and as it came over the plate, was very hard to see."

This practice is believed to have contributed to Chapman's death. He was struck with a pitch by Carl Mays on August 16, 1920, in a game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Mays threw with a submarine delivery, and it was the top of the fifth inning, in the late afternoon. Eyewitnesses recounted that Chapman never moved out of the way of the pitch, presumably unable to see the ball. "Chapman didn't react at all," said Rod Nelson of the Society of American Baseball Research. "It was at twilight and it froze him." The sound of the ball smashing into Chapman's skull was so loud that Mays thought it had hit the end of Chapman's bat, so he fielded the ball and threw to first base.

The book Ray and Me, by Dan Gutman, says that after Mays threw the ball to first, the fielders threw it around the diamond. Chapman then took three or four steps before he collapsed. Mike Sowell's book, The Pitch That Killed, however, states that first baseman Wally Pipp caught Mays' throw to first and then realized something was very wrong. Chapman never took any steps, but rather slowly collapsed to his knees and then the ground with blood pouring out of his left ear. The umpire quickly called for doctors in the stands to come to Chapman's aid. Eventually Chapman was able to stand and try to walk off the field, but he could not speak when he tried to do so, but only mumbled. As he was walking off the field his knees buckled and he had to be assisted the rest of the way. He was replaced by Harry Lunte for the rest of the game, which the Indians won 4-3. Chapman died 12 hours later in a New York City hospital, at about 4:30 A.M.

Thousands of mourners were present for Chapman's funeral at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland. In tribute to Chapman's memory, Cleveland players wore black arm bands, with manager Tris Speaker leading the team to win both the pennant and the first World Series Championship in the history of the club. Rookie Joe Sewell took Chapman's place at shortstop, and went on to have a Hall of Fame career (which he coincidentally concluded with the Yankees).

Ray Chapman is buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio, not far from where his new home was being built on Alvason Road in East Cleveland. He and his wife visited the home as it was being built several hours before he departed for New York City on his final road trip.


Restored Raymond Johnson Chapman plaque in Progressive Field

Not long after Chapman died, a bronze plaque was designed in his honor. The plaque features Chapman's bust framed by a baseball diamond and flanked by two bats, one of them draped with a fielder's mitt. At the bottom of the tablet is the inscription, "He Lives In The Hearts Of All Who Knew Him." The plaque was dedicated and hung at League Park and later at Cleveland Stadium before being taken down for unspecified reasons.

In February 2007, workers discovered the plaque while cleaning out a storage room at Jacobs Field. Covered by years of dust and dirt, the bronze surface had oxidized a dark brown; the text was illegible. The plaque was refurbished and hung in Heritage Park, an exhibit of Indians history at Jacobs, which has since been renamed to "Progressive Field". Jim Folk, Indians' Vice President of Ball Park Operations, said, "It was in a store room under an escalator in a little nook and cranny. We didn't know what we were going to do with it, but there was no way it was just going to stay there when we moved to Jacobs Field. We had it crated up and put on a moving truck and it came over along with our file cabinets and all the other stuff that came out of the stadium."

Chapman was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in 2006.

Further reading
  • The book The Pitch That Killed, by Mike Sowell, is a history of the Chapman-Mays tragedy.
  • The historical novel, The Curse of Carl Mays, by Howard Camerik, also recounts the Chapman-Mays incident.
  • The Death of Ray Chapman - NY Times, 18 August 1920
•    Withers, Tom (March 29, 2007). "Hidden diamond: Indians uncover lost Ray Chapman plaque". Retrieved May 22, 2010.

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