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Gehrig
08-16-01, 07:57 AM
Carl Mays was a right-handed pitcher who had first come up with the Boston Red Sox in 1915 and immediately established himself as a winning pitcher. Standing just under 6 feet and weighing 195 pounds, he was a submarine sinkerballer who sometimes scraped his knuckles across the mound as he followed through his motion. He had the habit of throwing inside to batters to brush them off, and was always among the leaders when it came to hit batsmen. He was also a surly, mean spirited individual who had few friends.

He was traded to the Yankees in July of 1919 after he quit the Red Sox because he felt that the club was not supporting him on the field. (He had a 5-11 record at the time of the trade) He went 9-3 the rest of the way and finished up with a 14-14 record.

When the 1920 season started, Manager Miller Huggins regarded him and Bob Shawkey as the top two pitchers on the Yankee staff…

Due to a spring training incident in Spring training, Mays had not pitched very well earlier in the season, but had regained his form of late. During Spring Training, Mays’ only real friend on the team, Chick Fewester, was hit above the right ear by a pitch thrown by the Dodgers Jeff Pfeffer. Fewster remained motionless on the ground for several minutes. When he finally regained consciousness he was totally blank about what had happened to him. He was unable to speak for a month and spent the whole time in a wheel chair. Mays was unable to "pitch in" after that for more than half the season.

He knew though that to be effective he had to pitch inside…

Mays was once quoted as saying "If the batter is hugging the plate, and many of them do this, he is likely to get hit". He became his old self just in time, because New York had the weakest mound staff of the three contenders, and they needed every one of Mays's wins.


Ray "Chappie" Chapman made his major league debut with Cleveland in 1912. He was a great shortstop who was exceptional at turning the double play. A no-nonsence, non-stop hustler. He was also a pretty good hitter. His lifetime average was .278. He was also blessed with more than decent speed as his 52 stolen bases in 1917 can attest to.

He was also one of the most popular and well-liked players in baseball. A fan favorite, he had friends in every city in the American League. And unlike Mays, he was also well liked by opposing players. Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were especially fond of him, Ruth calling him, "That little Nat". He was a man of good cheer, with a fund of good humor. A real Southern gentleman ! His best friends on the Indians were Tris Speaker and Jack Graney. Just before the 1920 season, Chapman married Kathleen Daly, the daughter of a wealthy Cleveland businessman.

The plan was for Ray to retire at the end of the '20 season to devote himself to business and raising a family. He was one of the recognized leaders of the Indians along with Speaker.

"Chappie" and company were playing very consistent ball. He was batting over .300 with over 90 runs scored coming into the series. They were hot on the heals of first place Chicago, staying within striking distance most of the summer. The Yankees on the other hand were the model of inconsistency…playing like world beaters one day and getting beat up the next. In the eyes of many, this was the most important series of the season for both teams. Cleveland also wanted revenge for a 4 game sweep at the hands of the New Yorkers in Cleveland the previous week…


Monday, August 16th, 1920

A typical hot and humid summer day in New York. The Yankees were to meet the Cleveland Indians at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan (The Yankees were sharing it with the Giants at that time before Yankee stadium was built). It was an overcast day, with the field conditions being on the wet side as a result of high humidity and rain.

Starting pitchers would be Stan Coveleski for Cleveland, who was having a terrific year vs. Carl Mays, who was going for his 100th career win that afternoon. Mays battery mate would be Muddy Ruel. Tommy Connolly led the two-man Umpire unit. Attendance was about 22,000.

The Indians opened the scoring in the second inning on a homerun to left by Catcher Steve O'Neil. The Yankees on the other hand were having major problems with handling the spitballs of Coveleski. In the 4th inning Cleveland logged in with two more runs, one when Ruel dropped the ball on a play at the plate, and a Sac fly by Coveleski.

Then came the fateful fifth inning. Chapman led off. To this point he was 0 for 1 with a Sacrifice bunt in the first inning. He had popped-up to Wally Pipp in the third. Chapman stepped in against Mays. Chapman's crouching stance was the kind that crowded the plate and annoyed pitchers like Mays. Chapman though had never ever hit Mays well.

The count ran to a ball and a strike...

Mays then let loose with a high inside fastball!

The ball sailed directly toward Chapman's head. Instead of ducking, Chapman remained in his crouch, seemingly transfixed by the ball. The ball hit Chapman flush on the left side of the head above the ear. There were no helmets in those early days of baseball.

The recoil from the ball striking Chapman's skull made it seem like it had hit the bat. The ball actually rolled back toward the mound, and Mays, thinking that it had hit Chapman's bat, ran towards the ball to make the play. Chapman got up, took two staggering steps down the first base line then crumpled to a heap on the ground. Umpire Connolly noticed that blood was flowing out of the Clevelanders right ear and immediately ran to the stands and began shouting for a doctor. Tris Speaker who had been on-deck rushed to his friends side, as did the whole Cleveland club and a good majority of the Yankees. The whole time, Mays stayed on the mound.

"Chappie" was conscious but unstable. He tried to speak but no words came out of his mouth. He struggled to his feet and attempted to walk back toward the clubhouse, which in the Polo Grounds was located in straight away centerfield. A long walk for the injured Chapman. Just before "Chappie" reached second base he collapsed. He was then carried off the field.

In the visitor’s clubhouse Chapman, was not doing well at all, and an ambulance was summoned. Chapman was attempting to put a few words together. "I'm all right, tell Mays not to worry." He also kept mumbling for "Ring.... Katie’s ring." in reference to his wedding band. The trainer retrieved the ring and put it in his hand. From all accounts of those present, it seemed to bring Ray some solace before he lapsed into a coma.

In the meantime, the game continued. Mays asked for a new ball before he pitched to Speaker, the next batter up. New York continued to struggle against Coveleski! Huggins pinch-hit Sammy Vick for Mays in the bottom of the eighth inning. Vick singled. The Yanks finally got to Coveleski in the bottom of the ninth scoring three runs but it was a case of too little too late.

Chapman was rushed to St. Lawrence hospital in Manhattan. His condition continued to deteriorate. Speaker had spoken by telephone with Katie to inform her of the accident. She then immediately boarded a train for New York to be with her ailing husband. At around 10pm, as Chapman continued to grow worse, a decision was finally made to operate. The procedure was performed by Dr. T.M. Merrigan. The operation began at 12:30 am and lasted just a little over an hour. A three and a half inch piece of skull was removed from Chapman's left side. It was found that he had injuries to both sides of the brain. There was also severe blood clotting and damage to his sinuses.

The outlook was not good…

His teammates and many Yankee players were at the hospital waiting it out. They went back to their hotel rooms with a promise of hope, because they had received the good news that his breathing and pulse had improved.

It was a false hope though. His condition started to go down hill again after 3 am…

… At 4:40 am…

August 17th, 1920…

Raymond Johnson Chapman breathed his last breath...

He was only 30 years old….

The next time you see beanball fights and bench clearing brawls remember one thing...

A baseball thrown at over ninety miles an hour is a deadly weapon. Although an important part of baseball is keeping a player honest, by pitching inside, there is a difference between pitching inside and being a "head hunter" and intentionally throwing at a player… Especially at his head…

The Mays/Chapman Incident will go down as the most tragic on-field event in baseball history. Lets just hope that it never happens again …


Quotes from Ruel and Chapman:

“I was closer to Chapman than anyone else on Earth and right now, almost 30 years later, I STILL believe it was an accident. Pure and simple. You know, Chap had a peculiar stance. It is literally true that he could have been hit in the head with a perfect strike. He crowded the plate and hunched over it. His head was in the strike zone. That’s what happened the day he was killed. I saw the pitch coming. I saw Ray standing there, never moving so much as a muscle. The ball, like the rabbit by the snake, must have paralyzed him. Then I heard the crack. I can hear it yet. It sounded like the exactly like a fastball meeting the bat. I saw the ball roll towards the pitchers box. I was just a kid then and pretty fast on my feet. I pounced across the plate and snatched up the ball and fired it to first base. Only then did I see the look on Carl Mays face. I turned around and saw Chappie half sitting, half sprawling in the batters box. I tried to rush to him but Speaker and Steve O’Neill and Jack Graney got there ahead of me. I guess I was glued to the ground. I knew right then that I had seen a man killed by a baseball… “ ~ Muddy Ruel – Catcher, NY Yankees

“I won over 200 big league games. But no one today remembers that…When they think of me, I’m the guy who killed Chapman with a fastball… ~ Carl Mays – Pitcher, NY Yankees

Michaels07
08-16-01, 08:50 AM
Was it a Brush back pitch that got away?
The Batting Helmet,when was it adopted by MLB?

Gehrig
08-16-01, 09:56 AM
Originally posted by Michaels07
Was it a Brush back pitch that got away?
The Batting Helmet,when was it adopted by MLB?

Was it a brushback…hmmm…Well, I’ve seen photos of Mays delivery and it is something to behold. He was a true submariner who makes Randy Choate seem like he’s pitches straight over the top…He would literally lean ALL the way over and deliver almost underhanded !! However, In my view it wouldn’t have made sense to throw at a quick hitter leading-off an inning with his team already down 4-0. This was a very crucial series for both teams. The chance to win a pennant and get to the World Series which for the Yankees would be the first time. In the days before big money contracts, the extra bonus money a player made from getting into the series was very important to a players overall income. Mays knew this as he had been to the Series with the Red Sox. He had a wife and two children to feed. Pitching inside was how he was most effective as a pitcher. But I don’t think he was stupid enough to intentionally do what he did. It just wouldn't make sense…If "Chappie" hadn’t froze, he probably would have got hit on the shoulder, or the ball would have missed him entirely. But who knows for sure…

In July of 1940, Spalding advertised a batting helmet with ear flaps in The Sporting News… Players expressed no interest, but next year Brooklyn introduced a cap liner, which some batters start to use…I know the American league made them mandatory in 1957 for all players…Not sure about the NL…Ear-flaps on batting helmets became mandatory in 1982...

Slippery Elm
08-18-01, 02:25 AM
Any thoughts on what kind of background the ball came out of on the way to Chapman's head??

I assume the new rule was in effect about replacing defaced balls.

Speaking of deliveries, Walter Johnson's was really sidearm. I can't imagine how righties could stay in there against it.

seahorse
08-18-01, 08:03 AM
Great piece Mitch. Thanks!What a tragedy. :(