Ray Chapman

Raymond Johnson Chapman (January 15, 1891 – August 17, 1920) was an American baseball player. He spent his entire career as a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians.

Ray Chapman
Born: (1891-01-15)January 15, 1891
Beaver Dam, Kentucky, U.S.
Died: August 17, 1920(1920-08-17) (aged 29)
New York City, U.S.
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
MLB debut
August 30, 1912, for the Cleveland Indians
Last MLB appearance
August 16, 1920, for the Cleveland Indians
MLB statistics
Batting average.278
Home runs17
Runs batted in364
Career highlights and awards
  • Cleveland Guardians Hall of Fame

Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by pitcher Carl Mays and died 12 hours later. He is the only player to die directly from an injury received during a major league game.[1][2] His death led baseball to establish a rule requiring umpires to replace the ball whenever it becomes dirty. Chapman's death and sanitary concerns also led to the ban on spitballs after the 1920 season.[3][4] Chapman's death was also one of the examples cited to justify the wearing of batting helmets. However, it took over 30 years to adopt the rule that required their use.


Chapman was born in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, and raised in Herrin, Illinois.[5] He broke into the major leagues in 1912 with the Cleveland team, then known as the Naps.[6]

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 assists once. He batted .300 or better 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.[7]

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 into which he was marrying, as well as to begin a family.[8]


Ray Chapman's grave

On August 16, 1920, Chapman was struck in the head and killed by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays during a game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds.[9] At the time, pitchers commonly dirtied balls with soil, licorice, and tobacco juice, and scuffed, sandpapered, scarred, cut, or spiked them, giving 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."[10] Mays threw with a submarine delivery, and it was late afternoon. Eyewitnesses recounted that Chapman did not react to the pitch at all, presumably unable to see it. The sound of the ball striking Chapman's skull was so loud that Mays thought it had hit the end of Chapman's bat; he fielded the ball and threw to first base.[1]

Home plate umpire Tommy Connolly, noticing that Chapman was bleeding from his left ear, screamed towards the stands for a doctor. Tris Speaker, who had been on deck, rushed to Chapman, as did several players from each team. Carl Mays merely stood on the mound. Chapman tried to walk, but his knees buckled. As he was helped off the field by his teammates, he mumbled "I'm all right; tell Mays not to worry... ring....Katie's ring," before falling unconscious.[11][12] Chapman was taken to St. Lawrence Hospital, a short distance from the Polo Grounds where he died about 4:40 AM from brain damage. His pregnant wife Katie, summoned from Cleveland by phone, arrived at 10:00 a.m. and fainted on learning he had died.[13][14]

Thousands of mourners attended Chapman's funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland[2] and he was buried at Lake View Cemetery.[15]

Cleveland players wore black armbands for the remainder of the season.[16] The Indians won the 1920 World Series and dedicated their victory to Chapman.[17]


Restored Chapman plaque at Heritage Park in Progressive Field

A bronze plaque was designed in Chapman's memory, funded by donations from fans, was hung at League Park and was moved to Cleveland Stadium when the Indians moved there in 1946. Sometime in the early 1970s, however, it was removed for unknown reasons.[1][18] In 2007 it was refurbished and made part of Progressive Field's Heritage Park, which includes the Cleveland Guardians Hall of Fame and other exhibits from the team's history. Chapman had been inducted into the team Hall of Fame in 2006, part of the first new induction class since 1972.[1][19][20] A baseball field is dedicated to Ray Chapman in his hometown of Beaver Dam, KY.

See also

  • List of baseball players who died during their careers
  • Phillip Hughes, Australian cricketer killed by a ball during play in 2014


  1. Withers, Tom (March 29, 2007). "Indians uncover lost Chapman plaque". ESPN.com. Associated Press. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  2. Goodman, Rebecca (2005). This Day in Ohio History. Emmis Books. p. 250. ISBN 9781578601912. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  3. Wulf, Steve (1981-04-13). "Tricks Of The Trade". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  4. Terbush, Jon (2013-05-03). "Spitballs, nail files, and other ways pitchers cheat". The Week. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  5. Gay, Timothy M. (2006). Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-tumble Life of a Baseball Legend. U of Nebraska Press. p. 174. ISBN 0-8032-2206-8.
  6. Poremba, David Lee (2000). The American League: The Early Years. Arcadia Publishing. p. 125. ISBN 0-7385-0710-5.
  7. Goodman, Rebecca; Brunsman, Barrett J. (2005). This Day in Ohio History. Emmis Books. p. 250. ISBN 1-57860-191-6.
  8. "TheDeadballEra.com :: THE MAYS/CHAPMAN INCIDENT: THE PARTICIPANT'S". www.thedeadballera.com.
  9. Propert, Phyllis (July 1957). "Carl Mays: My Pitch That Killed Chapman Was A Strike!". Baseball Digest. Vol. 16, no. 6. ISSN 0005-609X.
  10. Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken (1996). Baseball: An Illustrated History. Knopf. p. 153. ISBN 0-679-76541-7.
  11. "THE MAYS/CHAPMAN INCIDENT: The Incident". Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  12. Caple, Jim (21 May 2001). "Classic Box Score: August 16, 1920". ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  13. "The Mays/Chapman Incident: The Incident". Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  14. "Ray Chapman Dies; Mays Exonerated – Widow Takes Body of Ball Player, Killed by Pitched Ball, Back to Cleveland – Hundreds Weep at Bier – Pitcher Who Threw Ball Unnerved by Accident – Other Teams Would Bar Him – Midnight Operation Fails – Players Brain Crushed by Force of Blow – District Attorney Says Accident Was Unavoidable". The New York Times. August 17, 1920. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  15. Dyer, Bob (2003). The Top 20 Moments in Cleveland Sports: Tremendous Tales of Heroes and Heartbreaks. Cleveland: Gray & Co. p. 160. ISBN 9781598510300.
  16. McNeil, William (2002). The Single-Season Home Run Kings: Ruth, Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. McFarland. p. 24. ISBN 0-7864-1441-3.
  17. Vadaj, Rachel; Dakota, Michael. "100 years ago, Cleveland Indians' Ray Chapman became the only MLB player to die playing the game". www.cleveland19.com. Retrieved 2022-01-16.
  18. Krsolovic, Ken; Fritz, Bryan (2013). League Park: historic home of Cleveland baseball, 1891–1946. Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland & Company. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-7864-6826-3.
  19. "Indians Hall of Fame returns" (Press release). Cleveland Indians. July 11, 2006. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  20. "Heritage Park". Cleveland Indians. 2017. Retrieved March 11, 2017.

Further reading

  • Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6
  • 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 Dan Gutman novel Ray & Me, tells the story of the Chapman incident with a fictional touch as the main character Joe Stoshack travels back in time to try to prevent his death.
  • Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy by Rick Swaine is a historical novel based on true events involving real-life historical figures.
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