Throwing inside hitters, Don Drysdale-style or Roger Clemens-style, has been a fine asset for pitchers, but it is also a deadly threat to hitters. This type of pitch has resulted in one death, and dozens injured and fired from baseball.
102 years later, the tragedy of the Polo Grounds, New York, to be completed tomorrow, is as valid as the day before.
The Yankees played the home club in that park in Manhattan for three years before Yankee Stadium opened in the Bronx.
On that hot Monday afternoon, August 16, 1920, Karl Mays, 26, a Yankee right-hander who was throwing a diabolical 95+ mph under his arm, was up against Yankees shortstop Ray Chapman. Cleveland Indians, 29, a right-handed hitter, and batted first in the fifth inning. He was hitless in an at-bat.
The impression of everyone in the press box was that he did not have time to step aside to pass the ball. He collapsed next to home plate, his ears bleeding profusely and he was never again the smiling boy he had always been. He died after an operation in the early hours of Tuesday 17.
Chapman used to come too close to the home plate, causing the pitchers to sweat. And the helmets inaugurated in 1947 in the NL by Ralph Keener and in the AL by Phil Rizzuto were not yet in use. At that time, the Indians were leading 3-0, and the score was 1-1. The next pitch was the one that hit Chapman in the head.
Umpire Tom Connolly shouted desperately for a doctor (the teams still didn’t have him under contract). The players of both the clubs, stunned, not knowing what to do, surrounded Ray.
With the help of several of them, he managed to get up, and headed to the clubhouse, where he was to walk across the field towards centerfield. After subjecting him to such an attempt, doctors described it as a grave error.
“I don’t think Mace intentionally shot Chappy,” Cleveland’s player-manager for the day, Tris Speaker, later said. “He had time to walk away, but he never walked.”
Others in the game have had the same opinion, such as Lefty O’Doll, Mace’s teammate.
No one else has died in such circumstances in the Major Leagues, but Tony Conigliaro and Dickie Theon suffered serious injuries.
In love with his wife, he was expecting first child
Walking into the clubhouse, Chapman said… “Please tell Kate (his wife) I’m fine… and where’s my ring?”
The trainer holds a diamond ring for him, a gift from his wife, Kathleen Daly, who had said goodbye to him at the train station in Cleveland the night before, and who was expecting the couple’s first child. Chapman planned to retire after that year’s season in his ninth major league season.
“I no longer want these separations from my wife” he used to tell his friends, “I am going to dedicate myself to her and our businesses in Cleveland”.
According to the custom of married people in the United States, the ring was placed on their left ring finger. Then he tried to smile, and fainted. They took him on a stretcher to the ambulance. He didn’t realize anymore.
Millions of balls at about 100 mph and higher swerve and pass close to the bigleagues’ heads. That has only been fatal.
Chapman died when he started getting better
At St. Lawrence Hospital, X-rays revealed a three-inch fracture.
In the early hours of Tuesday the 17th, at 12:29, he began the operation, during which he removed a piece of bone, about four centimeters on each side. There was serious brain damage. He detected blood clots.
At 1:44 a.m. that morning the surgery was complete, and the patient was breathing better, so his companions, who were on alert, returned to the hotel, confident that the worst was over.
However, when they woke up hours later, they learned that Ray had died at 4:50 a.m. on Tuesday.
The Indians defeated shortstop Joe Sewell to win that game 4-3. Playing in memory of Chapman, he won the 98–56 championship.
They also won the World Series 4–3 over the Dodgers. The widow received $3,986.31 from her husband.