On this day in 1920 Ray Chapman a 29 year old shortstop for the Cleveland Indians was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Yankee Carl Mays. He would die the next day.
Yankee pitcher Carl Mays had a submarine delivery. The practice at the time was to keep a baseball in the game no matter how dirty it was. Also at this time it was legal to throw the spit ball. Batters did not wear helmets. Mays had a repututation of throwing at hitters and was not a well liked player. Those who were there say that Chapman didn’t react to the pitch before it hit him in the head. He must not have been able to pick the ball up. When it hit his head the ball made such a loud sound that when the ball came back to Mays he threw it to first base thinking Chapman had hit the ball. Chapman stood up but then collapsed blood pouring from his left ear. He eventually was able to stand again and with aid started to walk towards the dugout but collapsed again. He was taken to a New York City hospital where he died 12 hours later. Ray Chapman remains the only player in Major League Baseball history to die as a result of an injury that happened during a game.
Some changes took place after Chapman’s death. The spit ball was declared illegal. Baseball’s when they became dirty were changed. It would take another 30 years but using what happened to Chapman as an example, helmets became mandatory.
The player who replaced Ray Chapman in the line up was named Joe Sewell. Joe Sewell would go on to have a Hall of Fame career. He is the hardest player in major league history to strike out. He struck out once every 63 at bats and has the record for playing 115 consecutive games without striking out.
Ray Chapman was a fine ballplayer himself, he had 233 career stolen bases and was a .278 career hitter.
Many believe Carl Mays was a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher. He had better stats than a number of pitchers who also pitched during his era who made the Hall of Fame. But the death of Ray Chapman was blamed on him by a lot of people plus he wasn’t a well liked man to begin with so they always passed over him when the Hall of Fame vote came. [pictured below Carl Mays}
There is an excellent book that came out 20 years ago about this incident. “The Pitch That Killed- by Mark Sowell