Requiem

This is a tale of two men. They didn’t have a lot in common. Oh, they played baseball and were good enough to make the major leagues, but that’s about all they had in common. Their bond is a sad one. They’re  two players who died directly from actions occuring on the field.

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman is much the more famous. He was born in 1891 in Kentucky and, like Abe Lincoln,  moved to Illinois. He was a good player in the 3 I League (Davenport) and made the majors in 1912 breaking in with the Cleveland team (now the Indians, then the Naps). He came up as a shortstop, spent time at second and third. He did well hitting over .300 three times, posting a slugging percentage over .400 four times, with an  on base percentage over 300 every year (but never above 400). That gave him an OPS of 700 six times and 800 his final year. He avraged over 30 stolen bases with no pop, but managed to average 25 doubles and 12 triples over his nine year career.  He was a better than average shortstop, but not the slickest fielder in the league.

By 1920 the Cleveland team, under player-manager Tris Speaker was in a pennant fight with Chicago and New York. On 16 August they played the Yankees at the Polo Grounds (this was before Yankee Stadium was built). In the top of the fifth inning, Chapman came to bat against Yankees submariner Carl Mays. Mays promptly skulled him. According to the story it was late in the day, the ball was dirty, and Chapman simply never saw the ball. He went down and died the next morning. He’s buried in Cleveland. There is a plaque on display in the Indians museum in his honor. It used to hang on the wall in Memorial Stadium. It’s claimed that his death was part of what led to the outlawing of the spitball and other trick pitches. Maybe, but baseball was already considering that. It did, apparently, lead to the major leagues replacing soiled baseballs much more frequently during games. Cleveland made the World Series that year, defeating Brooklyn in 7 games (best of nine), a Series most famous for Bill Wambsganss’ unassisted triple play. Cleveland needed a new shortstop. They brought up 21 year old Joey Sewell to replace Chapman. That worked. In 1977 Sewell made the Hall of Fame.

Doc Powers

Doc Powers isn’t as well known as Chapman. His name was Mike and he was a college man, attending Notre Dame and becoming a licensed physician. He got to the majors in 1898 with the Louisville Colonels. In 1899 he was traded to Washington (then a National League city), sat out 1900, and jumped to the American League where he played with the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 into 1909, with a short sidetrip to New York for a few months with the Highlanders (now the Yankees). He was a catcher who put in a little time at first and spent two games in the outfield. He was a decent catcher, backing up the starter in 1902 when the A’s won the AL pennant and went to the World Series when the A’s won a second pennant in1905. He played in three Series games, getting one double in seven at bats. He wasn’t much of a hitter, managing to hit .216 for a career with averages of 18 doubles and 3 triples. His career slugging percentage was .268. On 12 April 1909 he ran into a wall trying to catch a foul pop. He suffered internal injuries that required three surgeries. He developed peritonitis and died 26 April.

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2 Responses to “Requiem”

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    Re: Chapman, spitballs and other trick pitchs had been banned before the 1920 season, except for a few grandfathered pitchers.

    As for Powers, it is worth noting that the game he was hurt in was the first game played at Shibe Park.

  2. verdun2 Says:

    And Mays was one of those “grandfathered” pitchers. I understand Grimes was the last of them active. And I consider the “grandfathering” of pitchers to be part of a process of outlawing trick pitches, a process not yet completed in 1920.
    v

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