Baseball’s only player game death resulted from injury 100 years ago

Ray Chapman of the Indians in an undated photo. The Yankees' Carl Mays, who hit him, was a known headhunter, but Chapman's spikes may have caught in the dirt, keeping him from dodging the pitch.

Ray Chapman of the Indians in an undated photo. The Yankees’ Carl Mays, who hit him, was a known headhunter, but Chapman’s spikes may have caught in the dirt, keeping him from dodging the pitch.

Raymond Johnson Chapman, a shortstop for the Cleveland baseball team once known as the Naps and later renamed the Indians, was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, and died 12 hours later.

Chapman remains the only Major League Baseball player to have died from an injury received at an official game.

A pitch by Carl Mays on August 16, 1920, in a game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds struck Chapman during the top of the fifth inning, in the late afternoon. Chapman then took three or four steps before he collapsed.

Eyewitnesses recounted that Chapman never moved out of the way of the pitch, presumably unable to see the ball.

Believing the ball hit the handle of Chapman’s bat, Mays fielded the rebound and tossed it to first base.

Yankees Manager Miller Huggins told the New York Times he believed Chapman’s left foot may have caught in the ground in a manner that prevented him from stepping out of the ball’s way.

The year of Chapman’s death, Cleveland went on to defeat the Brooklyn Robins to win the first of their two World Series titles.

Chapman was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in 2006.

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 putouts three times and assists once.

He batted .300 three times, and led his team 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 on August 17, 1920. He was one of the few players whom Ty Cobb considered a friend.


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