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Ray Chapman Dies – Killed by a Pitch – August 17, 1920

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Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians was hit by a pitch that killed him. It was the only fatality caused by a pitched ball in Major League history. The Yankees Carl Mays threw the killer pitch, at the Polo Grounds in New York, on August 16, 1920. He died the following day.

Leading off the 5th inning in New York on 8/16/1920, Ray Chapman, a righthanded batter, took a ball and a strike from pitcher Carl Mays. The third pitch, a rising fastball, from the righthanded submariner struck Chapman in the head with a thunderous crack. The ball rolled toward third base, where Mays, believing the ball hit Chapman’s bat handle, fielded it and threw to first. Yankees manager Miller Huggins and the Indians Ray Caldwell both said that Chapman ducked into the pitch.

Chapman immediately dropped in the batter’s box, bleeding from his left ear. Umpire Tom Connolly called for medical assistance. Several doctors from the stands attended to the fallen player. Chapman responded after several minutes and was assisted by two teammates to the clubhouse in centerfield; however, Chapman collapsed again on the field and was quickly carried to the clubhouse and whisked away to St. Lawrence Hospital in Manhattan.
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Ray Chapman, star shortstop for nine seasons with the Cleveland Indians, might have ended up in the Hall of Fame had he not been fatally injured by a Carl Mays fastball at the Polo Grounds on August 16, 1920. An ideal number two hitter who crowded the plate, the 5′ 10″, 170-pound Chapman led the league in sacrifice hits three times. His total of 67 sacrifices in 1917 is a major league record, and he stands in sixth place on the all-time career list with 334. Chapman was also a legitimate offensive force in his own right: the right-handed batter led Cleveland in runs scored three times during his career, and paced the entire American League in runs and walks in 1918, with 84 of each. He also led the Indians in stolen bases five times, and his 52 thefts in 1917 remained the franchise record until 1980. In addition to his offensive skills, Chapman was also an excellent fielder who led the American League in putouts three times and assists once. Put it all together, and Chapman was, in the view of the Cleveland News, the “greatest shortstop, that is, considering all-around ability, batting, throwing, base-running, bunting, fielding and ground covering ability, to mention nothing of his fight, spirit and conscientiousness, ever to wear a Cleveland uniform.”
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