The Yankees' Role in Baseball's Only on Field Fatality
Aug 15, 2020 | By: Robert Brezinski
August 17 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Cleveland Indians' shortstop Ray Chapman from being struck in the head with a pitch. What you may not know is that the New York Yankees played a very prominent part in this real life Greek tragedy.
The Indians were facing the Yankees at the Polo Grounds on the afternoon of Monday August 16. 21,000 fans saw Cleveland ace Stan Coveleski lock horns with Yankee right hander Carl Mays.
The Indians would get out to a 3-0 lead. They would come to bat in the top of the fifth when Chapman stepped up to the plate. The stage was set for what was to come.
Chapman, a right handed hitter, stood right on top of home plate. Mays was a hard thrower who had a submarine style delivery.
There were two other factors that came into play: One, it was a gray, cloudy day; two, the ball pitched was scuffed and dirty. Back then, the same baseball was used for the entire game.
Mays delivered one that came up and in on Chapman, crashing against his left temple.
It hit Chapman so hard that it rolled out to the mound. Thinking Chapman had hit it, Mays picked up the ball and threw to first. Chapman however was on his knees bleeding from his left ear.
He tried to walk off the field, but he collapsed and had to be carried off where he lost consciousness and was eventually rushed to a hospital.
Surgery was performed where they discovered a 3.5 inch fracture of his skull. It looked like the surgery would work, but sadly it didn't. At 4:40 a.m. on Tuesday August 17, Ray Chapman was dead at just 29 years of age. The Manhattan District Attorney's office actually did an investigation before declaring Chapman's death an accident.
Many baseball historians believe this incident has kept Mays out of the Hall of Fame.
As a result of Chapman's death, Major League Baseball immediately ruled that umpires must replace all dirty baseballs with brand new clean ones. In addition, trick pitches like the spitball were also banned after the season. Unfortunately, batting helmets would not arrive for another thirty years or so.
It's been said that when you go to the ballpark, you're liable to see something that you never before in your life. No doubt those fans who were there that day wished they hadn't witnessed baseball's only on field fatality.