The Obit For Sam Chapman
Chapman, former top athlete, dies at 90
Sam Chapman of Tiburon, the noted former Philadelphia
Athletics outfielder and legendary Cal football star, died in his sleep
at home Friday.
"All I can say is what a wonderful man he was. He was a hell of an athlete," said former New York Yankees pitcher Art Schallock of Sonoma, Mr. Chapman's friend and teammate with the Pacific Coast League's Oakland Oaks.
"Sam was a very confident player, although very quiet and never one to rah-rah. He was very calm and extremely humble," said Perry Conner of Walnut Creek, a friend and teammate at Cal. "Athletically, he was a tough cookie. He blocked beautifully, but he could also run with the ball and he could kick."
The city of Tiburon, where Mr. Chapman was born and raised and continued to live after his career, is erecting a statue of him in his honor at the Ferry Plaza.
Nicknamed "The Tiburon Terror," Mr. Chapman
was a five-sport letterman at Tamalpais High School before leading Cal's
"Thunder Team" in 1938 to the Bears' last Rose Bowl win as an
All-American halfback. He also was an All-American baseball player at
Cal and played 11 seasons with the A's and the Cleveland Indians before
ending his professional baseball career with
Those feats were overshadowed in 1941 because it was the same year Joe DiMaggio compiled his major-league record 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams batted .406, the last player to bat .400 in a single season.
Mr. Chapman has been inducted into the Marin Athletic Hall of Fame, Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame and Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society "Wall of Fame."
Legendary A's manager Connie Mack signed him to his first contract upon the recommendation in a letter from Detroit Tigers outfielder and future Hall-of-Famer Ty Cobb. It was mid-season 1938 after Mr. Chapman graduated from Cal. He had never seen a major league game. He was 6-foot, 180 pounds, considered big and strong in that era.
"He thought he was going to meet Mr. Mack and be told what minor league team to go play for," said Chris Chapman, one of Sam's four children. "Mr. Mack said, 'So you're the left-handed outfielder from California.' Dad said, 'No sir. I'm the right-handed shortstop from California.' Mack said, 'Oh, well. You're starting in centerfield today.'"
In his first major league game, Mr. Chapman made a less than auspicious debut. He was wearing flip-down sunglasses and he got tangled up with them trying to catch a flyball in the outfield. He dropped the pop fly, picked up the ball and threw it to third base. The ball soared over the third baseman's head and landed about 15 rows up in the stands.
"When he went into the dugout" after the inning, Mr. Mack said, 'Don't worry, son. You have a good arm anyway,'" Chris Chapman said.
"From that day, he did a good job. He was kind of down," said Dario Lodigiani, Mr. Chapman's teammate and roommate with the A's. "Once he established himself, he was as good an outfielder and hitter as there was in the league."
Professional football was an option for Mr. Chapman, too. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins and, while with the Philadelphia A's, the Detroit Tigers tried to trade for him so he could play baseball for them in the summer and football for the Detroit Lions in the fall. He missed three seasons of pro baseball while serving as a Navy pilot and instructor during World War II.
Mr. Chapman's legend was born in the sand lots of Tiburon in a ballfield nicknamed "The Rockpile." Schallock recalls pitching there for the Mill Valley Merchants in a semipro game against Mr. Chapman, who slugged a tape-measure home run.
"In left field, there were some (railroad) box cars and he hit a ball off me over them," Schallock said, chuckling. "I've never forgiven him for that."
In lieu of flowers, Calen Chapman, Mr. Chapman's daughter, asked that donations be sent to the Sam Chapman Statue Fund, P.O. Box 1182, Belvedere-Tiburon 94920.
The Chapman family is considering having a public memorial service for their father in January.