Monday, August 16th,
1920 was a typical sweltering summer day in New York. As the Yankees and
Indians prepared to clash with each other at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan,
both teams were in desperate need of wins. It was an overcast day, with
the field conditions being on the wet side as a result of high humidity
Starting pitchers would be Stan Coveleski for Cleveland, who was having
a terrific year vs. the surly Carl Mays, who was going for his 100th win
that afternoon. Mays' battery mate would be Muddy Ruel. The two-man umpire
unit was led by Tommy Connolly. Attendance was about 22,000.
The Indians opened the scoring in the second
inning on a home run to left by Catcher Steve O'Neil. The Yankees on the
other hand were having major problems with spit baller Coveleski. In the
4th inning Cleveland logged in with two more runs, one when Ruel dropped
the ball on a play at the plate, and a sac-fly by Coveleski.
Then came the fateful fifth inning. Chapman
led off. To this point he was 0 for 1 with a sacrifice bunt in the first
inning. He had popped-up to Wally Pipp in the third. Chapman stepped in
against Mays. Chapman's crouching stance was the kind that crowded the
plate and annoyed pitchers like Mays. Chapman though had never ever hit
The count ran to a ball and a strike......Mays then let loose with a high
The ball sailed directly toward Chapman's head. Instead of ducking, Chapman
remained in his crouch-- he seemed to be almost transfixed by the ball.
The ball hit Chapman flush on the left side of the head above the ear.
The recoil from the ball striking Chapman's
skull made it seem like it had hit the bat. The ball actually rolled back
toward the mound, and Mays, thinking that it had hit Chapman's bat, threw
the ball to first base. Chapman got up, took two staggering steps down
the first base line then crumpled to a heap on the ground. Umpire Connolly
noticed that blood was flowing out of the Clevelander's right ear and
immediately ran to the stands and began shouting for a doctor. Tris Speaker
who had been on-deck rushed to his friend's side, as did the whole Cleveland
club and a good majority of the Yankees. The whole time, Mays stayed on
"Chappie" was conscious but unstable.
He tried to speak but no words came out of his mouth. He struggled to
his feet and attempted to walk back toward the clubhouse, which in the
Polo Grounds was located in straight away centerfield. A long walk for
the injured Chapman. Just before "Chappie" reached second base
he collapsed. He was then carried off the field.
In the visitor's clubhouse, Chapman was not doing well at all, and an
ambulance was summoned. Chapman attempted to put a few words together.
"I'm all right; tell Mays not to worry." He also kept mumbling
for "ring....Katie's ring," in reference to his wedding band.
The trainer retrieved the ring and put it in his hand. From all accounts
of those present, it seemed to bring Ray some solace before he lapsed
into a coma.
In the meantime, the game continued. Mays
asked for a new ball before he pitched to Speaker, the next batter up.
New York continued to struggle against Coveleski! Huggins pinch hit Sammy
Vick for Mays in the bottom of the eighth inning. Vick singled. The Yanks
finally got to Coveleski in the bottom of the ninth scoring three runs
but it was a case of too little too late.
Chapman was rushed to St. Lawrence hospital
in Manhattan. His condition continued to deteriorate. Speaker had spoken
by telephone with Katie to inform her of the accident. She then immediately
boarded a train for New York to be with her ailing husband. At around
10 PM, as Chapman continued to grow worse, a decision was finally made
to operate. The procedure was performed by Dr. T.M. Merrigan. The operation
began at 12:30 AM and lasted just a little over an hour. A three-and-a-half
inch piece of skull was removed from Chapman's left side. It was found
that he had injuries to both sides of the brain. There was also severe
blood clotting and damage to his sinuses. The outlook was not good.
His teammates and many Yankee players were
at the hospital waiting it out. They went back to their hotel rooms with
a promise of hope, because they had received the good news that his breathing
and pulse had improved.
It was a false hope though. His condition started to go downhill again
after 3 AM. Raymond Johnson Chapman breathed his last breath at 4:40 AM,
on August 17th, 1920. He was only 31 years old.
His wife arrived in New York at 10 that
morning. She was met at the station by a priest friend of Ray's from Philadelphia.
From there they went to the Ansonia Hotel where Tris Speaker was waiting
(the Ansonia Hotel was the same hotel that the plot for throwing the 1919
World Series was hatched). When he broke the news to her, she fainted.
Oh yes, we forgot to mention that Katie Chapman was also pregnant, so
there was some major concern over her condition.