Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #24 Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman in 1917 - ootpdevelopments.com

And now we arrive at one the most heartbreaking stories in our countdown, the great shortstop this franchise had in the 1910s, Ray Chapman.

Raymond Johnson Chapman

Shortstop, 1912-1920

Height: 5'10" Weight: 170 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Purchased from Davenport (IA) Prodigals (Three-I, B), June 30, 1911

Chapman was born in 1891 in Beaver Dam, Kentucky. In 1905, the family moved to Herrin, Illinois. He worked various odd jobs around town, including some time in the local mines. At the age of 18, he got his first shot at a baseball career as a semi-pro player in the nearby town of Mount Vernon. The following year of 1910, he got a shot with the Springfield (IL) Senators in the Triple I League (Class B). He played every position except the battery and showed off his speed. At some point he ended up with the Davenport (IA) Prodigals in the same league that year.

In 1911, Chapman played a fulltime with Davenport, with his speed resulting in 50 steals and a .293 average. On June 30, the Naps purchased his contract and at the very end of the season bumped him up to the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association (Class A). He shined in those 16 games, hitting .371.

Chapman reported back to Toledo for his age 21 season in 1912. After hitting .310 and slugging .415 with 13 triples, 49 steals and 104 runs scored, he earned a call-up to the Naps on August 30. The Naps however already had two shortstops on the major league roster. The first was Ivy Olson, who became the starter for 1911 after taking over for Terry Turner who had moved to third after Bill Bradley left. The other shortstop was Roger Peckinpaugh, another 21 year old, who was a favorite of manager Harry Davis.

Fortune smiled on Chapman as two days after his call-up, center fielder Joe Birmingham took over as player-manager. Birmingham was not enamored with Peckinpaugh's 212/262/250 line. He also was not a fan of Olson as he was fighting off injuries and had 27 errors in just 56 games that year. So he tried Chapman for the final month. He took full advantage, hitting 312/375/422 (OPS+), with the Naps winning 22 of their final 31 games, including 12 sacrifices.

In 1913, Birmingham stuck with Chapman at short, and he was adequate. He hit 258/322/341 (91 OPS+), stealing 29 bags and showing off his bunting ability, leading the league with 45 sacrifice hits. His glove was not as good as he was third in league in errors. He broke his leg in the spring of 1914 and only ended up in 106 games. But he was very effective when he returned. He hit 275/358/387 (121 OPS+) with 24 steals. The Naps however, struggled mightily that year, finishing 51-102 in Nap Lajoie's final season in Cleveland.

1915 was not much better for the now Indians as they finished 57-95 (with Birmingham losing his job to Lee Fohl after 28 games). But Chapman was one of the few bright spots. He hit 270/353/370 (115 OPS+), with 17 triples and 36 steals. He also scored 101 runs, with his nearest teammate at a mere 42. He had also improved immensely on defense, even with the third most errors, he led the league in putouts and range factor and finishing second in fielding percentage. He was so widely regarded, the Chicago White Sox tried desperately to trade for him, but the Indians traded them Shoeless Joe Jackson instead.

1916 was a lost season for Chapman as he played through many leg ailments, only playing 109 games and a 231/330/289 82 OPS+ line. He did have 40 sacrifices as well, second in league. After a .500 season in 1916, the Tribe improved to 88-66, third in league, although a distant 15 games behind the White Sox. Chapman was healthy and very effective once again. He hit 302/370/409 131 OPS+, 52 steals (including four of home in September), 28 doubles, 13 triples and 98 runs scored. And he did all that while setting a still standing record of 67 sacrifices in a season. He also led the league in putouts, assists, range factor and was second in fielding percentage for a robust 6.8 WAR. In a late season exhibition game against the Boston Braves, he was timed rounding the bases in 14 seconds.

In 1918, Chapman's average dipped to .267, but he still had a 115 OPS+ as he led the league in walks with 84 and also led the league in runs scored with 84 as well with 35 sacrifices. The Tribe finished second in a war-shortened season. Chapman served in the Navy Auxiliary Reserve in the Great Lakes, captaining the baseball and football squads as was timed doing a 10.0 100 yard dash. In 1919, his average rebounded, finishing at 300/351/420 111 OPS+ and leading the league again with 50 sacrifices. The Tribe had their best season ever, finishing 84-55, but 3.5 games back of the Black Sox.

But 1919 was even a better year for Chapman personally. He married Kathleen Daly, daughter of the president of the East Ohio Gas Company. His father in-law had already gotten him a job as secretary-treasurer for the Pioneer Alloys. He seriously considered retiring. However, his best man at the wedding was Tris Speaker, his best friend, teammate since 1916 and named player-manager near the end of 1919. Speaker coaxed him to come back as the Indians were looking to achieve their first pennant.

And as Chapman was still in his prime at 29, his numbers in 1920 were still very good, especially for a shortstop. He hit 303/380/423, 109 OPS+, scoring 97 runs and had another 41 sacrifices in the midst of a tight pennant race. The Tribe led the Yankees by just half a game and were deadlocked with the White Sox entering the Monday afternoon game at the Polo Grounds. The Indians sent Stan Coveleski out to face Carl Mays, who was 18-8, in order to try to extend their lead over the Yankees. Mays was not a popular player around the league, even by his teammates. He also threw submarine style and liked to brush batters off the plate.

During this era, it was not uncommon for a single ball to last multiple innings. This was partly due to a league mandate not to get rid of any balls unless they were severely cut and considered dangerous. Many pitchers added their spit or tobacco juice to discolor it. Some would deliberately scuff, sandpaper or even spike the ball.

The day was dark and rainy and the game had just entered the top of the fifth and in the late afternoon. Chapman loved to crowd the plate, in order to lay down a sacrifice or try and push the ball down the first base line. Mays knew this and threw a fastball high and tight. It appears Chapman never saw the pitch as he never moved and the fastball hit his skull with a sickening thud. The ball rebounded back to Mays who tossed to Wally Pipp at first, thinking it was a weak grounder.

Chapman slumped to his knees, blood pouring from his left ear. Umpire Tommy Connolly called out to the grandstand, looking for a doctor while Speaker, in the on-deck circle, rushed to his friend. The Yankee team physician and another man from the stands applied some ice and he regained a bit of consciousness. He was escorted towards the clubhouse in center when his knees buckled a second time just past second base. Jack Graney and another teammate carried him off the field.

The teams completed the game, with the Tribe winning 4-3, and Chapman was transferred to nearby St. Lawrence hospital. Doctors removed part of his fractured skull to relieve some of the pressure. He also had a concussion and was also rumored to have a broken neck. His pregnant wife Kathleen was summoned but did not arrive in New York in time as he passed away at 4:40 AM.

As Kathleen, Speaker and Smoky Joe Wood accompanied Chapman's body back to Cleveland, the news of his passing spread quickly throughout the league. Many players, with Ty Cobb being the most vocal called for Mays to be banned. That never came to fruition, but Mays did skip the late season visit to League Park. Just four days later, his service at St. John's Cathedral was attended by thousands.

The Indians lost eight of their next eleven games to no surprise and fell 2.5 games back. But with the team wearing black armbands in Chapman's honor, Speaker and his teammates rallied to finish on a 24-8 kick, finishing two games ahead of the Black Sox (who lost most of the team to the scandal). They would go on to claim their first World Championship, with the team giving Kathleen a full share of their winnings.

Mays would vocally state that he never threw at Chapman intentionally, and kept that stance even until his death. Kathleen, once a huge baseball fan, never attended another game. She gave birth to their daughter Rae-Marie the following February. She remarried two years later to a cousin, and eventually passed away in 1928 from swallowing a poisonous fluid. It was never proven to be suicide, but she was recovering from a nervous breakdown at the time. Rae-Marie would then live with her grandmother, but also passed away shortly thereafter during the measles epidemic in 1929.

Many baseball historians believe had Chapman lived (and continued his career without retiring as he was most likely going to do) he would have been a Hall of Famer. As it was, there was a bronze plaque dedicated to him and displayed at League Park shortly after his death. It was moved to Municipal Stadium but mysteriously vanished at some point. In February 2007, Jacobs field employees found the plaque in a storage room. It had been discovered when the team was moving out of Municipal Stadium, but boxed with various other artifacts. The plaque was barely legible and was promptly restored. It is now prominently displayed in Heritage Park. Chapman was inducted into the Cleveland Hall of Fame in 2006.

Sources

SABR Biography (Don Jensen); The Cleveland Indians Encyclopedia, Russ Schneider; Wikipedia

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB HBP SH Pos
1912 21 CLE AL 31 132 109 29 34 6 3 0 19 10 5 10 13 .312 .375 .422 .797 125 46 1 12 6
1913 22 CLE AL 141 601 508 78 131 19 7 3 39 29 46 51 .258 .322 .341 .662 91 173 2 45 *6/O
1914 23 CLE AL 106 442 375 59 103 16 10 2 42 24 9 48 48 .275 .358 .387 .745 121 145 1 18 64
1915 24 CLE AL 154 669 570 101 154 14 17 3 67 36 15 70 82 .270 .353 .370 .723 115 211 3 26 *6
1916 25 CLE AL 109 436 346 50 80 10 5 0 27 21 14 50 46 .231 .330 .289 .619 82 100 1 40 654
1917 26 CLE AL 156 693 563 98 170 28 13 2 36 52 61 65 .302 .370 .409 .779 131 230 0 67 *6
1918 27 CLE AL 128 571 446 84 119 19 8 1 32 35 84 46 .267 .390 .352 .742 115 157 6 35 *6/O
1919 28 CLE AL 115 518 433 75 130 23 10 3 53 18 31 38 .300 .351 .420 .772 111 182 3 50 *6
1920 29 CLE AL 111 530 435 97 132 27 8 3 49 13 9 52 38 .303 .380 .423 .803 109 184 2 41 *6
9 Yrs 1051 4592 3785 671 1053 162 81 17 364 238 52 452 427 .278 .358 .377 .735 111 1428 19 334
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/5/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL WAR: 6th, 1917-7.8
  • AL WAR Position Players: 2nd, 1917-7.8; 9th, 1915-4.3
  • AL oWAR: 3rd, 1917-6.8; 5th, 1915-5.1; 6th, 1918-4.7
  • AL dWAR: 3rd, 1917-2.2; 6th, 1920-1.4; 7th, 1913-1.0
  • AL Average: 10th, 1917-.302
  • AL On Base Percentage: 8th, 1917-.370; 8th, 1918-.390
  • AL Slugging: 9th, 1917-.409
  • AL OPS: 8th, 1917-.779
  • AL Runs Scored: 1st, 1918-84; 3rd, 1917-98; 5th, 1915-101; 10th, 1920-97
  • AL Hits: 8th, 1917-170
  • AL TB: 8th, 1917-230; 10th, 1915-211
  • AL 2B: 9th, 1917-28
  • AL 3B: 3rd, 1915-17; 4th, 1917-13
  • AL Bases on Balls: 1st, 1918-84; 8th, 1915-70
  • AL Strikeouts: 2nd, 1915-82; 4th, 1917-65; 5th, 1918-46
  • AL Stolen Bases: 3rd, 1917-52; 3rd, 1918-35; 7th, 1915-25
  • AL OPS+: 10th, 1917-131
  • AL Runs Created: 5th, 1917-85; 8th, 1915-75; 10th, 1918-60
  • AL Extra base Hits: 6th, 1917-43
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 5th, 1918-6
  • AL Sacrifice Hits: 1st, 1913-45; 1st, 1917-67; 1st, 1919-50; 2nd, 1916-40; 2nd, 1918-35; 4th, 1920-41; 6th, Career-334
  • AL Assists: 1st, 1917-528; 4th, 1918-398; 5th, 1915-469
  • AL Errors: 2nd, 1917-59; 2nd, 1918-50; 3rd, 1913-48; 3rd, 1915-50
  • AL Putouts as SS: 1st, 1915-378; 1st, 1917-360; 1st, 1918-321; 4th, 1913-299; 5th, 1919-255; 5th, 1920-243
  • AL Assists as SS: 1st, 1917-528; 3rd, 1918-398; 4th, 1913-408; 4th, 1915-469; 5th, 1919-347
  • AL Errors as SS: 2nd, 1917-59; 2nd, 1918-49; 3rd, 1913-48; 3rd, 1915-50
  • AL Double Plays Turned as SS: 2nd, 1917-71; 4th, 1919-46; 5th, 1913-59; 5th, 1918-46; 5th, 1920-45
  • AL Range Factor/Game SS: 1st, 1915-5.50; 1st, 1917-5.69; 1st, 1920-5.53; 3rd, 1918-5.62; 4th, 1919-5.23
  • AL Fielding Percentage as SS: 2nd, 1915-.944; 2nd, 1917-.938; 2nd, 1919-.944; 3rd, 1920-.959; 4th, 1918-.936; 5th, 1913-.936

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 18th WAR Position Players (29.0)
  • 11th oWAR (32.3)
  • 23rd dWAR (4.3)
  • 43rd On Base Percentage (.358)
  • 26th Games Played (1051)
  • 25th At Bats (3785)
  • 23rd Plate Appearances (4592)
  • 16th Runs Scored (671)
  • t-27th Hits (1053)
  • t-36th Total Bases (1428)
  • t-42nd Doubles (162)
  • 6th Triples (81)
  • 20th Bases On Balls (452)
  • 31st Strikeouts (427)
  • 5th Stolen Bases (238)
  • 21st Singles (793)
  • t-33rd Runs Created (510)
  • 44th Extra Base Hits (260)
  • 1st Sacrifice Hits (334)
  • t-13th Caught Stealing (52)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-15th WAR Position Players (7.8, 1917)
  • t-23rd oWAR Position Players (6.8, 1917)
  • t-19th dWAR Position Players (2.2, 1917)
  • t-41st Plate Appearances (693, 1917)
  • t-11th Triples (17, 1915)
  • t-29th Triples (12, 1917)
  • t-8th Stolen Bases (52, 1917)
  • t-27th Stolen Bases (36, 1915)
  • t-33rd Stolen Bases (35, 1918)
  • 1st Sacrifice Hits (67, 1917)
  • 3rd Sacrifice Hits (50, 1919)
  • 5th Sacrifice Hits (45, 1913)
  • t-8th Sacrifice Hits (41, 1920)
  • t-10th Sacrifice Hits (40, 1916)
  • t-13th Sacrifice Hits (35, 1918)
  • t-37th Sacrifice Hits (26, 1915)
  • t-23rd Caught Stealing (15, 1915)
  • t-31st Caught Stealing (14, 1916)

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