Ray Chapman and the Whole Pivotal 1920 Season

by Nicholas Frankovich

Let not this weekend of August 16–17 pass without some remembrance of Ray Chapman. Ninety-four years ago today, the Cleveland Indians shortstop died at St. Lawrence Hospital in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. The day before, he was hit in the head by a pitch at the Polo Grounds. He is the only player in MLB history to die from an injury sustained on the field.

The 1920 season unfolded as one long pivotal moment in baseball history. The Black Sox scandal, which happened the previous fall, was gradually coming to light. It led to the major-league owners’ appointment of the first commissioner of baseball; Kensaw Mountain Landis took office in November. In hindsight, 1920 stands out also for being Ruth’s first season in a New York uniform. He was in right field when Chapman was struck down. I suppose you could multiply the events worth noting.

For a detailed but lucid account of “the pitch that killed” and of the whole busy season, off the field as well as on it, read this classic by Mike Sowell. The writing is almost flawless. You should be able to inhale it in a single sitting, maybe two.

 

 

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.