One of the qualifications for a Hall of Fame electee is that he must have played for ten seasons. This qualification has been passed over once when former pitcher Addie Joss died while active (he only played nine seasons) from meningitis. Ray Chapman is another player who would have to receive special consideration because he didn’t play ten seasons. He was killed during a game by a pitched ball.
The Indians brought Chapman up in 1912 from Toledo and the young shortstop impressed with a .312 batting average in 31 games. The everyday shortstop in 1913 Chapman led the AL in sacrifice hits (he was the greatest sacrifice man in baseball, currently resting sixth on the all-time list in this category despite playing nine years) making him the ideal number two hitter.
Ray was the AL’s top hitting shortstop in 1915. That year, Chapman finished in a tie for third in the league in triples and was fifth in runs scored. His 36 stolen bases led AL shortstops. Injured for a portion of the 1916 season, Ray rebounded nicely in 1917 when he was the American League’s only .300 hitting shortstop. He was in a class to himself in slugging as well; the only AL shortstop with a slugging percentage above .400. Swift on the basepaths, Ray stole 52 bases (third in the league) while leading the league in his specialty, sacrifices, with a whopping total of 67 (which remains a single season record).
In the war year of 1918, Chapman led the AL with 84 runs and 84 walks. He pushed his on-base percentage up to .390 and notched 35 sacrifices. He was a .300 hitter again in 1919 and led all Major League shortstops in slugging average that season. Although Chapman was coming into his own as an elite shortstop – perhaps the best in baseball at the time – 1919 was his last full season.
Ray stormed into 1920, hitting above .300 with a healthy on-base percentage of .380 and totaling 41 sacrifices. He was the American League’s lone .300 hitting shortstop when tragedy struck. Facing the New York Yankees and their notorious headhunting submariner Carl Mays, Chapman, who was known to crowd the plate, was struck in the head by a Mays pitch. The ball ricocheted off Chapman’s head at such a strong force that Yankee third baseman Aaron Ward fielded it, thinking it was a grounder off Chapman’s bat.
Ray was helped off the field and taken to a hospital. The next day he died. The Indians went on a minor slump before skipper Tris Speaker rallied his troops and took the title, winning the World Series with Chapman’s death heavy on their thoughts.
G 1,050/R 671/H 1,053/2B 162/3B 81/HR 17/RBI 364/SB 233/BA .278/SA .377