AKA Raymond Johnson Chapman
Birthplace: McHenry, KY
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Accident - Misc
Remains: Buried, Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, OH
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Baseball, Victim
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Fatally hit by pitch
Military service: Naval Auxiliary Reserve (1918, Seaman 2nd Class)
Ray Chapman was the only professional baseball player to be killed by a pitched ball. An outstanding shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, Chapman was the leadoff batter in the top of the fifth inning in a game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds in New York City on 16 August 1920. He was 0-for-1 on the day but batting .304 on the season, and the count was one ball, one strike, as he leaned in near the plate. New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays (1891-1971), using his distinctive underhand style, tossed a fast spitball that came high and inside, breaking Chapman's cranium with an audible pop. The ball dribbled toward Mays, who fielded it and threw to the first baseman before realizing that the sound he had heard was not the crack of the bat.
Chapman fell to the ground, blood rushing from his ear, and remained motionless in the dirt for several minutes. He then struggled to his feet with teammates' assistance, and took a few halting steps toward the clubhouse before collapsing again. After that he never regained consciousness, and died at St. Lawrence Hospital the following morning. According to news accounts, the pitched ball had left a 3½-inch depressed fracture in his skull.
Chapman's death led to two rule changes the following season. The spitball was banned, although established pitchers who threw spitters were given a "grandfather clause" and permitted to continue pitching spitballs for the remainder of their careers. It was thought that Chapman must have been unable to see the ball clearly as it approached, so the other rule change instructed umpires to replace the game ball whenever it became soiled and less than brilliantly white -- an expense that team owners had previously resisted. Batting helmets were not required until 1971.
In Chapman's last game, play resumed after the ambulance left. He was replaced by pinch-runner Harry Lunte (1892-1965), who was forced out at second base on the next play, but the Indians won the game, 4-3. Mays was exonerated of any wrongdoing after a brief inquest by the Homicide Bureau of the District Attorney's office. Chapman's wife, pregnant at the time of his death, remarried two years later and killed herself by drinking poison in 1928. Their daughter died in a measles outbreak the following spring.
Father: Everette Chapman (miner)
Mother: Barbara Johnson Chapman
Brother: Roy Chapman
Sister: Margaret Chapman
Wife: Kathleen Daly Chapman (m. 1919, d. 1928 suicide)
Daughter: Rae-Marie Chapman (b. 1920, d. 1929 measles)
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