#Shortstops: Chapman tragedy documented with Museum artifact

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Jordan Cohn

Carl Mays picked up the dribbling ball and fired to first baseman Wally Pipp, assuming he had recorded the first out of the inning. But as Pipp received the throw, it was clear nobody was concerned with the game anymore.

Instead, everyone watched in horror as Ray Chapman collapsed to the ground at home plate after what fans called an “explosive sound” rang throughout the stadium; Yankees right fielder Babe Ruth claims he heard the sound quite clearly from around 250 feet away.

Chapman was slowly lifted to his feet and escorted off the field by teammates. He would pass away in the hospital less than a day later, on the morning of Aug. 17, 1920.

Many people know this tragic story of Chapman’s death, still the only time in history when a player has died as the result of an MLB game. Mays had hit Chapman in the skull with a pitch, and though this had occurred previously throughout baseball’s history, the consequences were never fatal. A ball from Mays’ next start on Aug. 23, 1920, was signed by the Yankees’ Mays and Ruth and is now a part of the Hall of Fame collection.

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Mays was reportedly visibly shaken due to the accident. Many fans and players alike called for his banishment from baseball, and some Indians players refused to hit against him. However, he went on record on the incident, saying: “…because a terrible accident has happened does not relieve me from the responsibility I owe to continue pitching . . . I have long since ceased to care what most people think about me.”

Perhaps it was this attitude that allowed Mays to continue throughout the course of the season. After a week’s rest, Mays threw a complete game shutout on Aug. 23, 1920, and finished out the 1920 season strongly, going 8-2 with a 2.07 ERA the rest of the season, only hitting one batter. Mays continued to be a successful pitcher after the accident, winning an MLB-best 27 games in 1921 and finishing his 15-year career with a record of 207-126 and a 2.92 ERA.

Mays continued to feel remorseful for the accident, recalling the episode as one which he would regret more than any other event in his career.


Jordan Cohn was a 2018 programming intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series