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The Joe Cronin Papers – The Mays/Chapman Incident

19th April 2006

Joe Cronin has been talking to me.

So has Jacob Ruppert, Ban Johnson, Connie Mack, and Clark Griffith.

They’ve come to me through letters and telegrams… my early Christmas gift.

I get a fair dose of emails requesting assitance in regards to research, pretty much everyday. And, when Chris Hayward dropped a line asking for some help researching the business of baseball, I thought it would just be more of the same.

I was wrong.

This email came with the subject line: Greetings from Joe Cronin’s Grandson.

There was something you just don’t see everyday.

Hayward writes

A brief introduction if I may. I’m the grandson of
Joe Cronin the HOF’er and as you can imagine, a die
hard Red Sox fan. I have been a huge fan of your
writing and reporting and I read Hardball Times,
Business of Baseball and the many other web pages and
blogs constantly. I recently resigned from my Wall
Street job and am looking to chart my own course in
professional baseball.

Cronin played from 1926-1945, managed from ’37 to ’47, he was the GM of the Red Sox from end of the ’47 season to 1958, and… from 1959 to 1973, he was the president of the American League. He has been enshrined in Cooperstown since 1956.

In other words… Cronin is a legend. He’s one of the few that has covered nearly every aspect of the game at high levels. When you get to talk to blood relatives of people like this it’s always privilege.

What transpired over the course of several emails with Mr. Hayward was he got a little business of baseball knowledge from me (not much, to be really honest in return for what I got) and I got a package that would make any researcher blush.

In the Fed-Ex package sent is several folders jammed with copies of historical documents that Cronin had collected as part of his personal collection. Chris’ gift is a treasure trove for those into the historical aspect of the business of baseball. From Commissioner Reports, to ’46 Radio Contracts, to an investigation into Roger Hornsby and gambling, to stock ownership conflict within the Washington Senators. Chris… a thousand thanks.

But, what I’m going to briefly cover today, is the collection of documents surrounding the Mays/Chapman incident.

On August 16, 1920, the one and only Major League Baseball player to ever be killed by a pitch occurred.

Carl Mays was looking for his 100th win up against the Cleveland Indians, who had spitballer Stan Coveleski on the hill.

In the 5th inning, Ray Chapman came to the plate, crouching and crowding the plate, something that bothered any big-league pitcher.

On a 1-1 pitch, Mays unleashed a fastball high and inside that came directly for Chapman’s head. Chapman never moved, the ball striking him directly in the left side of the head, just above the ear. The ball hit with such force that the ball literally bounced back toward the mound toward Mays. Mays, thinking that the ball must have somehow been hit, tossed the ball to first base for the 1-3 out.

Chapman got off the ground, made two staggering steps toward first, and collapsed on the field, bleeding from his right ear. The umpire called for a doctor, while Tris Speaker who was on-deck rushed to Chapman’s side, along with many players from both teams to try and help him off the field at the Pologrounds, which meant going out through centerfield. He mumbled incoherently to Speaker about telling Mays not to worry, got as far as second base, and collapsed. He was carried off the field on a stretcher, and was rushed to the hospital.

Chapman struggled through the night at the hospital after doctors removed a portion of his skull to decrease the pressure from the blow… it was to no avail. At 4:40am on August 17, Raymond Johnson Chapman died. What followed was an investigation, and near chaotic series of events involving what to do about the incident, and whether Mays had purposely hit Chapman in the head.

As Chapman’s body lay in a New York funeral home, and Carl Mays — visibly shaken from the ordeal — talked to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, players from AL Teams started talking of boycotting any games that Mays was to pitch in.

Teams like the Browns, Senators, Tigers, Red and White Sox all threatened to not take the field should Mays pitch. The Cleveland media got in the act, as well (scans of letters from the Plain Dealer to be forthcoming at a later date).

In the end, cooler heads prevailed. What you see in the images below are some of the telegrams and letters that were circulated between clubs and the American League front office, of which Ban Johnson was presiding. It gives some direct insight into the tensions and the controversy that surrounded the tragic event.

Once again, I owe great thanks to Chris Hayward for providing such a treasure trove of documents. The Joe Cronin Papers will be a continuing series that will appear here on The Baseball Journals, and an archive of all the documents will soon be provided on Business of Baseball.com, as well.

Clicking on the following will show in high resolution:

3 Responses to “The Joe Cronin Papers – The Mays/Chapman Incident”

  1. Baseball_Minutia Says:

    The Chapman beaning is pretty much covered the way you covered it by every writer I’ve ever come across save one, Fred Lieb in his book “Baseball as I have known it” wrote

    “There was a sickening thud as the ball hit the leftside of Chapmans head at the temple. He got up for a few seconds and I could see the left eye hanging from the socket.With a ballplayers instinct he took a few steps towards first and fell in a heap.”

    Which leads to the question is the bolded bit just Lieb’s active imagination and writers flair?

    Or is he the only one telling it like it was?

  2. maury Says:

    Interesting. One would think with something as dramatic as what Lieb published that there would have been extensive writings mentioning as much. (digging into the Cronin Papers… looking to see if there’s anything more direct on this matter).. Nothing in the papers, of which there are a number of personal letters from people asking for Mays to be removed from baseball, that lends itself to Leib’s description. It is, none the less, a dramatic portrayal of the incident.

  3. ocbaseball Says:

    My name is marty and I am doing research on Ray Chapman. The ohio county little league is putting together a committee to construct a six field baseball/softball complex as a memorial for ray chapman with a statute and information center at the entrance of the park. Ray Chapman was born in McHenry, KY which is in ohio county. We feel that Chappy was ON HIS way to highlighting his career before being killed and this memorial would be a great way of honoring a geat legend from our home town. We are going to ask for some large donations from some organizations from Major League Baseball to help give to a worthy and notible cause. If anyone has any contacts or knows of anyone wanting to make a charitable donation or for some useful information to email me at ocbaseball@peoplepc.com
    The memorial park is going to be named
    “The Ray Chapman Bluegrass Memorial Park”
    Thanks to anyone that can help.