August 17 in Sports History

In 1920: Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians died from being hit by a pitch in a game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds the day before. Crowding the plate as usual, the popular shortstop was struck in the temple (players did not start wearing helmets until the 1950’s) by a fastball from submariner (a distinct sidearm pitching style) Carl Mays. Chapman never regained consciousness and died 12 hours later. It was the only on-field fatality in Major League history. Baseball historians have suggested that in terms of popularity, Chapman’s death would be the modern equivalent of a player like Derek Jeter being killed on the field. Joe Sewell would replace Chapman in the lineup and would go on to have a Hall of Fame career himself. The Indians would rally, however, and win their first World Series in October.

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