On this day in 1920, Carl Mays hit Ray Chapman in the head with a baseball pitch. Chapman died as a result the following day. It was ruled an accident, but that isn’t quite right. Mays felt that Chapman was hogging the plate and threw the ball to chase him back. Chapman apparently didn’t see the ball. At that time, part of the game was muddying up the ball so it was hard to see. Chapman is the only man in MLB who ever died directly as a result of an on-field injury.
There are two other notable cases. In 1909, Doc Powers crashed into a wall while chasing a foul ball. He sustained internal injuries and had to be operated on. But he got an infection and died two weeks later. John Lewis Dodge was in MLB, but by 1916, he was playing in the minors. He was hit in the face by Tom Rogers. The two of them were friends, and Rogers apparently never got over it.
Carl Mays didn’t seemed to be too bothered by killing Ray Chapman. He seems to have had his own problems. He grew up in a religious home and his Methodist minister father died when Carl was just 12 years old. He was something of a loner, and not well liked by those around him. He was particularly known for pitching inside. But the season after the death of Chapman, Mays posted his best stats.
There’s no question but that Mays should be in the Hall of Fame. The reason he isn’t is because he didn’t make many friends and he killed Ray Chapman. But I still maintain that the Hall of Fame is a crock. Inclusion shouldn’t be a question of someone’s personality — especially when Ty Cobb is included. As for Ray Chapman, well, he was quite a good player, but almost certainly never would have made it into the Hall of Fame. Although his death certainly should be.