CLEVELAND — Nearly 100 years later, Cleveland Indians fans continue to pay tribute to Raymond Chapman, the only major league player to die during a game as a result of being hit in the head by a pitched baseball.
Every year before the home opener, it has become tradition to leave items at Lake View Cemetery on the grave of Chapman, a shortstop for the Indians between 1912 and 1920, according to the cemetery's Facebook page.
Chapman was born in Beaver Dam, Kentucky in 1891 and grew up in Herrin Illinois, according to Case Western Reserve University’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History . He played for the Toledo Mud Hens in 1911 before his contract was purchased by Cleveland in 1912.
“More interested in team wins than his own accomplishments, Chapman led the league in sacrifice hits 3 years, setting a major-league record with 67 sacrifices in 1917,” the encyclopedia states.
He had a team record of 55 stolen bases that stood until 1980, with Miguel Dilone’s mark of 61.
While playing at the New York Polo Grounds on Aug. 16, 1920, Chapman was hit in the head by a baseball pitched by Carl Mays, an underhand Yankee pitcher, according to CWRU. Chapman died at a New York hospital 12 hours later.
Chapman’s funeral at St. John’s Cathedral was one of Cleveland’s largest. His teammates dedicated the season to him, and went on to win the league and world championships for the first time.