Ray Chapman is the only modern major leaguer to have died as a direct result of being hit by a pitch. At the Polo Grounds on August 16, 1920, Chapman, crowding the plate as usual, was struck in the temple by a pitch from Yankee submariner Carl Mays that barely missed the strike zone. Chapman was taken to a hospital, never regained consciousness, and died twelve hours later. Rookie Joe Sewell replaced Chapman at short, beginning a Hall of Fame career. Cleveland players wore black arm bands, and manager Tris Speaker rallied his dejected men to win the first World Championship in club history.
The popular Chapman led the Indians in stolen bases four times, setting a team record with 52 in 1917 that stood until 1980. He led the AL in runs scored and walks in 1918. He was hitting .303 with 97 runs scored when he died. It is baseball analyst Bill James’s opinion that Chapman was “probably destined for the Hall of Fame had he lived.”