History and Tragedy: Peter Gray and Ray Chapman

History Tragedy Gray Chapman

In professional sports, fans will almost always remember who the champions are and were. But how many remember the strange moments of professional sports—the weird, odd, bizarre, sometimes criminal? And, athletes that left their mark out of the ordinary?

Taking a look back throughout the history of professional sports over the next few days, you’ll read about some of the moments and people in sports that have come and gone. Some we don’t often speak about. We begin in baseball, where believe it or not, there was a pro player who made the major leagues without a right arm.

You might remember former major leaguer Jim Abbott. He had a fine career with several teams pitching without the use of his right hand—which he was born without. But we are talking about a man who played one season in 1945 for the St. Louis Browns. Peter Gray, unlike Abbott, was involved in a truck accident in 1923 in which he suffered severe damage to his right arm. So severe that it had to be amputated above the elbow.

Still, he managed to play baseball learning how to bat with just one hand. And in the field, just as Jim Abbott did many years later, would make use of his glove then remove it to throw. All in one fluid motion.

That season, Gray hit just.218 while knocking in 13 runs. But he would make his mark in the sports world, accomplishing something not seen again until 1989. Until Abbott made his pro debut with the California Angels. Gray would live a long life, born in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1915 and passing in 2002 at the age of 87 in that very same town.

A man by the name of Ray Chapman, on the other hand, who also played Major League Baseball, had a much shorter life. Chapman became the only player in pro baseball history to actually perish on the field itself. That’s because on August 17, 1920, the Cleveland Indians shortstop was facing New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. On that day, Mays threw a pitch to Chapman that went awry and plugged the Indian infielder in the head.

Eyewitness reports say that Mays had thought the ball actually hit Chapman’s bat. That the sound of the ball hitting the batter’s skull was so loud it sounded like a batted ball. Mays fielded the ball and threw to first base and then observed Chapman in trouble at the plate. He didn’t move. He didn’t even flinch, with people attributing his lack of reaction to the common practice in the 1920s—the use of spitballs and other techniques to alter the ball’s course on a pitched delivery.

Observers believe that Mays had “dirtied the ball” before the pitch, making it hard to see. Thus, why Chapman never moved. Ray Chapman was actually still conscious after the beaning, but collapsed while trying to stand up as he was bleeding from his ear. Incredibly, he would walk off the field, but not without assistance. Tragically, Chapman died 12 hours later at the hospital. He was just 29 years of age.

Not all sports oddities are tragic, of course. Some are embarrassing, some humorous—but not always for the one involved. We’ll tackle some football history next, and much more throughout the remainder of the week.

For more from Harv Aronson, visit his website.

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