By George Castle, CBM Historian
April 23, 2021
Here’s a nugget you likely don’t know. I surely didn’t. The White Sox wanted to trade for young shortstop Ray Chapman from the Cleveland Indians in 1915 before settling for hard-hitting outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Maybe this fact won’t make it into Andy Billman’s upcoming documentary, “War On the Diamond,” about the tragic death of shortstop Chapman after a beaning from the Yankees’ Carl Mays on Aug. 16, 1920 in New York. With a pedigreed ESPN background, Billman displays his Cleveland roots by detailing the hot rivalry between the Indians and Yankees over the next century. You’ll be able to watch his finished product on several platforms, probably including streaming, later in 2021.
But the remembrance of Chapman, only major leaguer to die of an injury on the diamond, opens the door to an even wider look at the world of 1920, perhaps the most impactful season in baseball history this side of 1947.
Just in the “baseballscape,” the relationships include the White Sox, whose roster was stocked with the under-suspicion Black Sox players from the previous year’s World Series. Seven of the eventual Eight Men Out – ringleader Chick Gandil had moved on after 1919 — were suspended by Sox owner Charles Comiskey with three games to go. The Sox, having been locked in a tight race with the Chapman-mourning, yet inspired Indians, for weeks, still had a shot at the American League pennant.
The suspensions collapsed the franchise and consigned the Sox to second fiddle in the Chicago market to the Cubs, a status that was maintained despite the Sox’s revival in their “Go-Go” years in 195 — thanks to superior TV exposure on WGN.
The Chapman tragedy would not have the legs it should have possessed. On the New York end, one outsized personality would instantly transform both baseball into its present long-ball-happy form and the concept of celebrity. Babe Ruth, Boston owner Harry Frazee’s all-time gift to the Yankees, slugged 54 homers, more than any other AL team. No longer would baseball be a pitch-and-putt, low-scoring, below-the-fences sport, with an underpinning of gambling and attempts to fix games.
Ruth immediately paved the way for the Yankees to become baseball’s dynastic franchise. At their performance peaks over the decades, both the Sox and the Indians just were a little short of the Yankees and could count AL pennants on one hand total through 1995.
STORYCategory Chicago Baseball History Feature Tags Andy Billman, baseball 1920, Black Sox, Buck Weaver, Carl Mays, Eight Men Out, New York Yankees, Ray Chapman, War on the Diamond book, White Sox