Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Another Good Baseball Story
The Pitch That Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920 by Mike Sowell
In 1920, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman was in the prime of his career and of his life. He was handsome, amiable, and beloved by teammates and fans alike. He and his wife were expecting their first child.
Then, during an August 16 game with the New York Yankees Chapman was struck in the head by a wild pitch thrown by Carl Mays, and became the only player in the history of major league baseball to die from injuries sustained on the field.
While Chapman was a wildly popular player, Mays was sullen and disliked by his own teammates. Early in his career, he purposely beaned so many batters that even Ty Cobb thought he was crazy (although Mays always swore he had 'control problems').
While the stories of Mays and Chapman are captivating, what makes this book a page-turner is Sowell's account of the 1920 baseball season, during which the Indians, Yankees, and White Sox were sometimes ranked less than a game apart in the league standings. The fact that this was also the season when the White Sox shenanigans in the previous World Series would come to light seems almost beside the point in the midst of all the action.
Sowell also throws in plenty of juicy tidbits, like the Indians pitcher who had the dubious distinction of a) having designated "drinking days" written into his contract, and b) having been struck by lightening while on the mound (then getting up and pitching the rest of the game).
ESPN magazine calls this "the best baseball book no one has read," and they're not wrong. Thanks to my boss for the recommendation.