THE PITCH THAT CHANGED BASEBALL HISTORY
(P1) Two baseball teams competing for the 1920 American League CHAMPIONSHIP SQUARED OFF on a DRIZZLY August afternoon at the Polo Grounds in New York. On the MOUND for the New York Yankees, who TRAILED the opposing Cleveland Indians by just a half-game in the STANDINGS, was their ACE Carl Mays, a DISAGREEABLE, right-handed SUBMARINE PITCHER whose CONTORTED, underhand motion was so extreme that his KNUCKLES sometimes SCRAPED the ground.
(P2) Mays’ first pitch in the fifth inning, a FASTBALL HIGH AND TIGHT to Cleveland’s SCRAPPY SHORTSTOP Ray Chapman, a 29-year-old newlywed with a daughter ON THE WAY, was met with a crack that sounded throughout the ballpark. The ball DRIBBLED back toward Mays, who threw it to first baseman Wally Pipp. Mays watched as Pipp caught the ball and then froze, looking toward HOME PLATE. It was then that Mays and others in the ballpark realized the crack they’d heard was not Chapman’s bat.
(P3) There have been ON THE ORDER OF 50 million pitches thrown in a BIG LEAGUE game since the origin of major league baseball in 1871. Only one has been LETHAL. That pitch would end Ray Chapman’s life, permanently SCAR Carl Mays’ career, and help CHANGE THE COURSE OF baseball history.
(P4) As players and men, Mays and Chapman could not have been more different, something that made their FATEFUL encounter even more powerful in the public’s imagination. As Mike Sowell details in his book The Pitch That Killed, Mays was likely the most unpopular player in the game, a MOODY LONER off the field, and a FIERCE competitor on the mound, whose reputation for being a “HEADHUNTER” put him among the league leaders in HIT BATSMEN. In one game against the equally DESPISED Ty Cobb, Mays threw directly at Cobb every time he came to the plate, and Cobb RECIPROCATED by throwing his bat at Mays. The unpopular pitcher yelled at his own fielders when they made an ERROR, and once even threw at — and hit — a HECKLING fan in the stands.
(P5) Chapman, on the other hand, was well-liked by both players and fans. Before the season, the infielder had married the daughter of a wealthy Cleveland businessman who was EAGER for his son-in-law to retire from baseball and join the family business. Chapman was WIDELY CONSIDERED the best shortstop in the league.
(P6) Unfortunately, Chapman also stood unusually close to the plate and HUNCHED over it — in an era when BATTING HELMETS were still 50 years away from becoming MANDATORY. “His head was in the STRIKE ZONE,” Muddy Ruel, the Yankees CATCHER that day told a reporter years later. BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Chapman barely moved an inch when Mays’ pitch smashed into the side of his head.
(P7) Ruel caught Chapman as he COLLAPSED, the home-plate UMPIRE called for a doctor, and the FALLEN batter was carried from the field. At St. Lawrence Hospital, doctors found a FRACTURE on the left side of Chapman’s skull that was more than 3 inches long, and his brain had LACERATIONS on both sides from hitting bone. Doctors operated into the night, but shortly before sunrise, Chapman died. When his pregnant widow was greeted with the news, she FAINTED.
(P8) Mays was also DISTRAUGHT on hearing the news. Despite Mays’ reputation as a headhunter, most observers felt that he had not been aiming at Chapman, and the death was ruled accidental. But the accident would HAUNT Mays until his death in 1971 at age 79, casting a dark shadow over a career in which he RACKED UP a 207-126 won-lost record and 2.92 ERA in 15 seasons, among the best STATISTICS for a pitcher not in the HALL OF FAME.
(P9) The Cleveland Indians would manage to RECOVER and win their first WORLD SERIES that fall IN HONOR OF their fallen shortstop. And, beginning the following season, Major League Baseball would INSTITUTE rules requiring new balls be introduced into games more regularly to ensure that they didn’t become too dirty to see. Of course, easier-to-spot balls were also easier to hit. So Chapman’s death, along with the elimination of the SPITBALL and the rise of the HOME-RUN-hitting SLUGGER Babe Ruth, would help USHER IN the SO-CALLED LIVE-BALL ERA of the modern game, in which higher-scoring contests with more home runs would ELECTRIFY a new generation of fans.
If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.
- Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
- Have you ever been injured while playing a sport?
- Baseball is generally not considered one of the most dangerous sports. Which sports do you think are the most dangerous?
- Carl Mays killed Ray Chapman by accident. How do you think it would feel to LIVE WITH THAT?
- Baseball, like soccer and American football, has its own vocabulary and takes some time to learn and understand. Are there any sports that you really don’t understand?
EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:
What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.
- Square off
- On the way
- On the order of
- Big league
- Change the course of
- Widely considered
- By all accounts
- Rack up
- In honor of
- Usher in
- Live with something [bad]