This Week in Baseball History: Aug. 16-22

A week filled with one-of-a-kind moments.

Aug. 17, 1920 – Ray Chapman Dies from HBP


101 years ago today, baseball suffered one of its most significant tragedies.

Ray Chapman was one of the most popular players of his time, not just for his on-field performance, but also his off-field demeanor. The Cleveland News described him as the “greatest shortstop…ever to wear a Cleveland uniform,” while his SABR biography says, “he was even more beloved for his infectious cheerfulness and enthusiasm.”

Entering 1920, Chapman was a nine-year veteran with two things on his mind: 1) Bringing Cleveland its first World Series title; and 2) Retiring from baseball.

Before the start of the season, Chapman had married Kathleen Daly, whose father was a prominent Cleveland businessman. If the Indians won the World Series, there was a chance Chapman would retire to work for Daly’s father and spend more time growing their family (Daly was also pregnant).

The 1920 season was a close three-horse race the entire year. At the halfway point of the season, the Yankees and Indians were tied with the White Sox trailing by four games. The biggest lead that any team had belonged to the Indians, who sat 4.5 games up on Aug. 8. They then hosted the Yankees, who swept the Indians in a four-game series. Just a couple days later, these two teams met for a rematch in the Bronx that began on Aug. 16.

Carl Mays took the mound for New York, Stan Coveleski for Cleveland.

In contrast to Chapman, Mays had a poor reputation throughout baseball.

It was long ago made very apparent to me that I was not one of those individuals who were not fated to be popular,” Mays said.

Part of this animosity was due to his tendency to pitch batters extremely tight and openly criticize his teammates for making errors.

“Carl slings the pill from his toes,” as described in Baseball Magazine. “He shoots the ball in at the batter at such unexpected angels that his delivery is hard to find.”

In the first two appearances for Chapman, he tried laying down a bunt, but both ABs resulted in outs. His third appearance came as the leadoff batter in the fifth. The previous inning, the Indians had a wild rally to score three runs and take a 3-1 lead.

On the first pitch, Mays threw up and in and the pitch hit Chapman in the head. There was such a loud crack that when the ball rolled back to the pitcher’s mound, Mays fielded it and threw to first, assuming it had struck Chapman’s bat.

But instead, Chapman now knelt in the batter’s box. Players and doctors rushed over to help Chapman, who started to walk to the center field clubhouse with some assistance. But part of the way there, Chapman collapsed, requiring his colleagues to carry him to the clubhouse.

A somber atmosphere fell over the ballpark as everyone was unsure of the severity of Chapman’s injuries. The game continued on, with the Indians scoring one more run in the fifth. Little action happened until the bottom of the ninth, when the Yankees staged a two-out, three-run rally to cut the score to 4-3. But Coveleski retired the last batter to give the Indians a win.

Meanwhile, Chapman had entered surgery at the nearby St. Lawrence Hospital. Initially, the surgery appeared to help. But 12 hours after the HBP, Chapman passed away.

“It is the most regrettable incident of my baseball career,” Mays said. “I would give anything if I could undo what has happened. Chapman was a game, splendid fellow.”

Throughout the rest of the 1920 season, the Indians wore black armbands in his memory.

And in a melancholy turn of events, the Indians won the 1920 AL Pennant and World Series.

In his brief career that spanned 1912 to 1920, Chapman hit .278/.358/.377 (111 wRC+) in 4,608 PAs, good for 29.3 bWAR/28.9 fWAR.


Aug. 19, 1921 – Ty Cobb’s 3,000th Hit


Ty Cobb is an amazing hitter. Just look at the black ink on his Baseball-Reference page. Seriously, over a 13-year period, Cobb won the batting title 12 times. Who else compares to that?

The answer is no one. Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner sit in second place with eight titles each.

Cobb’s .366 career batting average also looks like an unbreakable record. Who is the active leader in average? Miguel Cabrera at .3109. Since 2000, just four hitters have posted a single-season average above Cobb’s career mark.

All of this success came at an early age, too. Cobb won his first batting title at just 20 years old. By age 24, he already had 1,000 hits. He reached 2,000 before he even turned 30. No other hitter has ever done that. I feel like a broken record saying that about Cobb’s accomplishments …

But let’s get to the big landmark: 3,000 hits. 32 players have reached that mark, but no one did it nearly as quickly as Cobb. That historic moment came for him on Aug. 19, 1921.

On that day, Cobb’s Tigers hosted the Red Sox for a doubleheader. He needed five hits to reach 3K.

Oddly enough, the 34-year-old Cobb was in the midst of one his best hitting seasons. He already had 11 home runs on the year, two more than his previous single-season high. His 1.079 OPS entering the day would have ranked as the second-highest of his career as well.

In game one, Cobb went 2-for-5 with one double as the Tigers lost 12-8. That lowered his OPS on the season to 1.078.

But in game two, Cobb was even better, going 3-for-5 with another double and an RBI as the Tigers clobbered the Red Sox 10-0. No. 3,000 came with his last hit for the day, a single of Elmer Myers.

At the age of 34 years-266 days, Cobb became the fourth and easily youngest player to cross the 3,000 hit plateau.


Aug. 21, 1982 – Rollie Finger’s 300th Save


When the Baseball Hall of Fame opened its doors in 1936, it welcomed an absolutely legendary first class of inductees: Babe RuthChristy MathewsonHonus WagnerTy Cobb and Walter Johnson.

But what if the HOF opened a new and improved museums, one that specialized in the best baseball facial hair of all time. Who would be inaugurated in that introductory group? Goose Gossage would definitely be there. Probably Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky as well (he would also be a first ballot member of the HOF for baseball nicknames).

In my opinion, the overwhelming favorite to be the first unanimous member of the Baseball Mustache Hall of Fame would be Rollie Fingers.

He also rightfully deserved a spot in the plain and ordinary Hall of Fame for his closing prowess. Why? Well, Fingers’ success popularized the concept of the modern closer. And on Aug. 21, 1981, Fingers became the first pitcher ever to record 300 saves.


Let me provide a bit more context. Before Fingers debuted in 1968, just 11 pitchers had more than 100 saves. At that point, the all-time leader was Hoyt Wilhelm with 184.

“When I came through the minors, everybody wanted to be a starter,” Fingers said. “If you were a reliever, you weren’t very highly regarded.”

Fingers struggled initially as a starter, posting an average 3.53 ERA/98 ERA+ in his first four seasons. Fingers first season exclusively in the bullpen came in 1972, and he displayed flashes of his potential as a late-game weapon. But what truly made Fingers so feared was his performance in that postseason: 1.72 ERA/0.830 WHIP in 15.2 IP as his Athletics won the World Series.

During the Athletics dynasty from ’72 to ’74, Fingers earned a reputation as an ice-cold pitcher in big-game situations. In his 33.1 career innings pitched in the World Series (all of which happened during that aforementioned three-year stretch), Fingers had a 1.35 ERA/1.050 WHIP with six saves. In 1974, Fingers was even named the WS MVP.

After the ’76 season, Fingers took a brief four-year detour with the Padres (3.12 ERA/111 ERA+ with 108 saves in 426.1 IP) before arriving in Milwaukee to join the Brewers for the ’81 season.

In that strike-shortened year, Fingers was exceptional. He earned the Cy Young AND MVP with a line of 1.04 ERA/333 ERA+, 0.872 WHIP,  4.69 K:BB and 28 saves in 78 innings — good for 4.2 bWAR/2.6 fWAR.

Entering the ’82 season, Fingers needed just 28 saves to become baseball’s closer to reach 300.

On Aug. 21, 1982, Fingers and the Brewers visited the Mariners at the Kingdome. The Brewers had gotten a 3 – 0 lead as the Mariners’ bats remained dormant all game. By the time Fingers came into the game in the eighth inning, just four Seattle hitters had reached base, yet none had gotten past second.

Although the eighth went by smoothly, Fingers encountered some trouble in the ninth. Al Cowens smacked a leadoff double to left, and two batters later Dave Revering crushed a two-run homer to deep right. Just like that, the Brewers lead had shrunk to merely a run. But Fingers had been in similar high-leverage situations countless times before. He bounced back to retire the next two batters easily and lock down save No. 300.

It’s only fitting that Fingers would be the first closer to reach 300 saves. After all, the only reason Fingers sported his iconic mustache was because of 300 dollars.


Fingers retired with 341 career saves after the 1985 season — the most at that time. Now, he ranks 14th on the all-time list.


Aug. 22, 1989 – Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th Strikeout


In baseball, there are few milestones that have been accomplished by only one player. But then again, there are few people who compare to Nolan Ryan.

18 pitchers have achieved 3,000 strikeouts. Four of those aces have struck out 4,000. But Ryan is the only one to get to 5,000. That monumental feat happened on Aug. 22, 1989.

Even though Ryan had turned 40 in 1987, he was still as dominant as ever. That season, Ryan had the best strikeout rate of his entire career (11.48 K/9). It was also the highest single-season K/9 in MLB history up to that point (min. 200 IP).

In 1988, Ryan again led the league in strikeouts and K/9, finishing the season with 4,775 Ks in his career. In that next offseason, the Houston Astros attempted to re-sign Ryan with a lesser salary, which offended the perennial strikeout leader. As a result, Ryan took a four-hour bus ride to Arlington, Texas, where he joined a Rangers team that had been struggling for years to climb out of the cellar of the AL West.

Ryan’s first month with his new club showed he had not lost his stuff: five starts, a 2.06 ERA in 35 IP with 49 strikeouts. By the All-Star break — when Ryan received his eighth and final All-Star nod — Ryan had already thrown 148 Ks in 126.2 innings. He needed just 77 more to reach the illustrious 5K.

In the second half, the Ryan Express came roaring through town, delivering another 71 Ks in 48.2 innings. His next start on Aug. 22 against the Athletics would inevitably make history.

On paper, this matchup looked extremely tough. The Athletics had lost in the World Series in ’88, but they would follow that up with a World Series win in ’89. In fact, the Athletics were the second-best offense in baseball (107 wRC+) and featured prime sluggers like Mark McGwireJosé Canseco and Rickey Henderson.

With 42,869 fans watching in the stands — the second-largest crowd in the history of Arlington Stadium — Ryan clawed his way to 5,000. Five Ks in the first three innings. Just one more for 5,000.

That moment came in the fifth inning. Henderson, who would finish ’89 leading the league in walks, led off the inning. He was always a tough at-bat, and this was no exception. The two generational talents fought tough, working a 3-2 count before Ryan turned to his ‘ol reliable. Out came a blazing 96 mph fastball, and Henderson swung through it.

5,000 had finally arrived.


”It was an honor to be the 5,000th,” Henderson later told The New York Times. ”As Davey Lopes says, ‘If he ain’t struck you out, you ain’t nobody.”’

At the end of the inning, a congratulatory message from President George H. W. Bush played on the scoreboard. Both Bush and Ryan would leave their respective jobs by the end of 1993. Except Ryan left with 5,714 more strikeouts. Bush usually struggled to find the strike zone.


Photo By /Icon Sportswire | Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)

Alex Kleinman

Journalist who loves the Yankees and the Bears. One gives me strength, the other leads me to existential dread. When I'm not obsessing over baseball, you can find me at a concert, hiking in a National Park or chasing my dog, Frankie, who has probably stolen one of my socks.

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