Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy by Rick Swaine

Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy by Rick Swaine
Publisher: Tucker Bay Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Historical Re-Telling
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

“Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy” is an authentic account of the Cleveland Indians’ 1920 season and the incredible obstacles they overcame to beat out Babe Ruth’s destiny-favored New York Yankees and Shoeless Joe Jackson’s ill-fated Chicago White Sox for the American League pennant – most notably the devastating loss of their popular team captain and star shortstop, Ray Chapman.

Chapman, one of the most popular players in the game, was fatally beaned by the New York Yankees’ Carl Mays, a reputed head-hunter and one of the league’s most reviled characters, late in the season. Tied with the Yankees for the league lead at the time of the incident, the Indians all but fell out of the pennant race before taking up the battle cry “Do It for Chappie” and storming back to win the American League pennant – and subsequently the World Series.

Ironically, the 1920 season was supposed to be Chapman’s last as a player. The son of a poor miner, he’d married the daughter of a wealthy Cleveland family less than a year earlier following a storybook romance. Though still in his prime, he intended to retire from baseball when it came time to raise a family. He had found out his new bride was pregnant just weeks before he was killed.

No account of the 1920 season would be complete without the story of the infamous “Black Sox Scandal” in which the Chicago White Sox were accused of fixing the previous year’s World Series. The scandal’s exposure during the 1920 season had a direct bearing on the pennant race in which the Sox battled the Indians and Yankees down to the wire.

This book is written in the historical novel style, which allows the story to be told in the present tense through the eyes of the characters involved, portrayed as they are known to history. No documented facts are knowingly misrepresented or omitted. However, plausible dialogue, musings and minor scenarios are constructed to flesh out the characters and impart the rich flavor of baseball as it was played in the formative years of the modern game, just as the turbulent decade of Roaring Twenties was beginning to unfold.

A post-1920 epilogue and profiles of key characters are included.

A man, baseball and a bad accident…

I picked up this book because I’d watched Ken Burns’ Baseball and learned about Ray Chapman. He was beaned by a pitch in the 1920 baseball season. As a result of being brained by the ball, he died. It fascinated me that someone could be hurt that way–although not surprising–and I wanted to know about the player, not just the incident.

This is a historical re-telling, so some liberties are taken with the characters. I won’t lie, it can be a bit jarring because I expected the story to be more factual, not so much a fictionalization. That said, it’s still interesting and I read it over the course of a couple days.

Ray is a sympathetic character because he’s just gotten married, is happy and his wife is now pregnant, but it’s been suggested by his in-laws that he give up baseball. All he wants to do is get through this season and he’s done. Except this is the era of no batting helmets and dirty baseballs roughed up to make them curve, twist and make them nearly invisible when pitched.

I felt so bad for Ray and his wife. They had big plans, and no one came out unscathed. I felt for his team, too. They were shattered, but at least they rallied for their fallen comrade.

If you like a good baseball story, an underdog story and one that will stick with you after the last page, then this one is for you.

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