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Cleveland Indians History: Two events that changed baseball forever

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

On August 20, 1915 the Indians traded Joe Jackson to the White Sox. On August 16, 1920 Ray Chapman stood at home plate. Had things played out a little differently baseball would be dramatically different today.

The Cleveland Indians traded Joe Jackson to the Chicago White Sox for Larry Chappell, Ed Klepfer, Braggo Roth and $31,500. Klepfer pitched well for one year. Roth was an average outfielder. Chappell went 0 for 3 for the Indians.

Of course the players weren’t what the Indians were after. The Indians, stuck in the second division in 1914 and 1915, were suffering at the gate and needed money.

Here’s where things get interesting: Their initial agreement was to not trade Jackson. They were going to sell shortstop Ray Chapman to the Detroit Tigers.

When a butterfly flaps its wings it eventually causes a hurricane

Chapman remains the most prolific bunter in baseball history. His 334 sacrifice hits rank sixth all-time. This was accomplished in nine seasons. On a per-season basis he’s number one. He was a perfect fit in a pre-Babe Ruth era offense.

In 1915 he was on his way to recording 17 triples and 36 steals. Defensively, his range rating was usually the best in the AL. They didn’t track things that way back then, but people had to know he had a great glove.

Jackson holds the third best all-time batting average (.356). That said, he had an off year in 1915 (.327) and the Indians had other outfield options. They weren’t great, but when has a bad outfield ever stopped the Indians?

Jackson was also three years older than Chapman.

It makes sense, in the 1915 window, that the Indians preferred to raise money with Jackson and keep Chapman.

The sad ending of Ray Chapman’s story

In the fifth inning of an August 17, 1919 game, Chapman stood in against submariner Carl Mays.

When Mays threw the pitch it moved in on Chapman. He didn’t move. It hit him in the temple and made a crack that was heard throughout the ballpark. Mays saw the ball coming back to him and figured it hit the bat. He fielded it and threw to first.

Chapman was helped off the field.  He died 12 hours later in a New York City Hospital.

We all know how Joe’s story ended

On September 28, 1920, a Grand Jury convened to look at the allegations that Jackson and seven other White Sox threw the 1919 World Series.

This is not to debate Jackson’s level of guilt. He took the money, either as an unwitting stooge, or a sly dog who knew how to throw a game without looking like he threw a game (depending on who you believe).

Had things gone differently

Had the this trade not happened, Jackson would not have been on the Black Sox, and theoretically would be in the Hall of Fame.  Or he would have helped throw the 1920 World Series. Or the Indians would have had a different shortstop for most of 1920 and not made the series at all.

At a minimum we wouldn’t have had the movie Field of Dreams. That would have been a tragedy.

Next. Trevor Bauer’s chances for the Cy Young Award. dark

Chapman wouldn’t have died in 1920 but he would have spent his days in Detroit. So there’s that.