The Democratic National Convention begins today, and what a strange exercise it will be during our pandemic-induced lockdown. Twenty years ago tonight, at a real convention, Vice President Al Gore accepted his party's presidential nomination in Los Angeles.
It was a wonky and, at times, boring speech. Gore acknowledged as much near the end. But he also talked about his wife, Tipper, and the rest of his family evocatively, painted an upbeat vision of America's future, and ended on a rhetorical high note. Democrats left L.A. feeling that they had put Bill Clinton's impeachment behind them and had nominated a candidate who could win in November. He almost did.
"If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight, I will work for you every day, and I will never let you down," Gore said on Aug. 17, 2000. "In this City of Angels, we can summon the better angels of our nature. Do not rest where we are or retreat, do all we can to make America all it can become."
But none of us knows what's in store for the years ahead -- or even the day right in front of us. This was certainly true for Cleveland Indians star shortstop Ray Chapman when he went to the Polo Grounds to play the Yankees. One minute, he was facing Yanks' pitcher Carl Mays. The next, he was writhing in the dirt after a fastball hit him in the head. He died the following morning -- 100 years ago today -- in a New York hospital.
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In nine seasons in the major leagues, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman was quietly putting up numbers that -- had he continued for another decade at the same level -- might have put him in baseball's Hall of Fame. Chapman seems to have had other ideas, however. Although today's players are paid like Saudi sheiks, this wasn't true in 1920. Chapman had married the year before and wanted to start a family. He was considering hanging up his spikes after the season ended and going into his father-in-law's business. In the meantime, Cleveland was in a pennant race and Chapman was one of its key players: a slick-fielding shortstop, fleet baserunner, and a team leader.
But all of that came to an end in the top of the fifth inning when Chapman came to bat against Carl Mays. The game mattered to both teams. The Yankees, Indians, and Chicago White Sox were locked in a three-team pennant race that would last all summer. Carl Mays was a particularly competitive player, and a dirty one. He was probably the most detested player in the game, which is saying something when you consider that he was a contemporary of Ty Cobb.
Although he'd been one of the aces on the Boston Red Sox team (lefty pitcher Babe Ruth was another) that won three World Series in four years, Mays would still openly berate his own infielders and curse out -- and deliberately throw at -- opposing players.
When his Missouri farmhouse burned to the ground during spring training in 1919, he assumed it was arson by one of his neighbors. During an exhibition game that spring, he accused a fan of banging on the dugout. When the man denied it, Mays threw a baseball at his head. Mays' Boston tenure ended July 13, 1919, when he stormed off the mound during a game he was losing and left the team. Later, he signed with the Yankees, a dubious move that the commissioner's office tried unsuccessfully to block. By 1920, he was a mainstay on a Yanks rotation that would also win championships, but none of his success ever mellowed the abrasive Carl Mays.
He was trailing 3-0, and had given up a home run earlier in the game, when Ray Chapman came to bat in the fifth inning. Chapman stood close to the plate, something that always enraged Mays, a righty, who threw with an extreme sidearm delivery called a "submarine" motion, which made it hard for a right-handed hitter to pick up the ball.
Mays also doctored the baseball, a practice that was gradually being outlawed. Moreover, the owners at the time were so cheap that umpires were under pressure not to replace baseballs during the course of the game. The upshot of all this is that Ray Chapman probably never saw the discolored fastball that fractured his skull.
His teammates went out to help him off the field, but he collapsed on the way to the dugout and was rushed to the hospital. The popular shortstop with the lovely singing voice -- he led the team in song on bus trips -- and with the young wife who wanted a large family, never regained consciousness.
Tris Speaker, Cleveland's player/manager, phoned Chapman's wife, Katie, who rushed from Cleveland to New York by train, but she didn't arrive in time to say goodbye. It turned out that Katie Chapman was pregnant. She gave birth in February to a daughter she named after the baby's father. Katie tried to make a go of it, moving to California and remarrying, but she succumbed to deep depression, taking her own life in 1928. Rae Chapman was adopted by her stepfather, but she died of the measles at 8 years of age.
Back in 1920, Cleveland had won the pennant without their sparkplug shortstop and went on to win the World Series, the first of only two championships in franchise history. Ray Chapman's teammates had voted to award a full World Series share of nearly $4,000 to his widow. It meant nothing. It was Ray she wanted, not the money.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.