Ben Chapman (baseball)
December 25, 1908|
|Died: July 7, 1993
|April 15, 1930, for the New York Yankees|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 12, 1946, for the Philadelphia Phillies|
|Runs batted in||977|
|Career highlights and awards|
William Benjamin "Ben" Chapman (December 25, 1908 – July 7, 1993) was an American outfielder and manager in Major League Baseball who played for several teams. He began his career with the New York Yankees, playing his first seven seasons there. During the period from 1926 to 1943, he had more stolen bases than any other player, leading the American League four times. After twelve seasons, during which he batted .302 and led the AL in assists and double plays twice each, he spent two years in the minor leagues and returned to the majors as a National League pitcher for three seasons, becoming player-manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, his final team.
In later years, his playing reputation was eclipsed by the role he played in 1947 as manager of the Phillies, opposing the presence of Jackie Robinson on a major league team on the basis of Robinson's race with unsportsmanlike conduct that proved an embarrassment for his team.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Chapman batted and threw right-handed. He was a teammate of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio and other stars on the Yankees from 1930 through the middle of the 1936 season. In his 1930 rookie season with the Yankees, during which he batted .316, he played exclusively in the infield as a second and third baseman; although he played only 91 games at third, he led the AL in errors, and after Joe Sewell was acquired in the offseason, Chapman was shifted to the outfield to take advantage of his speed and throwing arm. He led the AL in stolen bases for the next three seasons (1931–33); his 1931 total of 61 was the highest by a Yankee since Fritz Maisel's 74 in 1914, and would be the most by any major leaguer between 1921 and 1961 (equalled only by George Case in 1943). With the Yankees, he also batted over .300 and scored 100 runs four times each, batted in 100 runs twice, led the AL in triples in 1934, and made each of the first three AL All-Star teams from 1933–35, leading off in the 1933 game as the first AL hitter in All-Star history. In the 1932 World Series he batted .294 with six runs batted in as the Yankees swept the Chicago Cubs. In one game on July 9, 1932, he had three home runs, two of which were inside-the-park, and on May 30, 1934 he broke up Detroit Tiger Earl Whitehill's no-hitter in the ninth inning.
It was in New York that the extent of Chapman's bigotry first surfaced. He taunted Jewish fans at Yankee Stadium with Nazi salutes and disparaging epithets. In a 1933 game, his intentional spiking of Washington Senators' second baseman Buddy Myer (who was incorrectly believed to be Jewish)  caused a 20-minute brawl that saw 300 fans participate and resulted in five-game suspensions and $100 fines for each of the players involved.
In June 1936, Chapman – then hitting .266 and expendable with the arrival of DiMaggio – was traded to the Senators. The trade was ironic in that the player the Yankees received in return was Jake Powell, who would become infamous for a 1938 WGN radio interview in which he stated that he liked to crack blacks over the head with his nightstick as a police officer in Dayton, Ohio during the off-season. Furthermore, earlier in the 1936 season, Powell had purposely collided with Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers' Jewish first baseman, breaking Greenberg's wrist and ending his season after only 12 games.
After the trade, Chapman rebounded to finish the year with a .315 average, again making the All-Star team and scoring 100 runs, and collecting a career-high 50 doubles. In June 1937 the Senators sent him to the Boston Red Sox, and he led the AL in steals for the fourth time with 35. The following year he hit a career-best .340 with Boston, after which he was traded to the Cleveland Indians. After seasons hitting .290 and .286, Cleveland sent him back to Washington in December 1940; he hit .255 with the Senators before they released him in May 1941, and after he batted only .226 with the Chicago White Sox over the remainder of the year, his major league career appeared to be finished.
After managing in the Class B Piedmont League in 1942 and 1944 — he was suspended for the 1943 season for punching an umpire — Chapman resurfaced, following brief World War II military service, as a pitcher in the National League with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944, earning five wins against three losses. After starting the next year 3-3, he was traded to the Phillies on June 15, 1945, becoming player-manager on June 30. He made three relief appearances for the team that year, and played his final game in 1946 with one inning of relief. He appeared in 1,717 games over 15 seasons, batting .302 lifetime with 287 stolen bases (including 15 of home), 1,144 runs, 90 home runs, 407 doubles, 107 triples and 977 RBI, and winning eight of 14 decisions as a pitcher; his 184 steals with the Yankees placed him second in team history behind Hal Chase.
With the Phillies buried in last place in 1945 (winners of only 17 of 68 games), Chapman replaced Freddie Fitzsimmons as manager. The team improved somewhat through the end of the year, and climbed to fifth place in 1946, the first year of the postwar baseball boom and the last season in which the color line was in force. In April 1947, Brooklyn called up Robinson from the Montreal Royals and made him their regular first baseman: he was the first African-American to play in the major leagues in more than sixty years. Chapman's Phillies were not the only NL team to oppose integration – several Dodger players had allegedly tried to petition management to keep him off the team  – but during an early-season series in Brooklyn, the level of verbal abuse directed by Chapman and his players at Robinson reached such proportions that it made headlines in the New York and national press. Chapman instructed his pitchers, whenever they had a 3-0 count against Robinson, to bean him rather than walk him.
Chapman's attempts to intimidate Robinson eventually backfired, with the Dodgers rallying behind Robinson, and there was increased sympathy for Robinson in many circles. The backlash against Chapman was so severe that he was asked to pose in a photograph with Robinson as a conciliatory gesture when the two teams next met in Philadelphia in May. This incident prompted Robinson's teammate Dixie Walker to comment, "I never thought I'd see old Ben eat shit like that."
Robinson went on to stardom and a ten-year career, a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and a revered position in American sporting and civil rights history. Chapman's baseball career, however, was coming to an end. He survived the 1947 season, but the Phillies fell to seventh place. In July 1948, with the team still in seventh, Chapman was fired and eventually replaced by Eddie Sawyer. He would surface one more time in the majors, as a coach for the 1952 Cincinnati Reds.
Chapman's career major league managing record was 196–276 (.415).
In an interview with journalist Ray Robinson in the 1980s, Chapman stated, "A man learns about things and mellows as he grows older. I think that maybe I've changed a bit. Maybe I went too far in those days. But I always went along with the bench jockeying, which has always been part of the game. Maybe I was rougher at it than some other players. I thought that you could use it to upset and weaken the other team. It might give you an advantage. The world changes." Reflecting on the success of his son, then coaching black players on an integrated football team, "Look, I'm real proud I've raised my son different. And he gets along well with them. They like him. That's a nice thing, don't you think?"
In popular culture
The newspaper headline "Red Sox beat Yanks 5–4 on Chapman's Homer", a possibly intentional pun on the title of John Keats' poem "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer", is mentioned in Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pale Fire (lines 97–98), where it is misinterpreted by the character Charles Kinbote. Sources disagree on whether the headline is genuine or not.
In Harry Turtledove's alternate history novel American Empire: The Victorious Opposition, Chapman is a member of the Freedom Party (an analogue of the Nazi Party) as a Chief Assault Band Leader (a captain in Army ranking). His only appearance is when he drops off Willy Knight as a political prisoner at Camp Dependable (an extermination camp in the Population Reduction, an analogue of the Holocaust) in the dead of night.
- List of Major League Baseball players with 400 doubles
- List of Major League Baseball players with 100 triples
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 runs
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career stolen bases
- List of Major League Baseball stolen base champions
- List of Major League Baseball triples champions
- List of Major League Baseball player–managers
- Major League Baseball titles leaders
- Lamb, Chris (July 27, 2008). "A Public Slur in '38 Laid Bare a Game's Racism". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
- Robinson, Ray (19 May 2013). "Jackie Robinson and a Barrier Unbroken". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- James, Bill (2001). The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: Free Press. p. 499. ISBN 0-684-80697-5.
- Burk, Robert F. Much More than a Game: Players, Owners, & American Baseball Since 1921. University of North Carolina Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-8078-2592-1.
- Ben Chapman at HickokSports.com
- Deveaux, Tom. The Washington Senators, 1901-1971. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 136. ISBN 0-7864-0993-2.
- Lowenfish, Lee (2007). Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 419. ISBN 0-8032-1103-1.
- Carroll, Brian (2006). When to Stop the Cheering?. Routledge. pp. 162–163. ISBN 0-415-97938-2.
- Golenbock, Peter. Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
- "It became known June 25 that ...". The Sporting News (Saint Louis, Missouri). 4 July 1935. p. 6. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- Boyd, Brian (1996). Vladimir Nabokov, ed. Nabokov: Novels 1955–1962: Lolita / Pnin / Pale Fire. Library of America. ISBN 1-883011-19-1.
- Appel, Alfred, Jr. (1974). Nabokov's Dark Cinema. Oxford University Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-19-501834-6.
- Donahue, Michael (2004-10-31). "Chapman's Homer: Definitive Statement". Post to NABOKV-L.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- BaseballLibrary - career highlights
- The Baseball Page
- Ben Chapman at Find a Grave