FanPost

When a Cubs pitcher nearly killed a batter

Many baseball fans are familiar with the tragic story of Ray Chapman.

The shortstop was in his ninth big league season, all with Cleveland, when was hit by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays of the Yankees on Aug. 16, 1920.

Chapman died 12 hours later.

He is the only big leaguer killed by a pitch. But there have been numerous close calls, especially before 1941, when the first players began to wear batting helmets.

One of those close calls came on June 2, 1907.

..........

LONG TIME GONE

The Cubs, defending National League champions, started that day with a record of 29-9, despite having played 7 games at home and 31 on the road.

On Thursday, May 30, Memorial Day, they had swept 2 games at Pittsburgh, then they had lost the next day.

After the series finale on Saturday was rained out, the teams hopped on a train and journeyed to Chicago to battle again on Sunday.

They had made that overnight trip frequently and would continue to do so many more times until 1934, when laws were repealed that prohibited baseball from being played on Sundays in Pennsylvania.

The Cubs had not hosted a game on the West Side Grounds in exactly 4 weeks, since beating the Pirates, 3-1, on May 5. After that, they had played 20 in a row on the road, visiting every city with an NL team except St. Louis.

They came home 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants (28-11). The Pirates (19-15) were in fourth, a game behind the Phillies and 5 ahead of the Braves.

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DOMINATING PITCHER

The Cubs took the lead in the bottom of the second. Frank Chance doubled, was bunted to third and came home on a single by Solly Hofman.

Carl Lundgren was the starting pitcher for the Cubs. The 27-year-old lefty was in his sixth season with the team. He had gone 17-6, with a 2.21 ERA, to help the Cubs win the pennant the year before.

He was 7-1, 2.90, so far in 1907, with the loss having come in his last outing, on May 27 at Cincinnati. Two of his wins had come against the Pirates, including a 6-hit shutout at home on May 4.

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READ ALL ABOUT IT

Here is how Charles Dryden of the Chicago Tribune described what happened on June 2 (paragraph breaks added for easier reading):

...

The usual racket attended the pastime until Lundgren, without malice or intent, silenced that vast throng.

One man out in the third, Harry Smith came to bat. A fast ball banged into the side of his head. He stiffed on his feet and fell flat and rigid, like a ladder pushed over.

While Harry was falling the crowd grew still, and the impact was audible when his back struck the earth, head pointing to the Pirate bench.

"Water!" yelled [umpire] William Jennings Klem in clarion accents.

"Time!" said [umpire] Robert Ingersoll Emslie in soften tones.

This timely decision released Mr. Goat Anderson from [coaching at] first base and he hasted to the throng that surrounded the flattened athlete.

A boy dashed out from the Pirate bench with a cup of ball players' panacea -- i.e., iced water.

Carl Lundgren, white and silent as the crowd, knelt beside the body while they soused it with water. Carl was frightened, and no wonder. When Smith's skull and the ball collided the bump gave off a sickening sound.

Softly the pallbearers picked up their limp comrade and bore him to the coop. They knew no [uniform] color at a time like that. The gray and the white intermingled.

Lefty Leifield and Tommy Sheehan took the bow. Capt. Clarke and New Randall laid hold amidship, while Honus Wagner, big, brave, and daring, grabbed the feet and steered the whole procession from the dangerous offer to safe harbor in the coop.

Rapid footsteps sounded on the roof of the grandstand, where swell nobs sit. They were seeking a doctor in semi-whispers and said whispers could be heard around the half circle.

Soon a medical man whizzed down to the coop, where Harry Smith's feet were visible to those seated on the right. The feet were a sealed book to the bugs [i.e., fans] on the left and their agony of apprehension was too deep for words.

He Lives; He Lives!

Al length the feet stirred; then the body of Smith moved and he was lifted upright.

Lefty Leifield and Tommy Sheehan surrounded Harry with tender arms and set a wabbly [sic] course down the side field. Ahead of them cruised the Human Pilot Fish, Mr. Charles Cooper Fraser, taking the cap of the invalid and showing the way to the hospital.

Twelve thousand bugs sat mute, 12,000 pairs of eyes followed the trio in sorrow and in fear until a weird and woeful sound broke the spell.

"B'lup!" it said, and then again "B'lup!"

It was Mr. William Jennings Klem, orator, calling "Batter up." That was all.

...

In the Tribune's box score of the June 10 game, there is an asterisk next to Smith's name in the Pirates' batting order.

This appears below the totals:

*Smith out ten minutes; hit in head by pitched ball

...

A notes column in the paper said, "Soon after removal to the new hospital for visiting players Smith recovered his stampeded wits. He complained of a slight dizziness. An ordinary man would bewail the entire absence of head after a thump of those dimensions."

F. B. Hutchinson Jr. of the Inter Ocean wrote that "after a time [Smith] was able to walk to the clubhouse, where he remained until a carriage took his to the Brevoort House, where the team is staying.

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RARE APPEARANCE

Smith, 32, was the Pirates' backup catcher. He had been with the team since 1902, but the June 2 game was only his 167th, the 147th he had started.

He had appeared in exactly 1 game in both 1905 and 1906, and had begun 1907 with a slash line of .205/.259/.238. His OPS+ was a mere 46.

He had batted just 13 times in 1907 before he was hit by Lundgren, going 3 for 12.

George Gibson, the Pirates' regular catcher, became the runner at first and eventually scored on a 2-out hit, tying the game.

The visitors added single runs in the fourth and fifth to take a 3-1 lead. Then they knocked Lundgren out of the game in the seventh -- literally.

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'RESOUNDING WHACK'

With 1 out and nobody on, Joe Nealon lined a pitch right at Lundgren "and Carl had no chance to get out of the way," wrote F. B. Hutchinson Jr. of the Inter Ocean.

"A resounding whack on his right shin was the result, and it was some time before he could bear any weight on the injured leg. He pluckily tried to resume his pitching burdens, but after a few attempts to throw the ball he gave up, and Mordecai Brown took his place.

"Brown had little chance to warm up, but pitched his usual brand of cool, calculating ball, and there were no more chances for the hopeful Pirates."

...

Harry Steinfeldt led off the bottom of the inning with a single. Hofman then grounded to Nealon, the Pirates' first baseman.

He threw toward second, hoping to force out Steinfeldt, maybe even start a double play. But the ball hit the runner and bounded away. By the time it was recovered, Steinfeldt was on third and Hofman on second.

A walk loaded the bases for Johnny Kling, who singled home 2 runs, tying the score, and Brown followed with a hit through the drawn-in infield that put the Cubs in front, 4-3.

Neither team scored again.

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LUNDGREN'S SEASON

Lundgren was not injured by the liner off his shin. He managed to make his next start on scheduled and went the distance to beat the Phillies, 4-2.

He ended the season 18-7, with a dazzling 1.17 ERA and a spectacular ERA+ of 211.

While completing 21 of 25 starts, 7 of them shutouts, Lundgren allowed only 5.7 hits per 9 innings, best in either league. In 207 innings, he did not allow a home run.

The Cubs' staff was so deep, however, that Lundgren did not pitch in the World Series, which the Cubs won, 4-1, over the Tigers.

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REST OF LUNDGREN'S CAREER

In 1908, he mysteriously lost his pitching mastery and wound up just 6-9, with a 4.22 ERA. After 2 appearances in 1909, he was placed on waivers and chose to retire, at age 29, after 8 seasons.

His final record was 91-55; his ERA, 2.55; his ERA+, 112.

He pitched in 179 games, 149 of them starts, of which he completed 125, 19 of them shutouts.

Lundgren died in 1934, at the age of 54.

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SMITH'S SEASON

The Inter Ocean's account of Smith's beaning on June 2, 1907, had said it "will not have any serious consequences, as no fracture or abrasion could be found. It is likely however, that Smith will be out of the game for a week at least."

In fact, he did not play again for more than 2 weeks, until June 18. He played in 3 more games through June 23, then only once, on July 13, during a span of 55 games.

Between Aug. 22 and 26, Smith took part in 5 straight games. After that, he saw action only 2 final times, both against the Cubs.

He went 0 for 2 at Chicago on Aug. 30, then 1 for 2 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 8. He was not hit by a pitch in either game.

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REST OF SMITH'S CAREER

Smith got to play more regularly in 1908, appearing in 41 games, but for the Doves (today's Braves), who had purchased him from the Pirates in mid-June.

He played in 113 more over the next 2 years, the last of his 10 big-league seasons. In 1910, his final year, he played in 70, a career high, at age 35.

His final slash line was .213/.262/.255, with an OPS+ of just 55.

In 1,106 trips to the plate, he made 214 hits. He walked 55 times. And he was hit by 12 pitches -- but only 1 that appeared it might have killed him.

Smith was 58 when he died in 1933.

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