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Ray Chapman's spirit could be floating Indians through season like no other

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

By TOM WITHERS

AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND -- Ray Chapman's spirit could be floating the Cleveland Indians through a season unlike any other in their history.

Strange, unexplainable, improbable, head-scratching events have surrounded this team for months, beginning almost from the moment the Indians rediscovered a lost piece of Chapman's legacy.

Unexpected snowstorms, thrilling comebacks, unlikely heroes, invading bugs who swarmed the New York Yankees in the playoffs.

It's been downright eerie for the Indians, who play their home games a few tape-measure home runs from the shores of Lake Erie.

And Chapman, a popular shortstop killed by a pitch that struck him in the head on Aug. 17, 1920, has hung around to witness it all.


Back in March, when the Indians opened Heritage Park, a walkthrough exhibit beyond the center-field wall at Jacobs Field honoring the club's storied history, a forgotten plaque of Chapman was unveiled and mounted on a wall facing home plate.

The gorgeous, 175-pound bronze memorial had been stashed away inside a crate when the Indians moved from Municipal Stadium to the Jake in 1994. Workers discovered it while cleaning out a storage room.

Years of neglect had made the plaque's text illegible, but it was refurbished and placed alongside those honoring Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Larry Doby, Lou Boudreau and other Cleveland baseball greats.

Chapman's tragic saga had been reborn.

Things haven't been the same for the Indians since.

The club's home opener on April 6 was postponed when a freak spring storm dumped more than 2 feet of lake-effect snow on Cleveland, which until that point had been enjoying a rare, mild winter.

"Weirdest thing I've ever seen," said Jim Folk, the club's vice president of ballpark operations. "By far."

The snow started falling on a Friday and didn't stop for three days, forcing the club to reschedule a four-game series with Seattle throughout the season. More bad weather sent the Indians to Milwaukee to play their next "home" series against the Los Angeles Angels under Miller Park's roof.

On Sept. 26, the Indians, who will meet the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS starting Friday, were the "home" team at Seattle's Safeco Field -- three home games in three cities.

Odd? Well, consider a few of these quirks:

--The Indians beat the Chicago White Sox 2-1 on April 15 despite getting just one hit -- a leadoff double in the first. They became the first team since 1952 to win when its only hit opened the game.

--Cleveland played an April 28 game under protest when umpires awarded the Baltimore Orioles a run -- three innings after it scored!

--Fausto Carmona, ticketed for the minors before injuries to other starters put him in the rotation, began the season 7-1 and finished with 19 wins. In 2006, he went 1-10 and flamed out spectacularly in a tryout as Cleveland's closer.

--Ten years after catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. homered in the All-Star game at Cleveland, Indians catcher Victor Martinez hit a two-run homer in July's All-Star game in San Francisco, a shot that secured home-field advantage for the AL in this year's World Series.

--On Aug. 27, the Indians turned their first triple play at the Jake.

--Cleveland finished the regular season with 44 come-from-behind wins, 26 in its final at-bat.

--And then came The Bug Game. Last week, millions of tiny insects called "midges," descended upon the Jake in Game 2 of the playoffs and buzzed Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain, who threw two wild pitches in the eighth inning to help the Indians tie it 1-1 in a game they'd win 2-1 in 11 innings.

"This team," manager Eric Wedge said, "has seen it all."

Then there's the unforeseen role of rookie Asdrubal Cabrera in the Indians' rise.

Called up from the minors in August, Cabrera, a shortstop acquired in a trade last season from Seattle, replaced second baseman Josh Barfield in the starting lineup and sparked Cleveland. The Indians went 28-12 when he started and 24-6 when the 21-year-old batted second.

In 1920, after Chapman was killed by a pitch from New York Yankees submarining right-hander Carl Mays, the Indians brought up a young shortstop, Joe Sewell, whose arrival pushed Cleveland to its first World Series title, a championship the Indians dedicated to Chapman.

Sewell went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

Without Cabrera, there's no telling what would have happened to the Indians, who were scuffling along before finally pulling away from the Detroit Tigers.

Cleveland didn't take over first place in the AL Central for good until Aug. 17 -- the 87th anniversary of Chapman's death.


Raymond Johnson Chapman's grave sits under a giant maple tree at historic Lake View Cemetery, where President James A. Garfield, famed detective Eliot Ness and industrialist John D. Rockefeller are among the other famously interred.

It's Sept. 24, one day after Cleveland clinched its first division title since 2001, and a warm breeze rustles clinging leaves which have yet to turn fall colors during another Indian summer afternoon.

Chapman's massive head stone is adorned with bats, gloves, faded Indians caps and a ticket from a 2005 game left by those who have stopped to pay their respects to "Chappie," the consummate team player who led the AL in sacrifices three times.

A few miles away, Indians fans were scooping up division championship souvenirs, relishing a season few could have imagined.

As he left the team shop at Jacobs Field with a new T-shirt, Sam Maul of Cleveland, considered a visit to pay homage to a player who could be helping the Indians end a World Series drought dating to 1948.

"Stopping to honor Ray Chapman couldn't hurt," Maul said. "Just think, that this plaque was buried for years and years. How lucky could that be? It had to play a part. Look at Boston they had to have something to break that spell.

"Maybe this is what broke ours."



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