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The Pitch That Killed: Carl Mays, Ray Chapman and the Pen... and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

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The Pitch That Killed Paperback – April, 1991

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Editorial Reviews


Sowell thoroughly explored that horrifying incident in his 1989 book and provided fascinating historical context. (Oregonian)

Splendidly researched and vivid as today....Remarkable. (Roger Kahn)

The best baseball book no one has read. (ESPN the Magazine)

Sowell did a masterful job of research in bringing to life the incident and all the things that were going on in baseball then. (Phil Tatman Orlando Sentinel)

Sowell twirls tragedy with triumph in a thoroughly engaging manner and delivers a book as captivating as it is well-written. (Mark Luce Chicago Tribune)

…An outstanding book…. In short, one hell of a year, which Sowell captures perfectly. (Mudville)

A 2004 Best bet.... Glorious and horrifying baseball book. (Poughkeepsie Journal)

A fascinating study of the circumstances behind the only time a major leaguer was ever killed by a pitched ball. (Baseball Book Survey)

Sowell's outstanding book tells the story of both men and of the thrilling pennant race that followed Chapman's death. (Golfdom) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Mike Sowell teaches journalism at Oklahoma State University. He has also written One Pitch Away: The Players' Stories of the 1986 League Championships and World Series. He lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, outside of Oklahoma City. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc (April 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0020747616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0020747611
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,143,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Edward W. Trieste on August 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
On August 20, 1920, Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays - still the only fatality in a major league baseball game.

This event is mentioned in passing whenever someone is seriously hurt by a pitch. It is not, however, a well-chronicled event in the long history of the game. So it's good to see Michael Sowell give this story the attention it deserves in this fascinating book.

The book is written as a dual biography of Chapman and Mays. It could be called a triple biography, because Joe Sewell, Chapman's rookie replacement, is also prominently featured.

However, the book covers much more than these three men and the events directly concerning the fatal pitch. Sowell captures the flavor of the dead-ball era. But as Mays and Chapman approach their destiny, change is in the air. 1920 was the greatest turning point in baseball history. In that year:

The Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
Ruth set a new home run record with 54. (The old one was 29.)
Chapman is killed by Mays.
The Black Sox scandal breaks.
Kennesaw Landis becomes the first commissioner of baseball.
The spitball is banned, and dirty baseballs are removed from play.

All of this is in the story.

Chapman, by the way, was popular. Mays was not, even before the fateful day. As for the details of the pitch that killed, I will leave you in suspense...

Amazingly, this tale has not been dramatized. Why not? This story has many ideal elements for the big screen:

* We have a tragic hero, a triumphant hero and a villain, yet none are well known.
* The villain plays for the Yankees.
Read more ›
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Craig VINE VOICE on February 1, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Take a compelling story - the evil Carl Mays felling the likable Ray Chapman with a pitch - combine it with a brilliant writer, and the result is this book, one of the best-ever baseball reads.

Sowell manages to transport the reader back to the period in which the story takes place (1910s and 1920s), while still allowing the tale to play out without clutter or unnecessary writing. Unlike the many one-dimensional portrayals of Mays included in other works, Sowell paints him as a complex character, a great pitcher who obviously battled some emotional issues. The death of Chapman doesn't need to be dressed up to be heartbreaking, and Sowell presents the situation in a straightforward manner.

From the first page to the end of the book, it's difficult to find fault with anything. Just a compelling story told by a great writer, this is a book that any fan of baseball should read.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
One of the best baseball books ever! If you thought holdouts, violence, labor disputes, money woes were only modern era problems, check this book out. Well organized chapters covering the protaganists in Ray Chapman and Carl Mays but also good stuff on the player who replaced Chapman--Joe Sewell.The whole thing was like a time travel trip back to 1920 and gave me a particularly good feel for the era. (NOTE: The background on the 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal that was exposed during the 1920 season was also revealing in shedding light on the atmosphere surrounding the majors at that time.)
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Mike Sowell is a unique baseball writer. He writes on the sport based not solely on the sport itself, but on the historical context in which the events he is documenting take place. Thus, with "The Pitch That Killed", the reader discovers the perspective that each of the principles have in the tragedy, from Carl Mays to the mayor of Cleveland in 1920. In addition, the Communist scare, the Harding administration, and the carefree lifestyle of that era are all examined as to how they apply to the primary topic. Certainly other baseball writers have tried this, but Sowell makes it readable and avoids the trap most writers fall into. In other words, Sowell makes it relevant without reverting and tainting his subject matter with personal nostalgia. And that is why this book is such a great read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K.A.Goldberg on March 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
Author Mike Sowell writes superbly in covering the only time a major leaguer died from injuries sustained in a baseball game. Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman (1891-1920) succumbed after being hit in the head by Yankee hurler Carl Mays (1891-1971) late in the 1920 season. Mays threw hard and pitched inside, but was he guilty of killing or merely the possessor of an accidental hand in tragedy? The author leans to the latter view, but presents a balanced look. Readers get a nice feel for baseball in 1920, when TV and radio didn't exist, crowds were smaller, and players didn't wear helmets. We see that back then the game had its controversies, including labor disputes and fights over money. The author also looks at future hall of fame shortstop Joe Sewell (1898-1990), who replaced Chapman and helped the Indians win that year's Pennant and World Series - Cleveland edging out Chicago when eight White Sox players were suspended late in the season as the 1919 World Series scandal was uncovered. This narrative offers controversy, history, and personality, and is well worth reading.
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