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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account gives this tragedy much-deserved attention, August 1, 2006
By 
This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (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.
* Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Joe Jackson, the Black Sox scandal, and the birth of the Yankee dynasty are in the background.
* The fatal beaning takes place in the heat of a thrilling pennant race.
* The Indians, Yankees, and Mays must cope with something that has never happened before or since.
* Despite the tragedy, the good guys win the pennant and the World Series. Somewhere, Chapman is smiling.
* Did I mention that in the World Series, our heroes produce the first grand slam, the first home run by a pitcher, and an UNASSISTED TRIPLE PLAY - all in one game?
* Chapman becomes a martyr. Sewell becomes a Hall of Famer. Mays becomes a pariah, blackballed from Coopertown.

Sounds like good movie material to me. A good director could make his reputation with this.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best baseball books ever written, February 1, 2005
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This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly brilliant!, March 15, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Realistic POV Telling Of A Tragic Baseball Story, November 17, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Historical Narrative, March 30, 2005
This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great History Book Great Baseball Book, December 8, 2005
By 
Jeffrey R. Bednar (kaneohe, hawaii United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (Paperback)
Impressive dual biography of Ray Chapman And Carl Mays with the 1920 Pennant Race as the center of focus. Author does an excellent job of weaving the many characters into the storyline. The book never drags and quite frankly is riveting. This book not only deserves all the praise it receives here but, should be used as an example for writers everywhere both fiction and non-fiction on how to supply the public with a product of quality and class. Here's one thought in passing, "THIS WOULD MAKE AN EXCELLENT FILM"
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible story, incredibly well told, September 6, 2006
By 
This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (Paperback)
A good history book of any sort should take a place in time normally only remembered in outline and fill in the colors, transporting the reader back into the heart of the story as if they were breathing it in. Sowell's outstanding and chilling account of the Ray Chapman beaning not only does that, it could be held up as a model for how others can do the same.

That the subject matter of this book is a sporting event doesn't diminish its importance, but does the reverse, reminding us of the power our games can hold. The Ray Chapman/Carl Mays saga plays against the backdrop of so many other major events in baseball that were it fiction one would be tempted to accuse the author of over-indulgence. Babe Ruth's selling to the Yankees, the unveiling of the previous year's Black Sox Scandal, one of the closest pennant races in history; these are just some of what intertwined with baseball's single darkest moment. And yet instead of randomly adding them in as dressing, Sowell masterfully integrates into his retelling of that day every surrounding element he can find.

Most strikingly portrayed is the stark personality differences between the pitcher and batter at the heart of the story. You almost could not find in baseball history two players more on opposite ends of the likability spectrum. Sowell details fully the love of ballplayers and Clevelanders for Chapman and the devastating shock his death caused, while simultaneously detailing the animosity that Mays seemed to live off, even before the fatal pitch. It's noteworthy, for example, that from the details of conversations between he and Mays, even the oft-detested Ty Cobb comes off as more personable.

The emotion of the players, fans and family that Sowell is able to channel actually makes the book hard to read at times. And that's what proves its success. This is an extremely human tale about a very human endeavor. Sowell deserves the highest praise for so perfectly treating it as such. And any fan of the game, or maybe more so anyone who doesn't understand why baseball holds the sacred place to many that it does but wants to try, owes it to themselves to pick up this book and read this story. "The Pitch That Killed" reminds us that even in those rare cases where baseball becomes black magic, it is still magic.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding tribute to Chappie and Mays, October 15, 2006
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This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (Paperback)
This is one of the better baseball books I have read. I remember seeing it in hardcover in a Borders in East Lansing, MI, around 1989. (I never picked it up because I was a poor postdoc). Both Mays and Chapman's lives, and how they fatally intersected, are described in detail, almost as if the author was actually there. Sowell is a talented writer, he covers the era in general outside of baseball well. I agree with a previous reviewer, this is fantastic movie material, I wonder why the story has never been picked up?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story well told, May 28, 2007
By 
Kyle Garret "Kyle" (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (Paperback)
Everything that the other reviewers have said is dead on. This is a fascinating story, simply on the surface, but Sowell digs deeper and finds so many more interesting storylines. Even if you're not an Indians fan, there's a lot to love in this book. The 1920 season is amazingly fertile ground.

The only reason I'm holding back that last star is more because of a technical issue. While the book is clearly a non-fiction story, there are moments that Sowell writes about as if they happened, when there's no way he could know that. There's a scene early in the book between Babe Ruth and Carl Mays that has to be fictionalized as there's no way Sowell could know what these two said to each other. It's just strange to read because it's laid out as fact, when it's clear it isn't.

That said, it's a minor point. The book is fantasic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unforgettable Season in the Lands of the Western Reserve, June 28, 2008
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This review is from: The Pitch That Killed (Paperback)
Since I was born and raised in Cleveland, I am well aware of the demise of Ray Chapman in a beaning by Carl Mays on August 20, 1920 in New York's Polo Grounds.
What Mr. Sowell has documented is a season of baseball which in itself stands as the most incredible epoch in Major League history. Consider these facts.
1. Babe Ruth set a remarkable record in the dead ball era of hitting 54 home runs.
2. The Black Sox were discovered and the fate of the game stood in the balance.
3. Ben Chapman was struck by a baseball to his head and died.
4. Carl Mays was a great pitcher who probably belongs in the Hall of Fame but was stigmatized by this one pitch.
5. Joe Sewell who replaced Ben Champman ends up in the Hall of Fame.
6. Tris Speaker the player manager of the Cleveland Indians, was totally devastated by Chapman's death, gathers himself and his team and leads them to a World Series triumph.
Not much has been talked about this World Series. In fact many books have been written of so called great games ie "The Shot Heard Round the World", or Kurt Gibson's "I don't believe what I just saw" home run. But take it from me, October 10, 1920 in game five of the World Series three incredible things happened in one game.
1. Jim Bagby became the first pitcher to hit a home run in the World Series.
2. Elmer Smith hit a grand slam home run which was also a World Series first.
3. Bill Wambsganss turned the only unassisted triple play in World Series history.
All this happened on the corner intersection of East 66th and Lexington the location of League Park in Cleveland, Ohio.
Mr. Sowell has gone beyond the basics to recreate a time of American History. This book is indeed an American Classic about baseball. This truly was the most incredible season.
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The Pitch That Killed
The Pitch That Killed by Mike Sowell (Paperback - December 23, 2003)
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