I just finished reading an excellent book - The Pitch that Killed, by Mike Sowell. It's about the fatal beaning of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, but it goes deeper, of course. There's a good amount of backstory given for both men, as well as a faithful narrative of the thrilling 1920 American League pennant race which was overshadowed by the tragic events of that one game. I'm admittedly a soft touch, but by the time the story progressed to Chapman's death and the aftermath of it, I found myself getting choked up.
Sadly, the accident - and given the facts, which are laid out without any tangible agenda on the part of Sowell, I do believe it was an accident - was a plot straight out of a movie. Two teams are embroiled in an unbelievably tight pennant race when one team's star pitcher (who is hated nearly league-wide for his antisocial behavior and his habit of brushing batters off of the plate) hits the other team's genial, popular star shortstop in the head with a pitch and fractures his skull. The shortstop dies at the hospital hours later, following surgery. To further the tragedy, Chapman and his wife were expecting their first child, and the player was planning to retire at the end of the season to more fully join his father-in-law's business. Even the ending is straight out of Hollywood; a raw young shortstop named Joe Sewell joins the Indians in September, dedicates his play to the memory of Chapman, and helps lead the team to the American League title - and ultimately to a World Series win over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As I read the book, my mind drifted to the scariest thing I had ever seen as an Orioles fan. It was an early season day game in 1994, and the O's were home against Cleveland. The invaluable Baseball Reference tells me it was May 8, 1994 to be exact. We were winning 8-3 in the sixth inning when Mike Devereaux came to bat, and he was having a great game. He'd hit a solo homer and a triple, driving in four runs. He dug in to face rookie reliever Chad Ogea with the bases empty and two outs. Ogea's pitch hit Devo flush on the left cheek. All I can remember is the vivid image of the center fielder dropping to the dirt on all fours, blood suddenly pouring out of his mouth in a thin but steady stream.
I could have sworn he missed some games after that, but remarkably, my research shows that he simply spent a few hours in the hospital and was able to play a full game the following day against the Blue Jays once the swelling subsided. Devereaux singled and scored a run in a 4-1 win over Toronto. In hindsight, he was incredibly fortunate, and evidently fearless. The card I've chosen today shows that fearlessness manifesting itself in another way, as he goes head-over-heels to snag a sinking liner to center field in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The grass stain on his knee is a nice touch.
Postscript: Oddly enough, Ogea's errant toss was Devo's only HBP in 1994.