In a beautiful historic Cleveland cemetery that includes the gravesites of President James A. Garfield, John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness among others, the grave of Ray Chapman, some 100 years after his death, is one of the most frequently visited.

Ray in many ways was just an ordinary guy  – family man, team player, solid citizen, sensible, loyal, spirited. He was also the popular and charismatic captain of the 1920 Cleveland Indians baseball team, on his way to building a possible Hall of Fame career.

Ray also holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only player in major league baseball history ever to be killed by a pitched ball.

Ray’s tragic story is told in historical novel style by author, researcher and baseball junkie Rick Swaine in Do It For Chappie (Tucker Bay Publishing). The book tracks the memorable three-team dogfight for the American League pennant between the Indians, Babe Ruth-led New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, as well as the looming scandal from the prior season in which members of the White Sox sold out to mobsters and threw the 1919 World Series.

But most of all, baseball is the backdrop to the devastating story of a young man who appeared to have it all: charm, talent, a new devoted wife, a guaranteed career after baseball, inner peace, and the admiration of fans and teammates. Until one pitch destroyed it all.

“One of the finest men you’ll ever meet,” said teammate Smoky Joe Wood. “A real high-class fellow.”

So is the book a biography or a novel? Author Swaine defines it as “a literary work that attempts to convey the spirit, manners and social conditions of a past age with realistic details and fidelity to historical fact.” 

He introduces what he calls “author reconstructions…limited to plausible dialogue or musings and the creation of minor scenarios to facilitate them.”

The historical novel format enables the story “to be told in the present tense through the eyes of the characters involved.” 

We first meet Ray when he discusses with his future father-in-law, the influential and wealthy Martin B. Daly, his desire to marry Daly’s daughter Katy. Ray “loosely agrees” to eventually give up baseball – staying on long enough, hopefully, to bring Cleveland a championship – to be a full-time husband and father, with a career assured in Daly’s company. 

This issue  – if and when to quit baseball – weighs heavily on Ray as we are guided through the season, its ups and downs, and the many colorful personalities that populate the Indians clubhouse. The matter of whether to keep playing so troubles him that at one point, he voices his anxiety to his now-wife Katy, who offers the perfect response: “The solution is obvious. Just quit worrying about it and go win that darn pennant.”

Like a play, book or movie, the game of baseball, particularly during the book’s time period, is regarded as the perfect hobby or activity to help Americans pass the time – hence, our national pastime. It provides a leisurely diversion to the daily travails of life, a time to forget pain, hardship and sorrow, and relax by simply watching grown-ups play a child’s game.

This is the tone for much of Do It For Chappie. But the reader knows, unless he or she intentionally chooses to ignore history, that tragedy is on the way. We’ll leave that moment of truth for readers to digest on their own, as well as the aftermath and whether the Indians in fact can win the pennant for their fallen star.

Readers lose themselves in the clever, well-researched dialogue, including the constant barbing, antics and escapades of the ballplayers themselves. As Swaine reminds us, no records are available as to the characters’ exact words, but you’d never know it as you breeze through the author’s accounts with his meticulous research into the characters’ speech and mannerisms.

This book provides an authentic account of a thrilling baseball season, but that is secondary to a story about a wonderful man, a gifted athlete, who played hard in his quest for a championship. Though if you had the chance to ask him, he probably would have been content with the simple things life had to offer.

Says Rev. Dr. William A. Scullen in his tribute at Chapman’s funeral: “I am not exaggerating when I call our friend a glorious example of the American spirit, and he carried that same spirit, that smiling cheerfulness, that unswerving devotion, that gentle courtesy, into the great game of life.”

Do It For Chappie is available for purchase. Read more about Swaine on his BookTrib author profile page.

About Rick Swaine

A native Floridian, Rick Swaine grew up in Miami and resides in the Tallahassee area. A graduate of Florida State University and a member of The Society for American Baseball Research, he has written four nonfiction books and numerous articles on baseball history. He is still active in the game, coaching and playing in a local league as well as regional and national adult baseball tournaments.