05 January, 2013

Ben Chapman

William Benjamin "Ben" was an American outfielder, pitcher, and manager in Major League Baseball who played for several teams. He began his career with the New York Yankees, playing his first seven seasons there.

During the period from 1926 to 1943, he had more stolen bases than any other player, leading the American League four times. After twelve seasons, during which he batted .302 and led the American League in assists and double plays twice each, he spent two years in the minor leagues and returned to the majors as a National League pitcher for three seasons, becoming player-manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, his final team.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Chapman batted and threw right-handed. He was a teammate of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio and other stars on the Yankees from 1930 through the middle of the 1936 season. In his 1930 rookie season with the Yankees, during which he batted .316, he played exclusively in the infield as a second and third baseman; although he played only 91 games at third, he led the American League in errors, and after Joe Sewell was acquired in the offseason, Chapman was shifted to the outfield to take advantage of his speed and throwing arm.

He led the American League in stolen bases for the next three seasons (1931–33); his 1931 total of 61 was the highest by a Yankee since Fritz Maisel's 74 in 1914, and would be the most by any major leaguer between 1921 and 1961; equaled only by George Case in 1943. With the Yankees, he also batted over .300 and scored 100 runs four times each, batted in 100 runs twice, led the American League in triples in 1934, and made each of the first three American League All-Star teams from 1933–35, leading off in the 1933 game as the first American League hitter in All-Star history. In the 1932 World Series he batted .294 with six runs batted in as the Yankees swept the Chicago Cubs. In one game on July 9, 1932, he had three home runs, two of which were inside-the-park, and on May 30, 1934 he broke up Detroit Tiger Earl Whitehill's no-hitter in the ninth inning.

In a 1933 game, his intentional spiking of Washington Senators' second baseman Buddy Myer caused a 20-minute brawl that saw 300 fans participate and resulted in five-game suspensions and $100 fines for each of the players involved. In June 1936, Chapman – then hitting .266 and expendable with the arrival of DiMaggio – was traded to the Senators. After the trade, Chapman rebounded to finish the year with a .315 average, again making the All-Star team and scoring 100 runs, and collecting a career-high 50 doubles. In June 1937 the Senators sent him to the Boston Red Sox, and he led the AL in steals for the fourth time with 35. The following year he hit a career-best .340 with Boston, after which he was traded to the Cleveland Indians. After seasons hitting .290 and .286, Cleveland sent him back to Washington in December 1940; he hit .255 with the Senators before they released him in May 1941, and after he batted only .226 with the Chicago White Sox over the remainder of the year, his major league career appeared to be finished.

After managing in the Class B Piedmont League in 1942 and 1944 – he was suspended for the 1943 season for punching an umpire – Chapman resurfaced, following brief World War II military service, as a pitcher in the National League with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944, earning five wins against three losses. After starting the next year 3–3, he was traded to the Phillies on June 15, 1945, becoming player-manager on June 30. He made three relief appearances for the team that year, and played his final game in 1946 with one inning of relief. He appeared in 1,717 games over 15 seasons, batting .302 lifetime with 287 stolen bases (including 15 of home), 1,144 runs, 90 home runs, 407 doubles, 107 triples and 977 RBIs, and winning eight of 14 decisions as a pitcher; his 184 steals with the Yankees placed him second in team history behind Hal Chase. Chapman's career major league managing record was 196–276 (.415).

Chapman died of a heart attack at age 84 at his home in Hoover, Alabama. He was interred at Birmingham's Elmwood Cemetery.

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