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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game

So he hurriedly toes the rubber as the rain picks up. He gets two easy infield popouts to open the inning. One more to go. Now the wind howls, the storm fully upon the field.

Just as he gets set, a flash from the sky explodes down into the middle of the field. Shortstop Ray Chapman feels a surge of electricity go down his leg, and the violence of the lightning strike causes players to dive for the ground. “I took off my mask and threw it as far as I could,” Cleveland catcher Steve O’Neill says later of his metal mask. “I didn’t want it to attract any bolts toward me.”

Five seconds after the bolt hits the ground, everybody looks around. The eight Indians position players are OK, but their newest teammate is not. Caldwell is on his back, arms spread wide, out cold on the mound. The lightning strike had hit him directly.

Players rush to Caldwell, but the first man who touches him leaps in the air, saying he’d been zapped by Caldwell’s prone body.

So everybody steps back and just stares. Caldwell’s chest is smoldering from where the bolt burned it. They’re terrified to touch him, and nobody does.

All of them wonder: Is Ray Caldwell dead?

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 24, 2021 at 09:11 AM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: ray caldwell

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   1. Howie Menckel Posted: August 24, 2021 at 11:30 AM (#6035984)
Shortstop Ray Chapman feels a surge of electricity go down his leg

51 weeks later, Chapman felt a pitch hit his skull.

some of the same Indians players were on hand for both unique occurences.
   2. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: August 24, 2021 at 11:42 AM (#6035990)
Obviously Caldwell's lightning strike immunized him from further damage. What didn't kill him just made him stronger.
   3. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: August 24, 2021 at 11:47 AM (#6035993)
Actually this part of the article is even more bizarre than the lightning incident:

[Caldwell] signed with Boston in 1919 and went 7-4 with a 3.96 ERA through three months of the season. On road trips, the Red Sox inexplicably had Caldwell room with a 24-year-old superstar who also would develop a penchant for "outbreaks of misbehavior," Babe Ruth. The team quickly realized that the pairing was a disaster and cut Caldwell in early August.

When Speaker summoned him a few weeks later, Caldwell would have signed just about any contract put in front of him. And good thing for that, because Cleveland offered him a deal historians now say ranks among the most bizarre in baseball history.

The deal said that on game days, Caldwell was to pitch and then go get plastered. According to historian Franklin Lewis in his book "The Cleveland Indians," Caldwell was perplexed looking at the contract.

"You left out one word, Tris," Caldwell said as he looked at the document. "Where it says I've got to get drunk after every game, the word not has been left out. It should read that I'm not to get drunk."

Speaker smiled. "No, it says that you are to get drunk."

Speaker then explained a very specific regimen Caldwell was to adhere to every week. On game days, he'd pitch and then perform his mandated drinking duties. He was then free to skip coming to the ballpark the next day and sleep off his hangover. But two days later, Speaker wanted him at the ballpark early to run as many wind sprints as the manager thought he needed. Three days after every start, Caldwell was to throw batting practice. Pitch, drink, sleep, run, BP, rinse and repeat.

Historians believe Speaker, a true innovator as a player/manager, thought Caldwell's talent was worth the strange risk, and that by giving him a free pass day of unrestrained drinking, Caldwell might be able to stay on track the other three days of a pitching cycle. "I never heard of anything like that," says dead ball era expert Steve Steinberg. "And I can't imagine anybody offering a deal like that today."

Caldwell shrugged. "OK, I'll sign," he said.
   4. Howie Menckel Posted: August 24, 2021 at 11:59 AM (#6035996)
in the lineup for the Caldwell and Chapman games for Indi..Guardians (aside from Chapman):

C Steve O'Neill
2B Bill Wambsganss
3B Larry Gardner
CF Tris Speaker
RF Elmer Smith

just six weeks after Chapman died, Wambsganss achieved the first World Series unassisted triple play and Smith whacked the first grand slam in a World Series - in the same game!

also had not realized that the newly-married Chapman was widely expected to retire at the end of the 1920 season.

   5. Traderdave Posted: August 24, 2021 at 12:52 PM (#6036006)
In my early teens, one day in summer I was playing 2 on 2 with my brothers and a friend at the school yard across the street. A storm was coming in: sky was getting dark, wind was gusting, no rain yet but we knew it was moments away. We all agreed to finish the inning and then run home.

I was pitching to my brother Jeff and lighting struck the metal backstop behind the plate. Jeff collapsed from the shock but got up a moment later and helped me get home because I was blinded for several minutes by the flash.

He was using a wood bat. If he'd been using an aluminum bat he would surely have fried.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: August 24, 2021 at 05:13 PM (#6036071)
Many years ago now, I started doing some day walks in W NC. Up the trail to a ridge, along the ridge for a bit, down a different trail back to the carpark. Probably 2.5-3 hours for me. One lovely day, I get to the top and can see there's a big storm coming from the other side of the ridge. At this point I think "I don't really know what I'm supposed to do in the wild." I went with "go back the way I came as fast as I can" which worked fine as I got in my car just as the storm hit.

So I figured I'd better look up what I was supposed to do. According to the website I checked it was:
(a) lightning can strike about half an hour before and after a storm
(b) avoid tall trees
(c) find a rock that's slightly elevated above the ground (or use your backpack if necessary)
(d) squat on your toes to minimize your surface area of contact with the ground and make yourself as short as possible
(e) remember -- maintain this position for 30 minutes before the storm, the entire storm and 30 minutes after the storm

Ha Ha! Even Yadi Molina can't stay in a crouch for 90+ minutes. I'd die from the leg cramps, lightning would be a less painful death.

(Note steps a-e are not offered as advice, I am not a hiker, use at your own peril. I offer only for the entertainment of the impossibility of squatting for 90+ minutes.)
   7. Howie Menckel Posted: August 24, 2021 at 05:35 PM (#6036074)
suggestion (f) would be one of Lee Trevino's favorite golf jokes which, alas, no longer is in fashion because of a change in the typical 14-club set for both pros and amateurs. but it went something like this:

"Fellas, here's what you do. Calmly go to your bag and choose a certain club, then raise it high above your head as the lightning nears. Don't panic, because I have good news for you: "Even GOD can't hit a 1-iron!"

   8. AndrewJ Posted: August 24, 2021 at 06:31 PM (#6036090)
The Chapman-era Indians were one of the few MLB teams -- perhaps the only one -- to improve upon their W/L records in six straight seasons. They were last in the AL in '13 (51-102) and improved to seventh in '14 (57-95), sixth in '16 (77-77), third in '17 (88-66), second in '18-'19 (73-54 and 84-55) before winning it all in '20 (98-56).
   9. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: August 24, 2021 at 11:33 PM (#6036154)
I'm checking various franchises, and the closest I can find so far is five straight seasons for the Mets from 1981 through 1986: 41-62 to 65-97 to 68-94 to 90-72 to 98-64 to 108-54. I debated whether or not to count 1981 since it was a strike season, but the Mets did have a lower winning percentage in 1981 than they did in 1982, so I think that's good enough.
   10. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: August 24, 2021 at 11:42 PM (#6036156)
The 1919 to 1925 Athletics also improved their record in six straight seasons. It's less impressive than the Cleveland teams of the Chapman era, because the A's started the streak with one of the worst teams of all-time: 36-104 to 48-106 to 53-100 to 65-89 to 69-83 to 71-81 to 88-64. (I'm ignoring ties by the way.) Like the Mets, these Athletics teams started their streak in a short season. Also like the Mets, they improved their winning percentage from year one to year two anyway, so I think it counts.
   11. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: August 25, 2021 at 08:32 AM (#6036185)
#6 -

Actually, rule #1, way above everything else on your list would be to get off the ridge. Drop elevation as much as possible, if you are unable to do that for some reason, or are otherwise still exposed, that's when you go with c (absolutely do not use your backpack if it's the external metal frame style), d, & e.
   12. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: August 25, 2021 at 11:36 AM (#6036237)
I get all my storm safety tips from The Simpsons.
   13. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: August 25, 2021 at 03:00 PM (#6036281)
The Orioles got worse for 5 straight seasons after they'd won the 1983 World Series. They went from 98 wins to 85 to 83 to 73 to 67 to 54. And they did it again between 2005 and 2009, only this time they only dropped from 78 wins to 64. The 1932-36 A's also did it after winning their 3rd straight pennant in 1931.

Don't know if any team's kept losing more games for 6 or more straight years, but it wouldn't surprise me, even though most teams have a dead cat bounce after a few years of decline.
   14. The Duke Posted: August 25, 2021 at 10:50 PM (#6036384)
I used to rock climb and by the all-day nature of the sport, you run into a lot of bad storms. Walts advice is spot on. They used to tell us to take a coil of rope and put it on the rock and then sit on the coil.

The absolute worst thing you can do is the thing everybody does which is to run into the mouth of a cave opening. Apparently, that’s the best way to get hit

Of course sitting on a rock in an open field in a thunderstorm feels very exposed. It’s hard for people to accept that this is the best answer. It’s scary as hell and if you’ve ever had to do it, you’ll pay much closer attention to the weather in the future. It’s made worse by the half of your group that shelters in the cave who are laughing at you for your stupidity.

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