Baseball Tough Guy Ben Chapman Dies at 84
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Ben Chapman stood his ground against an aging Babe Ruth and was one of Jackie Robinson’s greatest tormentors when baseball’s color barrier came tumbling down. Wrong or right, he was never afraid to speak his mind.
″It didn’t matter who it was,″ said Harry Walker, who played for Chapman when he managed the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1940s. ″He spoke up to ’em.″
Chapman, who played alongside Ruth in the New York Yankees outfield in the 1930s, died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack at his home outside Birmingham. He was 84.
Walker recalled a story related to him by his late brother, Dixie, who played with Ruth and Chapman on the Yankees. Nearing the end of his career in 1934, Ruth heard some players were grumbling that New York would be better off without the aging home-run king, so he called a team meeting.
″Ruth jumped up and chewed ’em all out. He told them he was the one who made their money for them,″ Walker said. ″Chapman got up and said, ‘The hell you did. You didn’t steal my 60 bases. You didn’t hit .300 for me. You got you’re money and I got mine.’
″I heard he was the only man who said anything to Ruth.″
A not-so-pleasant side of Chapman, who grew up in the segregated South, was revealed when he was managing the Phillies and Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black to play in the major leagues.
In his book ″Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and his Legacy,″ author Jules Tygiel wrote that Chapman ordered his players to challenge Robinson with racial taunts ″to see if he can take it.″
Walker maintained that Chapman always got a bum rap for his treatment of Robinson.
″People got on Ben about how he rode Jackie Robinson, but he always said, ’I don’t care if somebody is an Indian, black, Jewish, Italian, whatever, if I can ride him and upset him, whatever it takes I’m going to do it,″ Walker said. ″That was Ben’s nature. He didn’t give in and he didn’t take anything.″
As a player, Chapman was with the Yankees in the 1932 World Series and appeared in four All-Star games.
Chapman led the American League in stolen bases four times - including 61 in 1931 - and ranked among the top five on three other occasions. He also led the league in triples in 1934.
In addition to the Yankees, he played for six teams, including the Washington Senators twice.
While playing mostly in the outfield, Chapman also saw action at second and third and pitched in his final years, compiling an 8-6 record during the talent-starved years of World War II.
In 1945, Chapman became the player-manager of the struggling Phillies, but was never able to turn things around. He compiled a 196-276 record and finished no higher than fifth.
Chapman is survived by his wife, Ola, and two sons.