December 25 – Happy Birthday Ben Chapman
Only two New York Yankees have led the American League in stolen bases three times while wearing pinstripes and both celebrate their birthdays on Christmas day. Today’s birthday celebrant accomplished it in consecutive seasons beginning in 1931.
Chapman began his big league career in 1930, when Bob Shawkey made the rookie the Yankees’ starting third baseman. The Nashville native had a terrific first year, hitting .316 and driving in 81 runs. When Joe McCarthy took over as New York manager the following season, he switched Chapman to left field, where he teamed with Babe Ruth and Earle Combs to give the Yankees one of their best outfields in franchise history. Chapman was more than just a base-stealer. He drove in 327 runs during the next three seasons while the Bambino had 403 RBIs of his own during that same span. Chapman later replaced Combs as the Yankee starting center fielder.
During his seven seasons in the Bronx, Chapman averaged .305 and played great defensively. So why did the Yankees trade such a talented ballplayer to the Senators for a guy named Jake Powell just before the midway point of the 1936 season? There were actually two reasons. The first was a young center fielder named Joe DiMaggio, who showed up in the Bronx in 1936. But perhaps the biggest reason Chapman was dealt was because he also happened to be one of the meanest and most unfriendly Yankees to ever put on the uniform. He got into fights with everybody, umpires, opponents, teammates, it didn’t matter who. He insulted Babe Ruth, was suspended for hitting an umpire and told his first wife he wanted a divorce just two months after they were married. Worst of all, Chapman was also considered by many to be a vocal racist and an anti-semite. And he must of got meaner as he got older because once the Yankees got rid of him, Chapman was traded seven more times during the next dozen years. His meanest and lowest moments came after he retired as a player when in 1947, while he was manager of the Phillies, Chapman became infamous for his relentless and unusually cruel hazing of the great Jackie Robinson.
Chapman was definitely the Yankee Grinch who stole a lot of bases.
You can read about the Yankees’ other Christmas Day-born base-stealing champion here.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to any and all readers of the Pinstripe Birthdays Blog.