August 24, 1919 – Ray Caldwell Struck by Lightning, Completes Game for Win
Tris Speaker took a chance on Ray Caldwell mid-season. Caldwell had recently been cut by the Boston Red Sox due to his declining performance and issues with alcoholism. His former manager Miller Huggins later wrote of Caldwell, “[He] was one of the best pitchers that ever lived, but he was one of those characters that keep a manager in a constant worry. If he had possessed a sense of responsibility and balance, Ray Caldwell would have gone down in history as one of the greatest of all pitchers.”
Caldwell showed his ability to pitch brilliantly on this August afternoon against Connie Mack’s Athletics. He also showed incredible fortitude after a crazy turn of events.
In the bottom of the fourth, Rollie Naylor walked Indians shortstop Ray Chapman. Player-manager Tris Speaker drew a second walk. Joe Harris hit a sacrifice fly that moved both runners over. Third baseman Larry Gardner grounded out, but plated Caldwell. With two outs, Bill Wambsganss hit a sharp grounder to the shortstop. The As Joe Dugan fielded it, but blew the throw to first. As the ball skipped away, Speaker was able to score from third on the error.
In the top of the fifth, George Burns of the As reached on a hit by pitch, and then was driven home by a Cy Perkins grounder. This cut the Indians’ lead to 2-1, but Caldwell was pitching confidently and efficiently.
A slight but steady rain had been falling for most of the game, as dark clouds scudded off Lake Erie in the way that they often do in late summer, but the game continued. Caldwell had the As down to their final out. With Joe Dugan at the plate, there was a sudden crack of thunder and a blinding flash. Players and fans alike dove for cover.
After a moment, others had recovered but Caldwell lay sprawled on the mound.
The shock knocked off Indians catcher Cy Perkin’s helmet and mask. Several players later said that they felt the shock in their legs, conducted upward by their metal cleats. “We all could feel the tingle of the electric shock running through our systems, particularly in our legs,” umpire Billy Evans later reported.
Caldwell slowly got up from the mound and assessed the damage. He had slight burns on his chest and tingling all over. Witnesses speculated that the lighting had struck the metal button on top of his cap, run through his body, and exited out his metal spikes. Caldwell described the experience to the Cleveland Press, “felt just like somebody came up with a board and hit me on top of the head and knocked me down.”
After a few minutes to shake off the mighty shock, the players re-took their positions–including Caldwell–to get the final out. Dugan hit a grounder to Larry Gardner at third base, who completed the throw to first and sealed the complete game win for Caldwell.
Caldwell’s overall pitching line: nine innings, three strikeouts, two walks, and one near-death experience.
Honorable Mention: 2011 – Masterson 4 Ks in Inning
Honorable Mention: 2018 – Kluber Throws a Maddux
Kluber used 98 pitches–64 of them strikes–to blank the Angels. A home run by Leonys Martin provided the winning run.