It was a season of tragedy that ended in triumph. A year in which off the field headlines about what had transpired the season before often overshadowed what was playing out on the diamond.
Against the backdrop of a scandal that threatened the integrity of professional baseball itself, the Cleveland Indians quietly put together a championship run 101 years ago. They were a team that was resilient enough to persevere through the sudden passing of Ray Chapman after he was struck in the head by a Carl Mays pitch and win the World Series.
Now, an important relic from that great—and awful—year is up for auction for the first time.
RMY Auctions is offering an original team photograph of the 1920 World Series champions in its current auction. Any original image of the ’20 Tribe is rare, but rarer still are those that were taken early in the season and include Chapman. The 7 x 9 ¼” image, housed for decades in a newspaper archive, is one of them.
Chapman appears on the bottom row, fourth from right, glancing to the side while vast majority of the players stare straight into the lens. Other than a few pinholes from long ago use in production of the newspaper, it remains in good condition. Team members are identified on the back.
RMY calls the silver gelatin photograph “ one of the most historically important images of the era we have ever offered.”
Chapman’s death in mid-August rallied fans and united players, who donned black arm bands and became an unstoppable force, beating the Brooklyn Robins for the title on October 12. It was Cleveland’s first championship and included some historic firsts as well—all on the same day. In Game 5 on October 10, Bill Wambsganss turned what is still the only unassisted triple play in the World Series. In the same game, Elmer Smith hit the first World Series grand slam and Jim Bagby became the first pitcher to hit a homer in the Series.
The photo is one of more than 500 in RMY’s July Auction, set to close Saturday night.