On This Date: Pitcher Struck by Lightning, Stays in to Throw Complete Game

Right-hander Ray Caldwell had a pretty successful Major League career, going 134-120 with a 3.22 ERA in 12 seasons with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox. He was a member of the 1920 Cleveland Indians World Series championship team. Caldwell was immortalized for throwing a no-hitter on September 10, 1919, with the Indians, but he will be remembered more for the events that happened 17 days earlier. On August 24, 1919, Caldwell was in the midst of throwing a complete game when he was struck by lightning on the mound.

The odds of being struck by lightning in a lifetime are about one in twelve thousand. While that certainly seems unlikely, it became a reality for Caldwell. Ninety-six years ago today, Caldwell made his first start as a member of the Indians after being traded from the Red Sox earlier in the month. It was a great start for the spit-baller. Going into the ninth inning, Caldwell had allowed one run and four hits, while the Indians held on to a 2-1 lead. After quickly retiring the first two batters of the ninth, Caldwell toed up the rubber to finish off his gem when was hit by lightning.

While the story varies — some said the lightning hitting the press box and ricocheted to the mound, while others say Caldwell was struck on the button of his hat — regardless he was struck. Caldwell was knocked off his feet and was unconscious for about five minutes while teammates surrounded him. When he finally came to, Caldwell looked at his catcher and said, “Give me the ball.” The right-hander stood up and immediately got back on the bump to finish what he started. Despite concern from his manager, teammates, and umpires, Caldwell insisted on finishing the game. On the next pitch, Caldwell induced a groundout to secure a crucial victory for the Cleveland Indians.

Talk about going all out for the team. Caldwell was the first and only player to be struck by lightning during a game, and remain in the game. There have been 30 fatalities throughout professional baseball due to lightning strikes, but Caldwell refused to be one of them. Caldwell had no heath issues or repercussions from being hit by lightning, He went on to pitch for two more seasons before retiring, and lived to be 79 years old.

August 24, 1919, went down as one of the craziest days in baseball history. Incidentally, Caldwell’s shortstop that day, who felt some minor effects of being so close to the lightning strike, was Ray Chapman. Just less than a year later, on August 16, 1920, Chapman was hit in the head during an at bat, and eventually died from his injuries. Chapman remains the only player killed from a pitched ball during a game, and his death prompted the MLB to require players to wear helmets while batting.

Leave a Reply