Ray Caldwell: The Pitcher that Was Struck by Lightning

During the broadcast of the MLB game between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins on August 24, 2020, Fox Sports Cleveland, the flagship television station for the Indians, ran the following infographic on former Cleveland pitcher Ray Caldwell:

Fox Sports Cleveland

According to the unbelievable stat line, on that date 101 years prior, Caldwell was struck by lightning in the final inning of his Indians debut. Despite being knocked unconscious, he was revived and completed the game.

This too-good-to-believe graphic made its rounds on social media websites Twitter and Instagram the following days. Yet, who was Ray Caldwell?

Caldwell was born on April 26, 1888, in Corydon Township, Pennsylvania. He and his family stayed in the area, and he graduated from Salamanca High School in Salamanca, New York.

Caldwell broke into Major League Baseball in 1910 with the New York Highlanders (now Yankees). He pitched and played outfield for the Highlanders until 1918. In the offseason, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. Halfway through the 1919 season, he was traded again to the Cleveland Indians.

Caldwell with the New York Yankees. / Society for American Baseball Research

His first start on the mound for the Indians came on August 24, 1919. That day, against the Philadelphia Athletics, Caldwell allowed only 1 run and 4 hits through 8 2/3 innings.

With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, the unexpected occurred. Although the exact details are disputed, it is fact that a bolt of lightning hit somewhere within League Park, the home of the Indians at that time, and Caldwell was knocked unconscious. “A bolt came hurtling from the sky and smashed into the ground near the pitcher’s mound,” wrote Indians historian Franklin Lewis. “A direct hit would have killed any mortal. Caldwell was struck, a glancing blow fortunately. He was flattened and knocked unconscious for five minutes.”

Others on the field also felt the impact of the strike. Catcher Steve O’Neill’s cap and mask were knocked off. Athletics third base coach Harry Davis‘ hat was knocked off. Numerous others on the field reported feeling numbness. However, Caldwell received the brunt of it, being knocked to the ground. Everyone feared that he was dead.

However, after five minutes, Caldwell woke up, and he insisted on finishing the game. He got the final out, a ground ball to third base, for the complete game win in his memorable Cleveland debut. After the game, he reported having a burn mark on his chest. Besides that, there was no lasting impact from the lightning strike.

A Newspaper Article Reporting the Game. / Society for American Baseball Research

Just 17 days later on September 10, Caldwell threw a no-hitter against his former team, the Yankees. Going the complete game, he struck out 5 and only allowed 1 walk in the 3-0 win. In addition, he provided a double at the plate.

Caldwell would pitch two more seasons with the Indians. In 1920, he helped lead Cleveland to a World Series championship with a 20-10 record and 3.86 ERA.

The 1921 season was the last in the MLB for Caldwell. He finished his 12-year career with a 134-120 record, 3.22 ERA, 1,006 strikeouts, and a 36.3 WAR.

Caldwell’s early exit from baseball is attributed to his love for the nightlife. A notorious drinker, Caldwell worked out a deal during his Indians days with player-manager and future Hall-of-Famer Tris Speaker. After his starts, Speaker encouraged Caldwell to get drunk and not show up to the clubhouse the next day.

Following his playing days, Caldwell managed in the minor leagues for two seasons: 1933 for the Keokuk Indians and 1940 for the Fremont Red Sox.

In 1940, he bought a farm in Frewsburg, New York. He also worked at the train station at Ashville, New York, as a telegrapher for the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railway. Later in life, he became a steward and bartender at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club in Lakewood, New York. He also married four times over his life.

Ray Caldwell died on August 17, 1967 in Salamanca at the age of 79. He was posthumously inducted in the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

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