Molly Lawless’ graphic novel, Hit by Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball, explores the story of Ray Chapman, the only major league baseball player to be killed by a baseball.  The book includes lively images and the stories of the people involved.  Bill Littlefield spoke with Lawless for this week’s Only A Game.

Bill’s thoughts on Hit by Pitch.

An illustration from Molly Lawless' graphic novel, 'Hit By Pitch.'

An illustration from Molly Lawless’ graphic novel, Hit by Pitch.

When Molly Lawless was a self-described “weird ten-year-old,” she became fascinated with baseball players who’d failed to finish a season on account of death. Her research led to the discovery that only one Major Leaguer, Ray Chapman, had been killed by a baseball. She went on to explore the lives of the main characters in the drama that took place on August 16, 1920, when Carl Mays, pitching for the Yankees, beaned Ray Chapman, hitting for the Indians. Chapman died shortly thereafter, although he lives on in the imagination of Molly Lawless, for which those who appreciate graphic novels should be grateful.

According to Lawless herself, Hit by Pitch is “a really heavy comic book,” but that description doesn’t do her work justice. Though the event at the center of the story is gruesome, much of what she’s written and illustrated is humorous and all of it is lively. She has a terrific instinct for the quirky minor character. Consider, for example, Ray “Slim” Caldwell, a teammate of Ray Chapman’s with a singular claim to fame: He was once struck by lightning while on the mound, and after shaking off the electricity, he pitched the remainder of the game. Where are the stories like that in today’s Major Leagues?

One further note: Hit by Pitch is described even on the jacket of the book as a graphic novel, and although Lawless has no doubt used her imagination, the players, managers, owners, writers, and others depicted in her book are based on the sort of research that can only be accomplished by a former “weird ten-year-old.”