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Yankees History: The Yankee who almost died

Chick Fewster had a 11-year major league career. He just nearly died in the middle.

A day at Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

One of the worst tragedies in baseball history was when Ray Chapman died after being hit on the head by a pitch. Just a few months earlier, a Yankee nearly suffered the same fate. He survived, however and because it was 1920, he played a few months later.

Chick Fewster was born in Baltimore, and was first discovered by baseball teams playing in sandlots. The Richmond Climbers signed Fewster after their trainer saw him on those same fields. He played the 1915 season before a minor league version of the Baltimore Orioles picked him up for 1916.

Fewster played two seasons in Baltimore before the Yankees picked him up near the end of the 1917 season. He played in a handful of major league games over the next two seasons. It took until 1919, however, before he started to get some semi-regular playing time.

During that season, Fewster played in 81 games for the Yankees. He hit .283/.386/.357. Despite the lack of power, those were okay numbers for that era. Fewster also played five positions across the field. Miller Huggins raved about the 23-year-old.“Chick has everything,” he said. “I have never seen a greater prospect.”

Fewster went to spring training with the Yankees in 1920. During a March 25th game against Brooklyn, he was tabbed to bat leadoff. In a bit of ominous foreshadowing, Wally Pipp had already been hurt after he was struck by a hit ball during batting practice.

During his first at-bat, Fewster was hit on the head by a Big Jeff Pfeffer pitch and fell to the ground unconscious. He eventually came to and was helped off after ten minutes on the ground. As his SABR bio puts it, “there was immediate worry that he might become gun-shy in future at-bats.” It pretty quickly became more serious than just that, though.

The following day, Fewster became unable to speak and was diagnosed with a concussion and a fractured skull. It wasn’t until six days after the injury that it was discovered that he was bleeding from a brain hemorrhage. He underwent an operation on March 31st, and it was expected that he would never play baseball again.

Remarkably, he did, and not as long after the injury as you would expect. By April 9th, Fewster was speaking and sitting up in bed. Shortly thereafter, he reportedly stated that he wanted to get out there and play baseball again. That came to fruition on July 5th, when he returned to the Yankees and played both games of a doubleheader against the Senators. He led off the second game and picked up a hit.

Fewster would play 21 games in 1920, and actually put up some decent hitting numbers. It became clear, however, he wasn’t the same player. He drew seven walks in his 36 plate appearances, but some wondered if that was due to pitchers not wanting to go inside on him.

The following season, Fewster played in 66 regular season games and four World Series games for the Yankees. He even homered in Game Six, a 8-5 loss to the Giants. Fewster again managed decent numbers, but that would not last.

In 1922, his batting began to drop off. Even before the injury, he drew a decent numbers of walks, but those started to dry up in 1922. Without those, his hitting number were never that great. He was eventually included in a midseason trade to the Red Sox that brought the Yankees Joe Dugan and Elmer Smith.

Fewster played another five seasons for Boston, Cleveland, and Brooklyn, but never regained his hitting prowess. He stuck around playing in the minor leagues for a couple seasons after that before retiring to become a stock broker. Just a few weeks after becoming a stock broker, the 1929 Wall Street Crash happened.

Luckily, Chick Fewster did not suffer the same fate as Ray Chapman. That being said, it is extremely 1920’s baseball for the guy who nearly died to come back and be immediately thrown into the fray just three months later.

Sources

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/24993c14

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/fewstch01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/WS1/WS1192007052.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA192110110.shtml