Barra: What really happened to Ben Chapman?

From Allen Barra at The Atlantic on April 15, 2013:

In 1979, having graduated the University of Alabama with no ambition more worthwhile than becoming a sportswriter, I had occasion to meet Ben Chapman—the “Alabama Flash,” as we knew him—during a college baseball game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

“You ought to come over and interview me sometime,” he said. “I’ll tell ya some stories.”

“I’ll bet you could,” I thought to myself. I knew Chapman only by reputation. He had been a pretty good ballplayer on the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees and then later with several other teams, but he was remembered for his savage heckling of Jackie Robinson in Robinson’s first year in the major leagues, 1947, when Chapman was manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Chapman was 71 and gray-haired when I met him, but he looked younger, and very fit—unlike most former big leaguers I’ve encountered over my career.

I took him up on his offer to talk, and we got together the following week. He was very gracious, always smiling. But when the talk turned to something he was uncomfortable with, the smile seemed to freeze and he bared his teeth. This happened about two minutes into our interview.

“Is it true,” I wanted to know, “that you said those things to Jackie Robinson? You know, the names, the words, that everyone said you used?”

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Originally published: April 15, 2013. Last Updated: April 15, 2013.