Sam Chapman, 90; halfback on last Cal team to win Rose Bowl

Times Staff Writer

Sam Chapman, an All-American halfback on the last University of California football team to win the Rose Bowl -- in 1938 -- who went on to play baseball with the Philadelphia Athletics, has died. He was 90.

Chapman died Friday at an assisted-living facility in Kentfield, Calif., his daughter, Calen Chapman, said. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

A lifelong resident of Marin County who was dubbed the “Tiburon Terror,” Chapman was an all-around athlete at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. His football coach there was Roy Riegels, a former Cal player who got the nickname “Wrong Way” by picking up a fumble and running 69 yards to the wrong end zone in the 1929 Rose Bowl.

At Riegels’ urging, Chapman went to Cal and became a three-year starter for football coach Stub Allison’s “Thunder Teams.” In 1937, as a senior running back, Chapman led the Bears to a 9-0-1 record in the regular season and a 13-0 victory over Alabama in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame in 1984.


He also played baseball at Cal, and although he was drafted by pro football’s Washington Redskins, he chose major league baseball over the NFL after he graduated in 1938. Ty Cobb, the former Detroit Tiger and future Hall of Famer, had seen Chapman play and recommended him to Connie Mack, the A’s legendary owner and manager.

Chapman started immediately as a rookie outfielder and played 11 years in the majors, 10 with the A’s. Known for his steady bat, strong arm and speed in the field, he had his best season in 1941, when he batted .322 and had 178 hits, 106 runs batted in and 25 home runs.

At the end of that season he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, earned his wings as a pilot and served as a flight instructor in Corpus Christi, Texas, during World War II. He returned to the A’s at the end of the 1945 season, and although he was voted to the 1946 American League All-Star team, he never regained his prewar form.

He was traded to the Cleveland Indians early in the 1951 season and retired from the majors at the end of the year. He returned to Marin County and worked as a building contractor, but soon joined the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and played three seasons, retiring for good in 1954.


After baseball, Chapman worked as an inspector for the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

In addition to his daughter, of Corte Madera, Calif., he is survived by sons Blake of Woodacre, Calif., Chris and Mark of Larkspur, Calif., six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Jodie Chapman, died in 2000.

A memorial service is planned for next month in his native Tiburon, where a life-size bronze statue will be built in his honor. Instead of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Sam Chapman Statue Fund, P.O. Box 1182, Belvedere-Tiburon, CA 94920.