World Series played in 1918 as MLB players went to war

September 4, 2019

World War I almost disrupted the 1918 World Series, but not even the sound of gunfire in Europe could silence the bats of the fall classic.

According to MLB Historian John Thorn, "the fate of the 1918 season and its championship contest was in doubt as an influenza pandemic would proceed to take the lives of more than 650,000 Americans; fuel shortages and food rationing were daily facts of life; and of course, combat raged."

Thorn said even though 76 baseball players had enlisted in the nation's military, baseball owners feared a shutdown of the 1918 season in light of a "work or fight" edict issued by Gen. Enoch Crowder ordering all draft-age men into the Army or war-related employment.

"Baseball was classified as a nonessential occupation, unlike, say,' acting in the theater or motion pictures," Thorn explained.

In response to Crowder's order, baseball shortened its regular season and played the World Series in early September.

When the World Series opened on Sept. 5, 1918, featuring a matchup between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, Thorn said newspapers were full of war stories, including the latest American casualties.

"On the previous day, agitators had thrown a bomb into a downtown federal building and post office, killing four people and injuring dozens more," Thorn said.

The first game of the series attracted less than 20,000 fans, who saw a classic pitching duel between two lefty aces, Chicago's Hippo Vaughn and Boston's Babe Ruth.

1918 World Series Press Pin
Major League Baseball

The war was on everyone's mind, Thorn said.

"Then, before the Cubs' half of the seventh inning, the band struck up `The Star-Spangled Banner,'" Thorn said.

Written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, it was not yet the national anthem. That would come in 1931. Thorn said the song's ties to baseball go back to when it was played before a game in Brooklyn during the Civil War.

"The first major-league opening day at which the song was played took place in Philadelphia on April 22, 1897," he added.

When it was played on opening day of the 1918 World Series, "players doffed their caps as they faced the flag in right field as the twelve-piece band began to play, all of them except Red Sox infielder Fred Thomas, who was in the Navy but had been granted a furlough so he could play, " Thorn said.

Thomas turned toward the flag, kept his hat on and gave a military salute. Fans began to sing and when "the final notes came, a "great volume of melody rolled across the field," according to the New York Times. And when it ended, "onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day's enthusiasm."

Ruth upped his string of consecutive scoreless World Series innings to 22 during that first game of the 1918 World Series, holding the Cubs to six singles. Vaughn would give up a run in the fourth. Boston's George Whiteman made two catches that stranded five runners on base

The teams split the next two games, with Boston winning Game 4.

1918 World Series
Major League Baseball

For Game 5, the players refused to come onto the field due to a revenue dispute for nearly an hour. With fans chanting for them to play and a group of wounded soldiers watching from the stands, the players relented, Thorn said. The Cubs' Vaughn, pitched a shutout for the victory. Boston came back in Game 6, with a 2-1 victory to clinch the Series win.

The 1918 championship would be the Boston Red Sox's last for 86 years. The Cubs would wait 108 years to win a world title.

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