The 1918 baseball season was cut short when America actively entered World War I. It was a development that not only affected the outcome of both pennant races but also made the home run revolution of the 1920s possible by indirectly causing Babe Ruth's conversion into an outfielder.
War had formally been declared in April of 1917, but players did not begin to join the armed services in significant numbers until Provost Marshall General Crowder issued his "work or fight" order in June of 1918. Unlike in World War II, baseball made no attempt to claim essential employment status on the grounds of aiding public morale, and the government ordered the season cut off on Labor Day, September 2. Personnel losses due to the enlistment or drafting of major leaguers were the biggest factor in both pennant races.
When the Boston Red Sox
manager was drafted into
WWI, executive Ed
Barrow stepped in to
manage the team.
Barrow filled the holes in his lineup by acquiring Stuffy Mclnnis, Wally Schang, and Bullet Joe Bush from the last-place Athletics and altered the course of history by playing staff ace Ruth in the outfield, mostly against righties, between starts.
The Babe went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA on the mound but batted .300 with 11 triples, 11 home runs, and 66 RBI (third-best in the American League) in his 317 times at bat. He tied Philadelphia's Tilly Walker (who batted 414 times) for the league-lead in homers, the first of his 12 career home run titles. After he swatted a record 29 round-trippers the following year, Ruth's career as a pitcher was over.
For the defending National League champion New York Giants, the war cost them outfielder Benny Kauff and pitchers Rube Benton and Jeff Tesreau; McGraw's team finished second, 101/2 games behind Chicago. The relatively intact Cubs turned the pennant race into a cakewalk on the strength of Fred Merkle's .297 batting average and 65 RBI, outfielder Max Flack's ten triples and 74 runs, and Hippo Vaughn's league-leading 22 wins and 1.74 ERA.
Brooklyn's Zach Wheat won the batting title at .335, nosing out the Reds' Edd Roush at .333. The third-place Reds suspended first baseman Hal Chase 74 games into the season for what was euphemistically termed "indifferent play" -- in other words, fixing ball games for gamblers. The enigmatic Chase, whose enormous personal charm masked what one teammate called his "corkscrew mind," was given one more chance by the Giants.
The 1918 World Series set the stage for a players strike. Rumors that the players would not be paid their prize money (a $2,000 share for each winner, a $1,400 share for each loser) had spread. After approaching the National Commission and receiving no support, the players planned to boycott the rest of the event (the 1918 World Series stood at three games to one, Red Sox).
With almost 25,000 fans in attendance at game four, Boston Mayor Fitzgerald made a public appeal to the patriotism of the players, who ultimately gave in; the owners, however, somehow escaped adhering to the players' compromise proposal that all proceeds from the Series be donated to a war charity.
The Red Sox won the 1918 World Championship, four games to two.
Check out the next page for headlines from the 1918 baseball season.
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