This is not the first time baseball has seen a catastrophic event make a mess of the season. In 1918, a global pandemic and a world war affected the baseball season. Although it was called the "Spanish Flu", it did not originate in Spain, but may have started in a military outpost in Kansas, according to some historians.
In the last several months, sports journalists have been chronicling how the 1918 baseball season proceeded in the midst of these events. For the Yankees, in particular, the pandemic would have a silver lining: a Red Sox player named Babe Ruth would excel in his at-bats after the team needed him in the line-up. By the time he was acquired by the Yankees in 1920, he was a baseball powerhouse.
If you are a fan of baseball history--and history, in general--the following articles provide an in-depth look at a year that was eerily similar to 2020 and are well worth a read.
According to Killion, baseball teams went on with the 1918 season because they did not want to lose revenue (sound familiar?). So everyone involved in the game sported masks and played until Labor day, at which point the Secretary of War deemed baseball to be a non-essential occupation--although some fans, past and present, may disagree with that assessment.
Putting even more constraints on the season than the pandemic was the fact that many players were conscripted into military service due to the 1917 act that made selective service legal. Killion's article frames baseball, as well as college football, in the larger context of American and world history at that time.
Francis tells the tragic story of the beloved umpire, Silk O'Loughlin. He worked 17 seasons as an American League umpire, including some World Series. His baseball colleagues remembered him for the integrity that he brought to the game.
According to Francis, he threw out 164 players in the course of his career and was known for his intonation of his calls. His sudden death from the flu at age 46 was mourned by baseball teams and fans alike across the nation.
Francis also names the others involved in baseball, from writers to minor leaguers, who succumbed to the flu. This article is not only a hommage to a baseball great, but also shows the lasting and heartbreaking effects of a deadly pandemic on close-knit organizations.
3. Love, Loss and Baseball: Letters from the Hub by Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated (www.si.com/mlb/2020/06/22/boston-babe-ruth-1918-spanish-flu)
Verducci writes letters as Eddie Martin, a baseball writer in 1918, narrating in great detail the baseball seasons leading up to and including 1918. As Eddie Martin, he puts the baseball season in context of the larger, disasterous events going on around them, writing: "Against what Frazee called “the grim horrors of war” we needed, as he put it, our amusement and recreation. Baseball, with its episodic drumbeat of games, was there for us almost every day. It could never completely counterbalance the frightful news from Europe. But it gave our minds mini vacations from the horrors. It made us smile. And no one in 1918 gave us a happier diversion from war than George Herman Ruth." Verducci covers the rise of Babe Ruth as if we, the readers, were at each game watching every play, while describing how Ruth narrowly escaped death from the flu--twice.
The tragic ending of these letters reads like many articles we see daily in 2020. Verducci not only researched every detail of how baseball and a pandemic collided, but he manages to capture the emotions in all of us as we cheer on our team while living in fear.