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War, Pandemic, and Seattle Baseball in 1918: Part 3

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The Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League wraps up its season and finds itself in need of a championship series. As the Duthies and Pat-Macs prepare to decide which of them would wear the championship crown, the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic arrives in Seattle

Influenza Ward
Influenza ward in 1918.
Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Welcome to the final installment in a series examining World War I, baseball, and the 1918 influenza pandemic in Seattle. Catch upon Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

In 1917 the United States entered the Great War. For the first time in over fifty years, the country was engaged in a large war that required the participation and sacrifice of everyone in the country. The economy shifted into war preparation. Shipbuilding became a major industry. Citizens were asked to support the war effort by self-rationing food and buying war bonds. The enemy always lurked, even a continent away from fighting. The US was always on alert for suspected German spies. Young men were sent to fight, and too often to die, in the trenches of Europe. For the past two years, the war had become the focus of daily life.

Then, the influenza pandemic swept across the country and into Seattle. Again, foundations were uprooted. Death and fear permeated daily life.

The city closed business, theaters, and all non-essential work.

Nearing the end of the October, Seattle kept waiting for one final baseball game, one last gasp of normalcy.

For three weeks the city had waited for the final game to be played, for an afternoon of carefree fun, for a chance to gather and cheer.

After three weeks, the waiting was over.

Duthies vs. Pat-Macs

The once-mighty J.F. Duthie shipyard team continued to spin out after losing to the Patterson-MacDonald shipyard on September 1st. Although they pulled out wins in the next two games, they were clearly struggling. They barely won a hit fest, in which 36 total batters reached safely, against the Foundation shipyard. The next week, they only just eked out a win over the last-place Seattle North Pacific team. The Duthies, defending shipyard baseball champions and Seattle city semi-pro champions, were languishing in third place in the shipyard league.

Meanwhile, Patterson-MacDonald continued to play well. The Pat-Macs handed the strong Sloan team its second loss of the season, then rolled over the Todd team. The only undefeated team in the league, they were the clear leaders. An upcoming rematch with the Duthie team could only help cement them as the likely pennant winner.

But there were still baseball players to sign, and shipyard teams could still be strengthened. The Duthies were not about to give up. In September the shipyard league agreed to a rule change that allowed players employed at shipyards without teams to play for shipyard teams in the league. They could also use military players on shipyard teams. The Duthies took advantage of the rule change to sign the great Walter Mails to pitch for them. Mails was employed at the Ames yard, which did not have a team. He was eager to play baseball, and had spent much of his spare time catching on with various all-star teams and joining games where he could. He was ready to pitch regularly again.

Shipyard teams were also regularly losing players to military draft calls. Although shipyard work was an essential war-time industry, it did not automatically exempt men from military service and shipyard workers could still choose to enter the military when they were called. Despite being derided as slackers, a number of players used the shipyard teams as a place to play baseball until it was time to do their duty for Uncle Sam. With players constantly coming in and going out, shipyard teams could look considerably different by the end of the season.

Determined not to lose their Seattle baseball supremacy, the Duthies signed Earl Sheely in the leadup to their September rematch against Patterson-MacDonald. Sheely was considered the best minor league first baseman in baseball. He had been drafted into the army the previous fall, but was rejected due to a bad ankle that was subject to rheumatism. A rare slugger at the time, he hit 19 home runs in 1917 and 12 in 1918 with Salt Lake City in the PCL. The Duthies were also happy to finally have their center fielder Bill Cunningham back after he missed three weeks with a crushed pinky from a shipyard accident.

The Seattle Daily Times was impressed with the improved Duthies, writing, ”No Northwestern League club ever had such a number of star players as has the Duthie club now, with Mails, Seaton, Sheely, Borton, Grover, Reuther, and Hillyard in its lineup, every one a man with major league experience and in his prime.”1

Patterson-MacDonald was also confident in their team. Star pitcher Paul Fittery had pitched fantastic baseball. The Duthies had Walter Mails to send to the mound, but he was rusty from a lack of regular pitching. He pitched the Sunday before the Pat-Mac game and left after five innings. He struck out 10, but his control was poor. The Duthies, with their strengthening, had no reason to worry over their pitching, however. They had Tom Seaton to start instead.

A huge crowd turned out to Liberty Park on September 15th to watch the game. The Duthies were clearly out to win another pennant and squarely took aim at the league leaders. Earl Sheely hit a home run to thrill the fans. Tom Seaton pitched like the big leaguer he used to be, allowing only one run, in the ninth inning, to the Pat-Macs. Meanwhile, Paul Fittery struggled for the Pat-Macs. He allowed eight hits and gave up eight walks.

The same day, Sloan lost their first game of the season to the Todd yard and fell into third place in the league. After the drubbing the Duthies gave the Pat-Macs, it began to look like momentum had shifted in the league.

The Duthies were down, but the season wasn’t over yet.

The Influenza Pandemic Begins

Two days after the Duthie’s victory, on September 17th, the influenza took up residence in the pages of Seattle newspapers, and would not leave for months. A headline on the first page of the Seattle Daily Times conveyed that sixteen civilians had died in six hours of the influenza in Boston. The article goes on to say, “Medical officers said they believed they had the situation well in hand, but the disease not being a reportable one in civil life, the health authorities were unable to state with accuracy to what extent it was spreading.”2

In fact, Boston was about to be utterly assaulted by the influenza. The outbreak that began at the navy post had already infiltrated Camp Devens, about 35 miles outside the city. By the time those sixteen deaths were reported in Seattle, military hospitals in the Boston area were overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses were falling sick. Civilians had been infected and were spreading it throughout the city.

Flu Epidemic - Hospital
Influenza patient at Fort Porter, New York.
Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images

On September 18th, newspapers reported that over 70 people had died in New England within the space of 24 hours. The propaganda machine that filtered war-time news to the public also took hold of the influenza. Despite statements made to the newspaper, the influenza was already a force that could not be stopped.

Also on September 17th, hundreds of sailors from Philadelphia and Boston arrived in Bremerton. Eleven men were so sick with the influenza they had to be carried from the ship to the hospital on stretchers.3 Seattle residents did not know about the sick sailors. They knew only that a flu was killing more people than normal on the east coast. The flu was a normal part of life and some years brought more deaths and more illness than others. But the vast majority of victims recovered quickly and easily.

The minds of Seattle remained focused upon the war effort. People in Seattle would have been enjoying the waning days of summer, and the waning hours of daylight in mid-September. They would have discussed whether the Duthies could make a run for the Shipyard League pennant. They would have argued whether Patterson-MacDonald would hold them off.

They wouldn’t have known on September 17th that this flu was immensely infectious. That it struck victims violently. That it killed with breathtaking speed.

They would know soon.

The Duthies Become Pennant Contenders

On Sunday September 22nd, Patterson-MacDonald held on to first place in the league by beating the Seattle North Pacific Team. The Duthie team made another strong statement, beating Sloan 2-1. In the “bitterest ball game of the season,”4 Duthie pitcher Tom Seaton was accused of using an “emory ball”. Sloan pitcher Gardner decided to try it out himself, and promptly struck out the side. His catcher didn’t want Seaton to use the ball again, so he threw it out of the lot. Tossing the ball caused a fist fight between Sloan outfielder Ike Wolfer and Duthie shortstop Bobby Coltrin.

Sloan tried to hold onto their spot in the standings behind Patterson-MacDonald. The Duthies were determined to add another trophy to their case, and took over the second spot in the standings. There was one week left in the regular season. A Duthie win and Pat-Mac loss would mean a tie for first place.

The Duthies had another shot at the title though. Earlier in the season, both the Duthies and Pat-Macs has postponed two games so their players could participate in all-star games against military teams. If the season ended in a tie they would most certainly have to make up one of those games to determine a winner. The shipyard teams were drawing more fans every Sunday, so extra games were an attractive idea. The league met, and before the final game of the season decided it was only proper for the two teams to make up the two games they lost.

With three games remaining, two against Patterson-MacDonald, the Duthies would have to win all three to claim the title. Patterson-MacDonald only had to win two games. There was no doubt each team desperately wanted the pennant.

Off the baseball diamond, the individual shipyards competed with each other to build the most ships for Uncle Sam. The patriotism of contributing to the war effort was emphasized incessantly in propaganda materials, lending social status to essential war work. After minor league baseball folded for the year, local community teams were the only games in town. Baseball had become immensely important to people over the last several decades as a source of recreation, entertainment, and community pride. The shipyards, by attracting major league talent and top minor league players, became the top teams in the city and the focus of people’s desire for community and entertainment. Winning the shipyard league title brought patriotism and the national pastime together to create an immense pride in being the best shipyard team.

For the Duthies, they were the Seattle shipyard league champions in 1917 and had captured the Seattle city semi-pro baseball championship earlier in the summer. They wanted to hold on to their title, and the pride that came with it. Patterson-MacDonald desired nothing more than to claim that distinction for themselves.

Fear, As Infectious as the Flu

Before the final game of the shipyard season, Seattlites knew this flu was no ordinary flu. They knew it was devastating every city on the east coast. The Seattle Star sought to console residents that this vicious flu would not interfere with the work they were putting into the war, reassuring the public that, “Every shipyard worker in Seattle will be watched for symptoms of Spanish influenza, on orders from the shipping board.”5 There were no cases in Seattle. Yet.

Making an effort to keep the flu entirely out of the city was quickly dismissed. Seattle’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. J. S. McBride, said, “It is utterly impossible to take the temperature and diagnose every man, woman, and child coming into Seattle...We simply haven’t the facilities.”6

Efforts to contain infectious disease were familiar to people at the time. Just two years prior, the summer of 1916 saw a polio epidemic spread across the country. It killed thousands in the United States and left thousands more paralyzed. The majority of victims were children. New York City nearly shut down all the way to control the outbreak, closing all places where people gathered and quarantining anyone who came in contact with a polio victim. Seattle hadn’t gone as far as New York to contain the virus, but it did screen every child entering the city and closed schools for a short time. A major difference now, was that the country was involved in fighting an overseas war that required a tremendous amount of energy and sacrifice from its citizens.

Doctors and nurses, especially, were in high demand to tend to injured and sick soldiers in Europe. The healthcare system in the United States was running on bare bones as health care workers joined the military and the Red Cross to tend to soldiers and sailors. Hospitals across the country had closed due to the lack of doctors and nurses and wouldn’t reopen until after the war.7 It’s unlikely there was ever a chance of containing this flu virus—it was too contagious and had mutated into a quick killer—but the lack of healthcare workers set the stage for immense suffering.

Warehouses that were converted to keep the infected people quarantined.
An example of a warehouse that was converted into a temporary hospital. The sheets are raised around the beds in an effort to contain the airborne spread of the virus.
Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Alarming numbers began to pop up in news stories, often tucked away beneath stories of the war. The numbers of sick soldiers in cantonments kept rising. The numbers of dead surged. On September 24th, The Seattle Star reported the first case of influenza had reached San Francisco. It was coming for the west coast. The newspapers may not have been entirely forthcoming about the terrible toll the influenza was having further east, but now people knew the flu was spreading across the country. The newspapers tried to placate; they assured readers that the epidemic was in hand, that medical authorities were taking action. Some suggested the cold weather would kill off the virus; others argued the autumn rain would wash it away.

On September 26th, the news grew only grimmer. 26 states had reports of the new influenza. The US army reported over 5,000 new cases in a single day, and at least 30,000 troops had been stricken in total.8

The Seattle Star ran a wire piece that did not hold back on reporting the situation in Boston:

Boston is panic-stricken by the epidemic of Spanish influenza, which is sweeping toward the west and south like a medieval plague and threatens to overwhelm the whole country. With the city depleted of doctors and nurses by the war, those remaining are staggering under the work of trying to keep the epidemic under control. People are being stricken down in the streets, offices, subway, theatres, and shipyards. The hospitals are crowded to the limits, and under strict quarantine to visitors…As many as 100 victims have died in one night in Boston alone. Whole families have been wiped out…

Having been aroused to the danger, Boston is now taking extraordinary precautions against the further spread of infection. Big placards posted all over the city threaten dire penalties to spitters. Telephone transmitters are being disinfected...Nearly every other person keeps a handkerchief to his mouth on the street...Boston’s concern may, to a stray visitor, seem at first a little humorous…

Spanish influenza respects only extreme youth and those over middle age. The invasion of the disease is appallingly sudden. The victim may one minute feel well and the next be stricken with acute pains all over, while on the street walking or at work. Then follows vertigo and nausea and shivering. The temperature is high at the very onset of the disease...It often stimulates other diseases. Heart attacks, for instance, are common, not from organic disease but from direct poisoning of the heart muscles by the influenza.9

The symptoms quoted in the article above were certainly accurate, but they belie the terrifying characteristics of this particular influenza virus. It struck with such ferocity that, at first, doctors and epidemiologists thought it was a new disease altogether. The 1918 influenza did have the classic symptoms we associate with the flu: High fever, cough, chills, and fatigue. Influenza is primarily a respiratory disease. The immune system response is what triggers many of the other symptoms. The 1918 influenza stimulated such an immense immune system response that other, terrifying, symptoms also afflicted victims. Common complaints were excruciating joint pain, profuse vomiting, burning abdominal pain, extreme earaches, loss of vision and paralysis of ocular muscles, lost ability to smell, renal failure, Reye’s syndrome (which attacked the liver), and subcutaneous emphysema, pockets of air accumulating just beneath the skin, that made patients crackle when they were rolled onto their sides.10 Many fatalities were the result of pneumonia caused by the influenza.

It was the most terrifying symptoms, though, that sparked fears that the influenza was actually the return of The Black Death, which had decimated Europe in the middle ages. The 1918 influenza attacked with such vengeance that the lungs struggled to transfer oxygen into the blood of the victim. Patients commonly developed cyanosis, where their entire bodies turned blue from the lack of oxygenated blood. In the most severe cases, which indicated certain death, the victims’ bodies turned completely black.

On top of turning blue, the most intense cases also caused blood to pour from victims. It came from the victims’ noses, mouths, ears, and eyes. Although it did not mean the victim would die, it was a terrifying sight to doctors, nurses, and caregivers at home. Even more terrifying, it quickly became apparent that this influenza was generally sparing the very young and the very old. It was brutally and quickly killing otherwise healthy young adults.

As the 1918 influenza rapidly infected people, information about the symptoms and the sudden deaths spread with it. The article quoted above is a rare piece of candor coming from the east coast during the pandemic. Public health officials in the big cities of New York and Philadelphia refused to publicly acknowledge there was an epidemic raging until the bodies literally piled up in the streets. President Wilson likewise refused to shift his focus from the war to acknowledge the deaths happening at home. He never made a public statement on the influenza that would kill over a half a million Americans. He never acknowledged its devastating impact.

Whether the President acknowledged it or not, the influenza was overwhelming the US military. Its spread was so severe, on September 26th Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder cancelled the draft call for early October. No more troops would enter military camps and stations, but the flow of troops from the United States to Europe never stopped. The military transports became death ships, and those that survived the ocean passage became a burden on the allied forces in Europe.

The advantage Seattle had in handling the 1918 influenza was the benefit of foresight. The city, like the entire west coast, had some warning that it was coming. Unlike many of the east coast cities, local health officials began speaking to the newspapers. Seattle Health Commissioner McBride assured reporters that “precautions are being taken to prevent a serious epidemic in Seattle and cases will be isolated as fast as they are reported.”11 Washington State Commissioner of Health Dr. J.D. Tuttle offered the following advice to residents: “Don’t get into crowds, don’t cough or sneeze without using a handkerchief, get plenty of fresh air, and when the symptoms of a cold appear isolate yourself as far as possible from others.”12

Earlier in the month an outbreak was reported to have killed seventy-two at Camp Lewis. Army officials denied this was the case, and provided assurances that the camp was preparing for the influenza. Discussions began about quarantining military bases before the influenza struck to protect the civilian population. At the same time, the state rejected trying to implement a general quarantine to stave off the virus. Tuttle announced the state was declining to quarantine “on the advice of national health authorities, who feared that a general quarantine would tie up essential industries.”13

On September 28th, 200 cases of the influenza were reported at the University of Washington Naval Training Station. The report said it was “normal” influenza, not of the Spanish variety and all cases were mild. The station did not go into quarantine, but it did prohibit visitors. The same day, the Puget Sound Naval Station in Bremerton did enter quarantine. The flu had already established itself there when sick sailors disembarked eleven days earlier, but newspaper readers were assured the quarantine was just a preventive measure, not an indication of an outbreak.

The Seattle Star printed a rumor that the Spanish flu was “said by some to have been introduced into this country by germs from a German U-Boat.”14 The Germans had been derided in the papers as boches, a French term meaning “cabbage head”, and called “The Hun” in reports from Europe. It was only natural the influenza would also be blamed on them, and marry the fear of the flu with the fear of war.

The End of the Regular Shipyard Baseball Season

The regularly scheduled Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball season ended on September 29th. The J.F. Duthie shipyard nine had to win their final game, against Seattle North Pacific, to have a shot at the pennant. The Patterson-Macdonald aggregation needed to win their game against the Foundation shipyard to maintain their lead. The games Patterson-MacDonald would play against the Duthies after the end of the regular season promised to be thrilling, particularly if the Duthies won their final league game and had a chance at the pennant.

The momentum shift that happened when the Duthies and Pat-Macs faced off on September 15th continued. Patterson-MacDonald took on Foundation in the first game of the season-closing double header at Liberty Park. The teams engaged in a tight pitchers duel. No runs were scored until the bottom of the 11th inning, when an error allowed Pat-Macs catcher George Boelzle to reach base and Del Bemis drove him in for the winning run. Patterson-MacDonald barely defeated a team they should have handled easily.

In the second game of the shipyard double header, the Duthies experienced none of the trouble their rivals had in the first game. Every Duthie player knew the Pat-Macs had won and their game was a must-win in order to hang on to a chance for the shipyard league pennant. Every Duthie player had a hit in the game. “Sad Slim” Smith, starting pitcher for the hapless Seattle North Pacific team, was certainly sad as the Duthie batters jumped on everything he threw. He was removed from the game partway through the fourth inning and “sent to the barn.”15 The 14-4 victory kept the Duthies in the running for the championship.

Patterson-MacDonald still held a one-game lead in the standings as the regular season closed. The Pat-Macs only needed to win one of the two championship series games to clinch the pennant; the Duthies needed to win both. In the week leading up to the first game, the Pat-Macs lost three players to military duty. Their player-manager Jimmy Hamilton had missed a couple games with a wrist injury and he was not going to be able to play in the first game. The Pat-Macs began looking for players to fill the vacancies so they could put on a good effort.

Player eligibility had been a contentious issue from the time the shipyards started playing competitive baseball in 1917, and those debates would not let up just because the end of the season was near. The Seattle Star wrote, “With the baseball championship of this section at stake, the Patterson-MacDonald and Duthie crews are enjoying the usual row over eligibility of players.”16 After losing players to the military and injury, Pat-Macs manager Jimmy Hamilton scoured the shipyards and recruited a few new players to join his team. Duthie manager Joe Devine was incensed that Hamilton would try something so underhanded and demanded that Hamilton field his regular team, and replace the lost players with other players already working at the shipyard.

The argument escalated, until on October 3rd: ”The championship games between the Patterson-MacDonald and Duthie teams for the title honors in the Puget Sound Shipyard league have been called off by the managers of the two clubs. Hamilton, boss of the Pat-Macs, refused to play the games unless he was allowed to replace the stars that had left his team with players of equal caliber from other clubs of the circuit. This Devine refused to permit, so the games were called off.”17

Patterson-MacDonald continued to push matters further and announced the shipyard had disbanded its team entirely. Hamilton had probably hoped that by disbanding, the league would award the championship to the Pat-Macs since they were the leaders. Instead, the league began debating whether, by disbanding, Patterson-MacDonald had effectively forfeited the remaining games. In that case, the Duthies would be the champions.

The day after disbanding, the Pat-Macs re-banded. The Seattle Daily Times was relieved the game would continue. “Things happen with startling rapidity in the affairs of the Shipyards Baseball League. One moment it looks as if the championship was all tangled up, and the next it looks as if it would be fought out to a real finish.”18 The Duthies agreed to let their rivals play with their new players. Ike Wolfer, outfielder for Sloan; Billy Speas, player-manager for Foundation; and Byron Houck, Seattle North Pacific pitcher that almost beat the Pat-Macs in their final regular season game, all joined the team.

The game was set for 2:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, October 6th. The game was sure to be an exciting battle. As the Seattle Daily Times remarked, “These two teams love each other with an affection that passeth all understanding. It will be a pleasant game to umpire.”19

The Flu Reaches Seattle

The Friday before the first of Seattle’s final two baseball games in 1918, the city of Bremerton reported that between 200 and 400 civilians had been stricken with the influenza. The city held a mass meeting the night of October 3rd to inform citizens that due to the infectious nature of the disease mass meetings and group gatherings were banned. The same day, the Puget Sound Naval Training Station in Bremerton announced fourteen deaths and several hundred cases of the influenza. The victims were mostly the sailors who had arrived from Philadelphia.

Both city and naval health officers were quick to reassure people that the influenza was under control, telling the Seattle Daily Times, “The epidemic shows signs of abatement.”20

Meanwhile in Seattle, the health commissioner McBride said there was no evidence of the influenza in the city, outside of a few cases at the University of Washington Naval Training Station. McBride said,“This morning several cases were reported to the department which look suspicious and they are being investigated. We are advising people to use every precaution to prevent an outbreak of the epidemic here and should any serious cases develop we will take whatever measures are necessary to prevent the disease from spreading.”21

The night edition of The Seattle Star on October 4th reported beneath headlines about the war, “Spanish Flu Takes First Victims Here.”22 Nine Seattle civilians had been reported to the health department and quarantined. Statistics on the epidemic’s toll in the east showed 1 in 27 victims of the influenza would die from it. Still, the Star urged Seattle citizens to stay calm, writing “Fighting the disease thru every known agency, federal and local authorities now feel the spread of the epidemic is being checked.”23

Washington State Health Commissioner Tuttle released a statement on Friday assuring the public that although the disease was present,

It can be prevented from assuming epidemic form only by the earnest, conscientious and intelligent help of every citizen in the state...we are asking you to practice voluntary quarantine instead of trying to put you under quarantine by law. We are asking you as a patriotic service to actually go into quarantine and stay there until all danger of spreading the disease is passed. Should the disease become epidemic in your community, it will be necessary to close all places of public gathering.24

The next day Seattle shut down.

At noon on October 5th, Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson ordered the immediate closure of all places of indoor assembly. Schools, theaters, churches, and dance halls were shuttered. Street cars were ordered to be ventilated. The police were instructed to enforce the closure order and to immediately arrest any person seen spitting in a streetcar or public place. The exact number of influenza cases in Seattle was unknown. Hanson said only, “Enough cases have been reported, however, to justify this action.”25

McBride estimated the number of cases to be between 100 and 200, and urged citizens to respect the closures, “The order issued this morning is drastic, but I am sure that every man and woman in Seattle will regard it as a patriotic duty to obey the instructions issued in an effort to check the spread of the disease.”26 The doctor also declared “that more rain will aid in the fight being made against the spread of Spanish influenza here. The germs are freely distributed in the dust of the streets and rain by checking the dust also serves as a foe of influenza.”27 It’s hard to know whether McBride really believed the rain would wash away the germs, or if he was grasping at something to keep the public calm.

The shutdown of Seattle became colloquially known as the “flu ban.”

Shipyard Baseball Championship: Game One

The Duthies and Pat-Macs were scheduled to play their first championship game the day after the flu ban went into effect. They had spent the week arguing over player eligibility and finally reached a compromise, only for the flu ban to present another obstacle. A close reading of the “flu ban” mandate revealed it only applied to indoor gatherings. After seeking the advice of McBride, the game was allowed to go on as planned.

The weather was rainy, and whether Seattlies took McBride at his word that rain would protect against the influenza, or whether they just couldn’t resist the matchup, the stands at Liberty Park were packed with rooters for each team. The game was briefly delayed due to a downpour, but neither rain nor flu nor health commissioners would stop the game.

Walter Mails took the mound for the Duthies and Paul Fittery hurled for Patterson-MacDonald. The first three innings saw no offensive action. The Duthies struck first in the top of the fourth inning. With two runners in scoring position, Earl Sheely drove one run in with a hard single. The Duthies looked ready to break the game open when Fittery was able to stop them. In the bottom of the inning Mails lost his control, as he often did. After walking two batters and hitting a third, a single by new Pat-Mac Bill Speas tied the game and Mails was sent to the dugout. Tom Seaton came in to relieve him.

The Duthies struck again in the top of the sixth inning when Sheely drove another run, this time with the bases loaded. Patterson-MacDonald was unable to score in their half of the sixth, and in the seventh may have been feeling some frustration. Hap Morse of the Pat-Macs began arguing with umpire Harry Howell over a missed strike call. His entire team spilled onto the field and “voiced its disapproval so belligerently that the ump kicked himself out of the park.”28 The infield umpire moved behind the plate and the game continued.

Despite the hype and excitement, no more runs were scored in the game. The Duthies won 2 to 1. The Duthies and Pat-Macs were tied in the standings and the winner of the Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League would be determined after one final game, scheduled for the next Sunday.

The Seattle Daily Times described the feeling in the city, writing, “Fans and players alike are all het up over the big battle next Sunday afternoon….interest in the local situation has the recent world’s series in the major leagues backed off the map.”29 The chance for people to gather and cheer must have contributed to the excitement. But the circumstances of the baseball game were exciting enough on their own. Championships were not often played; in various leagues the champion was simply the team with the best record. The Times delighted: “To have the championship hinged on the final game is something unusual even in baseball, where the combinations are sufficient to bewilder the oldest and most fanatical students of its intricacies.”30

Duthie manager Joe Devine was determined to keep his team’s momentum going and “give the Patterson-MacDonald aggregation a good trimming.”31 He hinted to reporters that he had some tricks up his sleeve, all within the league rules of course. One such strategy was adding a major league pitcher. Devine must have been concerned about Mails’ ability to control where his pitches were going. The Duthies had a great backup pitcher in Tom Seaton, but for a winner-take-all game, there was no such thing as too much good pitching.

Devine had his eye on Slim Love, a pitcher with the New York Yankees in 1918. If Devine was looking for a pitcher with better control, Love was an interesting choice; his 116 walks in 228.2 innings led the American League in 1918. Still, at 6 foot 7 inches tall, Love was the tallest pitcher in major league history so he had the intimidation factor working in his favor.

Jimmy Hamilton, manager of Patterson-MacDonald, was “not scared a bit by the detonations that are emanating from the Duthie plant. He figures his team is just as good as Joe’s, and with the breaks running fifty-fifty sees no reason to think that his team will not be in the running to the wire.”32

Even with the championship game looming, the shipyards were abuzz with news of the influenza. If it were to spread through the shipyards it could have a devastating effect on the war. Employees were told to stay away from work if they were feeling even the slightest bit ill (but they were not paid if they did not show up to work). Shipyard workers began to get sick and miss work in large numbers. This was hushed up and only hinted at, but the flu could not be kept out.

On the morning of Wednesday, October 9th, all outdoor gatherings were banned. This time, no exception would be granted for the shipyard baseball championship game. It would have to wait until the flu ban was lifted.

Seattle in a Time of Influenza

When the flu ban was issued, McBride said it would probably be in effect for ten days to two weeks. Based on the experience in other cities, it would take that long for the flu to run its course in Seattle. This information was clearly erroneous; no major city had yet seen the flu run its course. The citizens of Seattle “accepted it philosophically”33, but the closures did not keep people home.

The theaters, cabarets, and dance halls were all closed, but Seattle residents still desired to get out and carouse on a Saturday night. Restaurants were still open, not falling under the classification of a place of public gathering, although visitors were disappointed to find “their restaurants devoted solely to the old-fashioned purpose of supplying food to customers. Meals will be songless and danceless.”34

Seattle policemen wearing protective gau
Seattle police patrol wearing gauze face masks.
Photo by Time Life Pictures/National Archives/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Of course, people immediately criticized the flu ban. The closure of schools was a particular point of contention. The Seattle Superintendent of Schools, Frank B. Cooper, was incensed at the decision. “There is not influenza in the schools and one of the worst things that could be done at this time would be to turn all the children in Seattle loose in the streets,’’ he said. “I’m sorry Mayor Hanson is getting hysterical over this matter...In my opinion (closing schools) is a senseless thing to do.”35

Even though indoor gatherings were prohibited, church services were still held. The day after the flu ban, worshippers gathered outdoors in the rain and cold. “Congregations of 700 persons attended each of the masses at St. James Cathedral,” the Seattle Daily Times reported. Seven masses were held that morning, although no sermon was preached.36

Just two days after the flu ban was issued, Seattle hospitals were overcrowded and they began turning patients away. The old courthouse downtown was converted into a temporary hospital. Plans were made to turn other spaces into temporary hospitals.

The city health department announced it had developed a serum that protected against the worst effects of the influenza. Over the next few weeks, the city would declare that not a single person receiving the serum before being infected had died. It’s unclear, however, whether the serum truly had any role in preventing deaths. Several cities claimed to have developed serums and vaccines that were effective, but even if they did save some lives, they weren’t effective or plentiful enough to slow the epidemic spread. Shipyard workers were the first to receive the serum and Seattle soon put out the word that all private doctors had access to it, and everyone should receive it.

Even if public health officials presented an overly optimistic accounting that the epidemic was in hand, they did offer some advice to citizens wishing to protect themselves. For example, from the King County Medical Society:

The most dangerous form of human contact in the presence of epidemic influenza is, in all probability, that with coughers and sneezers. Coughing and sneezing, except behind a handkerchief, is, as great a sanitary offense as promiscuous spitting, and should be equally condemned.37

Where public authorities failed, private business were happy to step up:

The initial amusement at the flu ban and the sudden change in daily life began to wear on everyone as the deaths and illnesses continued to increase. In The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry shares the following account of living through the pandemic from William Sardo in Washington D.C.:

It kept people apart...It took away all your community life, you had no community life, you had no school life, you had no church life, you had nothing...It completely destroyed all family and community life. People were afraid to kiss one another, people were afraid to eat with one another, they were afraid to have anything that made contact because that’s how you got the flu...It destroyed these contacts and destroyed the intimacy that existed amongst people...You were constantly afraid, you were afraid because you saw so much death around you, you were surrounded by death...When each day dawned you didn’t know whether you would be there when the sun set that day. It wiped out entire families from the time that the day began in the morning to bedtime at night—entire families were gone completely, there wasn’t any single soul left, and that didn’t happen just intermittently, it happened all the way across neighborhoods, it was a terrifying experience. It justifiably should be called a plague because that’s what it was...You were quarantined, is what you were, from fear, it was quick, so sudden...There was an aura of a constant fear you lived through from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night.38

It’s impossible to know the exact death toll from the influenza pandemic. Based on excess deaths (the number of deaths of all causes above what is statistically expected), approximately 675,000 people died in the United States from the influenza or the resulting pneumonia, the equivalent of over 2 million deaths in today’s population. In October alone, the death toll is estimated at 195,000, making it the deadliest month from a single cause in US history. Between 2- 5% of the world’s population was killed over the course of the pandemic.

The End of the Road

As the influenza persisted late into October, Seattle tightened the flu ban. A flu mask order went out, requiring everyone to wear a gauze mask while in public. Local Red Cross branches had been busy making masks and long lines appeared outside of the Red Cross headquarters downtown as residents went to obtain masks after the order went into effect. Not wearing a face covering in public was punishable with arrest.

Masks Required For Public Transportation
A commuter without a mask is denied entry on a streetcar.
Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images

The end of the war was close and an armistice was being negotiated. The worry over German spies, doing one’s patriotic duties, and watching the country’s young men being sent to Europe had worn on the country. Still, the war work continued. Workers in essential industries were required to go into work; non-essential industries were shut down in the flu ban. Whatever the weariness over the war, the influenza pandemic affected everyone.

Death notices appeared in newspapers in greater numbers each day. They painted a stark picture of who this flu was killing. Most victims were in their 20s, many in their 30s. Fewer still in their 40s and teens. Rarely, the elderly and young children. Mothers and fathers left children behind. Whole families died. The human tragedy was starkly painful to watch unfold. An estimated 1,441 people in Seattle alone were killed, though the number is likely higher.

For three weeks, the shipyard players had held out hope the flu ban would be lifted and they could play their championship. The Duthies were driven to claim the title and keep their cachet and pride as the best shipyard baseball team in Seattle. Patterson-MacDonald wanted to knock the Duthies off their perch atop Seattle baseball. The fans in Seattle wanted to see the final battle fought. They wanted a winner; they wanted a definitive answer in the middle of the uncertainty of the war and the pandemic.

Newspapers provided the occasional update. The players were still practicing. They were trying to stay game-ready for the matchup. But as October stretched interminably, the waning daylight and the stress of the influenza made it difficult for the players to keep in shape. The Seattle Daily Times lamented, “Everything was right for a large crowd and a real battle. The postponement will sort of take the edge off.”39 Still, they waited.

The Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League championship was undecided, its leaders tied. The influenza raged on. The dark, cold damp of October blanketed the city. There was little left to do but make the decision.

On October 27th, the J.F. Duthie and Patterson-MacDonald baseball teams turned in their uniforms.

Baseball in 1918 was over.

Notes:

  1. “Seattle Getting Best Baseball Ever, Shipyard Teams Radiate With Class”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 15, 1918: 20.
  2. “Influenza Causes 16 Deaths in Boston”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 17, 1918: 1.
  3. Barry, John M., The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (New York: Penguin Books, 2018) 225.
  4. “Duthie Team Takes Scrapping Game In Olympia”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 23, 1918: 13.
  5. “Shipyard Men Watched for Spanish “Flu””, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), September 24, 1918: 1.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Barry, Great Influenza, 320.
  8. “26 States Report Spanish Influenza”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 26, 1918: 11.
  9. “Spanish “Flu” Has Boston In Tragic Grip”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), September 26, 1918, 8.
  10. Barry, Great Influenza, 234-236.
  11. “How To Ward Off Spanish Influenza”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 26, 1918: 11.
  12. Ibid.
  13. “No General Quarantine To Be Ordered In This State”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 27, 1918: 9.
  14. The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), September 26, 1918: 8.
  15. “Duthie Give Two Pitchers Drubbing and Win Easily”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 30, 1918: 15.
  16. “Traditional Ball Row On”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), October 2, 1918: 11.
  17. “Champ Games Called Off”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), October 3, 1918: 11.
  18. “League Leaders Ready for Duthie”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 4, 1918: 25.
  19. Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 5, 1918: 7.
  20. “Fourteen Naval Recruits Die of Spanish Influenza”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 4, 1918: 16.
  21. “City Free From Influenza With Exception of Navy Camp”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 4, 1918: 16.
  22. “Spanish Flu Takes First Victims Here”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), October 4, 1918: 1.
  23. “Spanish Flu Takes First Victims Here”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), October 4, 1918: 9.
  24. “How to Combat Spanish Flu”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), October 4, 1918: 1.
  25. “Seattle To Make Fight On Disease”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 5, 1918: 1.
  26. Ibid.
  27. “25 “Flu” cases in Seattle Reported”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), October 5, 1918: 1.
  28. “Duthies Win By 2-1 Score”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), October 7, 1918: 11.
  29. “Baseball Fans Are “Het Up” As Of Old”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 8, 1918: 13.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. “No Place To Go, So Seattleites Walk Streets”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 6, 1918: 1.
  34. Ibid.
  35. “Epidemic Places Ban On Public Assemblies”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 5, 1918: 3.
  36. “Open-Air Services Held By Churches”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 7, 1918: 7.
  37. “Doctors Approve Ban On All Public Gatherings,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 8, 1918: 7.
  38. Barry, Great Influenza, 347
  39. “Big Event Set Back”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), October 9, 1918: 17.