clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

War, Pandemic, and Seattle Baseball in 1918

New, 17 comments

In early October 1918, as the J. F. Duthie and Patterson-MacDonald shipyards were about to play a championship series that had Seattlites “all het up”, the 1918 influenza pandemic came to town. This is the story of a seldom-remembered baseball league, and a look back at the virus that changed the city 100 years ago.

Flu Epidemic - Marching Through Seattle
Soldiers march through the streets of Seattle wearing face masks.
Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Welcome to the first installment in a three-part series examining the 1918 influenza pandemic and Seattle baseball.

They waited for three weeks.

Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson was stubbornly sticking with his “flu ban” despite news from placating government officials that the epidemic was on the downswing, and the colder weather would kill it off for good.

Four days before the championship game, government officials banned all large gatherings, including those outdoors. Seattle’s baseball fans settled in to wait for the J.F. Duthie and Patterson-MacDonald shipyard nines to play for the championship of the Puget Sound Shipyard League. Newspapers anticipated huge crowds at Liberty Park to watch the teams that had captured the city’s hearts that summer.

While they waited, the influenza raced through the military installments near the city. Deaths began to accumulate in Seattle. An old courthouse was opened and used as a temporary hospital, when all the hospital beds in the city were filled. Doctors and nurses succumbed to the merciless virus. In the midst of the deadly disease, the “war to end all wars”, World War I, was still being fought in the trenches of Europe. The US would plunge ahead with the war effort, while soldiers and civilians alike fell victim to the flu. Newspapers, influenced by government propaganda and outright lies, preached about how silly the flu ban was, painting the flu as a trifling thing that would pass quickly.

For three weeks, the players and fans waited for the flu ban to be lifted, and the league waited for its champion.

By the time the 1918 baseball season ended in Seattle, nearly 200,000 Americans had died in the murderous pandemic that raged in every city in the country and ravaged every corner of the globe.

War and Organized Baseball

In the Spring of 1918 it was the Great War that rested heavily upon all of organized baseball.

A year earlier, just as the season was about to begin, the United States declared war on Germany. Suddenly the country was plunged into the warfare that had been raging elsewhere on the globe for nearly three years. Baseball magnates worried about the wartime economy and the perceived propriety of playing baseball during the First World War. To avoid shutting down their teams, they embraced the patriotic machine of wartime. Players participated in pregame military drills and played exhibitions to raise money for the war effort. Owners put on airs about baseball being essential to the war effort because it stirred up patriotic fervor and boosted morale among the civilian population. As National League president John Tener advocated:

“Baseball, in common with all other outdoor sports, in my opinion, should be encouraged in times of war as well as in times of peace...We all realize, especially at this hour the pressing call that is upon each of us to quickly furnish men and means to combat the enemy and to insure an early and complete victory to our arms and this effort will be best sustained by getting into the open and into the sunshine occasionally and by either witnessing or participating in outdoor sports to gain that health and vigor and alertness of intellect necessary to do well the work that may come to our hands.”1

When war was declared, the US had an insubstantial standing army. Despite the patriotism President Woodrow Wilson tried to stir up, a draft was needed to boost the size of the American fighting force. The Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed shortly after the declaration of war, and the first registration day was held on June 5, 1917 for men aged 21 to 30, the ages of the majority of major league players. Owners, naturally, didn’t want their players drafted and sent to fight in an overseas war. For the most part, they were able to hold off Uncle Sam in 1917. In 1918, their payments came due.

Attendance across the major leagues fell in 1917. The economics of wartime meant the cost of everything increased substantially. The income tax increase initially only affected the wealthy; however, due to wartime inflation, the cost of living rose dramatically and became a de facto tax on everyone. Now, a war tax was to be levied against baseball gate receipts, raising the cost of a ticket. On top of the economic pressures, owners faced the probability of fielding subpar teams that would further drive down attendance. Baseball began to lose players in 1917, mainly due to voluntary enlistments. The draft threatened to decimate rosters in 1918.

The political climate during the Great War was such that speaking against the draft was treacherous ground. The Wilson administration generally refrained from passing outright censorship laws, preferring to lean on suggestion and roundabout tactics, and trusting that public pressure would do the rest. A trio of laws—the Trading with the Enemies Act,the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act—did give some legal teeth to cracking down any criticism of the war effort or support of Germany. It became paramount to citizens to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States and its allies. Anyone speaking ill of any aspect of the war effort was likely to face the consequences from their fellow Americans. For example, a riveter at the Todd Dry Dock & Construction shipyard in Tacoma “was charged with making derogatory remarks about Liberty Bonds.” He was tied to a rail and “daubed with different colored paints by the yard workmen.”2

Baseball in 1918 was careful to give the outward appearance of falling into line with the duties and sacrifices required by the war. The economic and manpower concerns led some to consider whether the 1918 season should be played at all. The magnates of the game were, however, loath to forgo a baseball season and have their stadiums sit empty when they could be earning money.

Entertainment and Seattle Baseball

The turn of the 19th century into the 20th century brought higher amounts of disposable income to the working class. Amusement parks, theaters, dancing, music halls, motion pictures, and sports competed for disposable dollars. The Seattle sports pages that year covered football, hockey, boxing matches (called smokers), golf (The Seattle Sunday Times ran a full page of golf coverage during the season), tennis (colloquially called “net play”), Tug-O’-War, and swimming (women swimmers were called mermaids; men were not called mermen, disappointingly). In Seattle, as in the rest of the country, it was baseball that was the most prominent and important sport.

A multitude of baseball teams were chronicled in the sports pages. Games for grammar schools, University of Washington fraternities, other fraternal organizations, workers unions, Japanese immigrants and first generation Japanese-American players, all-Black teams, and military leagues filled the pages, underscoring the importance of baseball in American life.

Of all the teams putting in work on the diamonds of Seattle, the most prestigious was the Seattle Giants. The Giants opened 1918 as a member of the Pacific Coast International League (PCIL), a class B minor league (not to be confused with the Class AA Pacific Coast League). The Giants were owned by Daniel E. Dugdale, a Seattle baseball legend and the man responsible for establishing organized baseball in the city. His team played at his namesake field, Dugdale Park in the Rainier Valley (the site of the future Sicks’ Stadium).

The PCIL was newly-formed in 1918, rising from the disintegration of the Northwestern League in 1917. The Northwestern League closed halfway through the 1917 season with the Giants leading by four games in the win column over the Great Falls Electrics. The plight of the Northwestern League was, sadly, common across minor league baseball. In 1917 only five of twenty-two leagues finished the season and, like in the major leagues, the prospect of not playing in 1918 was considered. Jim Leeke describes the realities of minor league baseball in his book, From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War:

Minor League baseball was no enterprise for the fainthearted. In the best of times, the leagues were hardscrabble, chaotic, and a good way to lose your shirt—and perhaps your hat and overcoat in the bargain. That any investor hoped to break even, let alone make a profit, in the lower levels of Organized Baseball spoke to the enduring power of the national pastime and the clamor of fans for fast nines in their own communities. Business leaders often funded small-town ball clubs simply to provide recreation for their workers, provided the losses didn’t prove excessive. In the wartime spring of 1917, one key factor had changed: America’s entry into the world war made business in the Minor Leagues vastly more precarious.3

Ten minor leagues decided to forge ahead in 1918. If they were unable to finish the season, they would hang on to their territorial and player rights, although players were able to sign elsewhere to play out the year. Joining the Giants in the nascent—and given the war economy, optimistic—PCIL were the Aberdeen Black Cats, Portland Buckaroos, Spokane Indians, Tacoma Tigers, and Vancouver (BC) Beavers.

Player-manager “Wild” Bill Leard, who had appeared in three games for the Brooklyn Robins in 1917 before joining the Giants, was back and ready to lead the team to another pennant. Dan Dugdale was optimistic the Giants would bring in enough money to justify playing the season.

Dan Dugdale (left) and Bill Leard discuss the upcoming season.

Shipyards and Shipyard Baseball

With the declaration of war, shipyards suddenly found themselves busy with essential war work. When the US entered the war, it had been reliant on British shipping and did not have much of its own merchant marine. Ships were needed right away in order to bring troops, supplies, and food to Europe. After requisitioning foreign ships in American harbors, and canceling all foreign orders, President Wilson appointed a Shipping Board to boost US shipbuilding production. Over the course of the war, shipyard workers increased from 50,000 to over 350,000.4 Working for a shipyard had an added benefit: employment in an essential war industry meant an exemption from the selective service draft. As minor leagues folded in 1917 and 1918, shipyards became attractive places to seek employment. The competitive shipyard baseball teams allowed players to continue their baseball careers.

Seattle’s shipyards were likewise bustling and their company teams provided a place for players to wait out the war. On June 5, 1917 the Calexico Chronicle noted the emergence of the Seattle Shipbuilders’ League and the effect it was having on professional baseball:

The entry of the United States into the world war has threatened to cripple professional baseball in Seattle, but has brought into existence the Seattle Shipbuilders’ League, with an amateur club in each of the four largest shipyards, which together employ nearly 10,000 men. Numerous baseball players dropped by professional clubs on the coast, and others who are tired of the uncertainties of the game and like to draw pay the year ‘round, have found employment in the shipyards and there is no trouble in picking out good teams. The league has equipped a ball park within walking distance of the business district of Seattle, and it is estimated that the patronage of the shipyard men alone, on their Saturday half-holiday, will more than pay the expenses of the team. The park was paid for by money raised by popular subscription. Attendance on the opening day was 4,500. The shipyard owners encourage the league, believing it improves the spirit of their plants. Portland, Tacoma, Grays Harbor, Olympia and other ship-building centers are adding thousands of men in their shipyards and it is expected that each large yard in the Northwest will have its baseball team before the end of the summer.5

Indeed, the shipyards would add teams. As the 1918 season began, the Seattle Shipbuilders’ Baseball League boasted nine competitive teams. The league was divided into two divisions. Representing the steel shipbuilders were the shipyards of Skinner & Eddy, J.F. Duthie & Company (The Duthies), Ames Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, and Seattle Construction & Drydock Company (The Dry Dockers). The wood yard division was home to Meacham-Babcock Shipbuilding Company, Patterson-MacDonald Shipbuilding Co. (The Pat-Macs), Frank Tregoning Boat Company (The Tregonings), the Elliott Bay Shipbuilding Company, and Pacific Construction & Engineering Works (The Forgers).

Shipyard baseball games were played at the new Liberty Park, located at 14th Avenue and E Jefferson Street in Seattle. The park was built specifically for the shipyard sports, and also played host to shipyard soccer and football games.

The Duthies were the defending shipyard champions. This season, holding on to their title would be a challenge as more professional players joined shipyards and shipyard teams. The talent level in the shipyards meant the PCIL’s top team, the Seattle Giants, would be facing some intense competition for Seattle baseball fanatics.

The Influenza Pandemic Emerges

It is likely the pandemic known as the Spanish influenza had already made its way into the Seattle area by the time baseball began that spring. On April 14, 1918 the Seattle Daily Times noted in an article about Camp Lewis that in the past week nine people had died at the military base, “the largest record in some weeks.” The article goes on to note, “Pneumonia has slightly increased during the week, most of the cases follow influenza, which was at its maximum two weeks ago.”6

Despite its colloquial name, the virus was not Spanish in origin. Its spread was first recognized within troops fighting the war in Europe. Not wanting to give their enemies this information or disturb morale, news about the illness was kept quiet. Spain was neutral in the war, so when the disease spread, Spanish newspapers were reporting it and the world decided the blame lay with Spain (as for Spain, the illness was referred to there as the French Flu). It is impossible to know with absolute certainty where the virus originated. Among the countries suggested as the origin site have been Great Britain, France, China, and South Africa. The best evidence suggests the virus is from Haskell County, Kansas.

In late January and early February of 1918 an outbreak of a violent influenza in the county sickened a large portion of the rural, isolated population. Because it was wartime, young men moved between Haskell County and the military base at Fort Riley, Kansas. In March of 1918 Camp Funston at Fort Riley reported an influenza outbreak, and a resultant pneumonia outbreak. Camp Funston continued to send soldiers to other military bases, including Camp Lewis (now Fort Lewis at Joint Base Lewis-McCord), and bases across the country sent masses of troops to fight in Europe.

Throughout history, disease and infections have killed far more soldiers and sailors than battle.7 The massive, sudden work to raise an army large enough to have a fighting chance in Europe meant that recently constructed barracks were overflowing with men in cramped and unsanitary conditions. In the winter of 1917-1918 measles spread rapidly through stateside bases. A brutally cold winter had troops huddling together around sources of heat, creating the perfect environment for pathogenic spread. Most of the 5,741 deaths from measles came from secondary pneumonia.

A few days after noting the flu and pneumonia cases at Camp Lewis, the Seattle Daily Times ran an item that the general health of the US military troops was good. It notes that “Pneumonia continues in all the larger Northern camps with some increase in the number of new cases reported. No other disease is classed as generally prevalent.”8

Seattle Baseball Begins

In early April, representatives from each of the shipyards met to plan the upcoming season. The Seattle Shipbuilders’ League had two obstacles. The first was the required working hours of the shipyards. The league wanted to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Sundays along with games on two weeknights. The work week for shipyard workers was full days on Monday through Saturday with a Sunday holiday as mandated by the US Shipping Board. Labor disputes were common in the shipyards of Seattle in 1918, and the fight for a half-holiday on Saturdays was taken up by shipyard unions nation-wide. The Shipping Board finally agreed to the shorter Saturday work day beginning in May.

The second obstacle was getting all of the shipyards in the league to agree to player eligibility rules. In 1917 new players had become eligible immediately after establishing employment at a shipyard. The defending champion Duthies argued that in 1918 no player signed after March should be eligible for that season. The Duthies had managed to hold on to most of their star players, and had recently recruited several professional baseball stars, while many of the other yards had lost players who wanted to give organized baseball another go. The question of when players were eligible would be a constant negotiation. Rules would be set and agreed to, then a team would get a batch of good players and want to prevent other teams from acquiring more talent. The rules were made to be rewritten in a huff of protest.

The Skinner & Eddy yard, upset with the Duthie yard’s suggestion to not allow new players, quit the league before games began. Skinner & Eddy was a large yard and would complete more ships than any other American shipyard during the war. They had enough players to form an intra-company league, so they did. It was made up of four teams ostensibly named after different parts of the company: the Boilermakers, the Timekeepers and Office Force, the Professionals, and the Ku-Klux.9

Yes, the Ku-Klux. The Ku Klux Klan had enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to the racist film The Birth of a Nation, which became the country’s first blockbuster in 1915. The Seattle area may not have hosted the same racist violence seen in the South, but it was not free from racist ideas. Seattle shipyards were hiring Black workers, and paying them comparatively well,10 however, that certainly did not result in any sort of racial equality. The shipyard teams were made up entirely of white players.

Without Skinner & Eddy, the league agreed new players could be brought onto teams until May 15th. The competition between organized baseball teams and shipyard teams to grab players ran in earnest throughout the month of April. The tension led to a colorful preseason game between the Giants and the Duthies.

The Duthies knocked off their organized baseball counterparts 9-2 in front of approximately 3,000 fans eager to watch the shipyard champs take on the professional pennant hopefuls. The game was a disaster for the Giants. The visiting Duthies hit hard and fielded cleanly while the Giants did the opposite. The umpiring was questionable (the Seattle Daily Times described it as “punk”11) and the teams ran out of baseballs several times, needing to pause the game so they could obtain more.

The worst part of the exhibition, according to the Seattle Daily Times, was the trash talking the Duthie team aimed at the Giants. “The shipyard players thought more of ragging the young players who are trying to fill the places on the Seattle team than they did of playing the game...Less than a year ago the same players who were causing most of the commotion were only too glad to draw down salaries from the professional clubs. Now that they are shipyard workers the principal aim seems to be to knock their former employers.”12

The Giants also lost that weekend to the naval training station. The newspapers were worried about the state of the team, particularly the caliber of their infielders. However, Manager Bill Leard had faith the team would come together. The Seattle Star describes him as wearing “a cheerful smile Monday” as his “worries over the infield are being ironed out smoothly.”13 Leard, himself a second baseman for the Giants, had suffered an injury earlier in April, but was on track to make a full recovery in time for the season opener. Owner Dan Dugdale was working hard to acquire the players needed to make the Giants a winning team.

On April 30th, newly-elected Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson threw out the first pitch to open the Seattle Giants’ 1918 season. Prior to the game against the Aberdeen Black Cats, a parade of automobiles carried fans, players, and officials through the main streets of Seattle. The sun shone brightly as the Giants won their first official game of the year.

That weekend the opening of the Seattle Shipbuilders’ League began on a few inauspicious notes. First, Skinner & Eddy withdrew. They were temporarily replaced by Camp Lewis’ 91st Division Team. Then, the steel division had to push its opening back a week, then a few days later, it was pushed back yet another week. The labor agreement that gave shipyard workers Saturday afternoons off work wouldn’t go into effect until May 18th.

The wood division was able to begin its season the day after the Giants. Once again, Mayor Hanson would throw out the first pitches to Police Chief Joel Warren. The Seattle Star noted that “Altho Hanson threw one close to the plate, he couldn’t slip any of the four balls he threw across the center.”14

The mayor may not have been able to find the strike zone, but Seattle baseball was underway in 1918.

Summer of Uncertainty

Major league rosters changed frequently. The turnover made it difficult to track exactly how many players were joining the military. Lineups changed daily and the talent level dropped as the season progressed. Conscription wasn’t the only threat to keeping a roster stocked with talent. The exemptions offered to essential war workers made employment in the shipbuilding or steel industries appealing.

The most notorious case of a major league player avoiding the draft was Chicago White Sox outfielder Joe Jackson (you may know him as Shoeless Joe). All draft-eligible men were classified into five classes. Jackson believed he was safe in Class 4, meaning he was exempt from the draft due to his financial responsibility for his mother and two younger siblings. In early May, he was surprised to learn he had been placed in Class 1 and was now eligible for conscription. He told reporters, “I’m ready to go whenever they call me. And I’ll get me a few boches15 too, if a good batting eye proves to be a good shooting eye.”16

Shortly after declaring himself ready for war, Jackson decided he’d rather hit baseballs than shoot Germans. He skipped out on the White Sox and took a job with a shipyard in Delaware. Jackson would miss the rest of the 1918 season while newspaper editorials ranted and screamed about the terrible example he was setting and the shirking of his patriotic duties. (Jackson would, of course, bury his draft-dodging scheme beneath an even more infamous plot with his starring role in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.) Other major league players followed, each of them excoriated in the press as “slackers” for avoiding military service. One example appeared in The Ogden Standard:

I know that until I die, I shall always connect baseball with slacking. It is not, known, the fault of the game that so many of its stars took to cover when the Hun showed his teeth, but until the last of the land sailors and soft-berth boys are out of baseball I shall keep away from the games in which they may take part….Great 200-pound trained athletes playing baseball while 18-year-old boys are dying in the trenches!17

The situation for major league teams became more dire when the War Department issued a “Work or Fight” order. The new edict came from Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder on May 23rd. The order was aimed at gamblers, fortune tellers, and other individuals who made their livings by dubious means. It also included service workers, probably under the assumption they were easily replaced. Actors and opera singers were among the professions explicitly exempt from the order, but baseball players were not mentioned at all. Draft class didn’t matter; on July 1st, every man eligible for the draft must find employment in an essential war industry or be ready to fight.

The ruling threw all of organized baseball into upheaval. The immediate question was, did the order apply to baseball players? The War Department could let baseball know the easy way or the hard way. The War Department chose the hard way. Baseball was told that a ruling would decide the question, but first, a drafted player would have to appeal their selection to their local draft board. If it was appealed high enough to reach the War Department, baseball would find out if the order applied.

Careful to toe the patriotic line, baseball’s magnates said the right words to the press. American League president Ban Johnson said, “The American League will offer no obstacle to the player donning khaki to hunt the Hun if it costs every player we have.” His National League counterpart John K. Tener said, “Everything must be done to win the war. If baseball is nonessential there is a possibility our parks will have to be closed.” Col. Jacob Ruppert of the Yankees was succinct in his assessment: “The war first, baseball last.”18

Baseball continued uneasily under the threat of closure should an appeal rule baseball non-essential. Some 80% of players on major league teams would be affected by the order. Only by fielding a team of teenagers or thirty-somethings and older could baseball continue. The death knell was ringing for the 1918 season and it had only just begun.

The Giants and the Shipbuilders Fight for Seattle Fans

To the delight of local fans, the steel shipbuilders finally got their season underway on May 18th. Like the Giants and wooden shipyards before them, they had a parade through the city and first pitches from the mayor (no word on his aim this time). The defending champion Duthies were set to take on the Ames Shipyard in the first game of the double header.

Reluctantly starting for the Ames Shipyard Nine was local baseball star Walter Mails. Mails would be one of the star players on the shipyard circuit that season, but unlike many of the professional baseball players on shipyard teams, he wanted to be in the army. Mails was drafted into the army and stationed at Camp Lewis in the 363rd Infantry. As recently as May 13th he had been pitching for one of the many Camp Lewis teams. On May 16th, he joined the Ames Shipyard to be a shipfitter because they were in need of skilled mechanics, as a regulation allowed for temporarily releasing men from military service if they were required in an essential war industry. Mails wasn’t happy to be back at shipbuilding. He seemed concerned about being labeled a slacker and initially refused to pitch for Ames, but relented prior to Opening Day because they had no other pitcher.

Walter “Duster” Mails

Mails was a bonafide pitcher. The southpaw had pitched thirteen games in relief for the Brooklyn Robins in 1915 and 1916. He spent parts of 1914 and 1915 pitching for the Seattle Giants, and part of 1917 pitching for the Portland Beavers, so he was familiar to local fans. He was not known for his control and had a habit of throwing high and inside, which earned him the nickname “Duster”. After the Beavers shut down in 1917, he joined the Duthie Shipyard team and won the Seattle Shipyard Baseball League championship. Now, he was back in the league, facing his old team.

The Sacramento Bee described Mails as “one of the most pompous, overbearing, arrogant, detested, and egotistical players who ever put on a uniform. But, to fans, he was a great showman.”19 He met his match in his pitching opponent that day, Ernie Schorr.

As expected in a game between the defending champions and a former big leaguer, the game was a pitcher’s duel (or in the lexicon of the time, a “Twirler’s Battle”) until the ninth inning. Mails threw eight brilliant innings. He was able to induce three double plays to get himself out of tight spots. Schorr’s performance was even more impressive. He did not allow a hit until the eighth inning, a ground-rule double by Ames’ player-manager Harry Howell. Schorr struck out eleven and walked two.

The wheels came off for both pitchers in the ninth inning. Mails took the mound in the top of the inning with the score tied at 0-0 and promptly lost his command and his control. He allowed three runs to score and with two and two outs, up to the plate stepped his pitching counterpart, Schorr. Clearly lacking control, Mails hit him with the pitch. Schorr did not feel any sympathy for his fellow hurler. The Seattle Star described the incident thusly:

Instead of taking his base, Ernie picked up the ball wherewith he had been smote, and striding up to Walter, vented his disapproval by smiting the latter up on the nose.20

Mails, not expecting to have his mound charged, stood in shocked surprise as Schorr punched him cleanly in the nose. Upon his ejection, Schorr was hurried away from the angry Ames fans by a policeman for his own protection. Mails also left the game to have his nose tended to. The Ames team lost morale when their star pitcher was driven from the game and the Duthies won 6-0.

Following the game it was reported that not only was Schorr banned from pitching in the Shipbuilder’s League, he was also out of a job at the Duthie shipyard. Joe Devine, manager of the Duthie team, pushed back against running his pitcher out of town. Devine told reporters, “Schorr may be fined and suspended for a time but he will be my pitcher right along.”21 Schorr would indeed be given a suspension, and he would find himself pitching for the Duthies again sooner rather than later.

The front sports page of The Seattle Sunday Times the following day featured large above-the-fold pictures of the Duthie team, hailing their Opening Day win and asking, “Shipyard Champions Again—Perhaps?”22 Despite their pitching disgrace, the Duthies were clearly beloved by Seattle. The papers would take the occasional shot at the shipyard players and their employment, suggesting that the players were, perhaps, not as hard at work in the shipbuilding business as they were on the baseball field. Tucked behind the excitement about the steel shipyards opening play, was the Giants’ game story on page two of the sports section.

The Giants were in first place in the PCIL. On May 18th, they were handed just their third loss of the season on a rainy afternoon in Portland. The Seattle Sunday Times game story worries over the players out on the field during the rain commenting that: “Pneumonia bugs lightly stepped a colonial minuet, the saucy influenza imps contributed a halahula across the lung plate form and the la grippe microbes just stood around and discussed the judges defeat at the polls.”23

While the Giants took on the Buckaroos in Portland, their league was struggling like many other minor leagues. On May 14th, the Indianapolis News reported from Portland that the PCIL was about to go under.

Organized ball seems unable to withstand the stiff competitions offered by the leagues made up of teams from the various shipyards here and at Seattle and Tacoma. Crowds of 2,500 to 3,500 have been turning out regularly for the shipyards games, and that attendance is constantly growing.24

It goes on to report that Seattle may be moving up in the minor league world.

A deal is now under way, it is reported, to take Portland and Seattle from the Class B circuit and include them in the Pacific Coast League... Baseball magnates on the coast have for years had their eyes on Seattle, but hitherto the time has never been ripe to get the franchise away from the Class B Circuit, which clung to it as its one best bet.25

Influenza Summer

The first wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic reached Europe in Brest, France in early April. American troops disembarked and the flu began to spread. The outbreaks were disruptive to the war and to civilian life, but this iteration of the flu was generally mild. Influenza viruses spread incredibly well and infect large numbers of people, which leads to frequent pandemics. They always have the capacity to kill. Even though the vast majority of victims recover, and recover quickly, the large number of people infected means there is always a death toll from even the mildest of influenza outbreaks.

The flu spread throughout the troops fighting in Europe. It caused such a huge manpower loss in the German army, it may have cost Germany the entire war. The flu hit Spain in May and newspapers across the world started to take notice. The flu continued its European tour, hitting Portugal, Greece, England, Scotland, and Wales. Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were suffering by the end of the summer. The flu spread in non-European parts of the world as well. Bombay was stricken in May, as was Shanghai. New Zealand and Australia were among the last to experience the flu when it arrived in September. Although it sickened a huge percentage of the populations, the death rate was typically quite low.26

The virus had spread around the world and had infected so many people it faced evolutionary pressure to mutate, or die out. In the United States, people read about the outbreak in Spain but otherwise had no idea of the extent of the spread. No one knew the virus had infected so many of the troops.

No one knew it was starting to mutate into a virus that not only spread rapidly, but killed violently.

Before the mutated influenza virus reached Seattle, baseball had plenty of surprises at hand. Managers and umpires both would rage-quit in the middle of games. Major league baseball would wait for a ruling that determined if the season could continue. Minor leagues would struggle. Shipyard teams would strengthen. The 1918 baseball season was a roller coaster, with twists no one saw coming.

Continue on to Part Two here.

Notes:

1 “Tener Says Baseball Is Proving Big Help In Winning War,” The Oklahoma City Times (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), April 22, 1918, 10.

2 “Tacoma Ship Workers Oust Man From Yard,” The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), April 22, 1918, 8.

3 Leeke, Jim, From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017), 21.

4 Peck, Garrett, The Great War in America: World War 1 and Its Aftermath (New York: Pegasus Books), 117.

5 “Sports Notes,” Calexico Chronicle, (Calexico, California) June 5, 1917, 3.

6 Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), April 14, 1918: 25.

7 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18192771/

8 “Health of Troops In U. S. Continues Good,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), April 18, 1918: 10.

9 “New League Plays Opening Game Today,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), May 12, 1918: 72.

10 “Town Topics,” Cayton’s Weekly (Seattle, Washington), June 22, 1918, 2.

11 “Giants Forced to Eat Humble Pie by Duthies,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), April 22, 1918: 14

12 Ibid.

13 “Shipbuilders and Gobs Walk Over the Giants,” The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), April 22, 1918, 8.

14 “Shipbuilders Played Two Games on Sunday,” The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), May 6, 1918, 8.

15 French pejorative term for Germans, meaning hard head or cabbage head. Commonly used in newspapers and the general lexicon, along with Hun, to describe the German opponents as unflatteringly as possible.

16 “Joe Jackson, White Sox Hitter, drafted,” The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), May 2, 1918, 10.

17 Sheridan, J.B., “Slacker May Cheapen After-War Baseball Popularity,” The Ogden Standard (Ogden, Utah), August 10, 1918, 22.

18 “Ball Magnates Ready to Back Up Uncle Sam,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), June 9, 1918, 52.

19 McDermott, Mark, “Area Beat: Walter Mails’ career was colorful,” The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), August 2, 2014, https://www.sacbee.com/sports/mlb/san-francisco-giants/article2605710.html.

20 “Schorr Give Fistic Show at Ball Game,” The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), May 20, 1918, 8.

21 “Devine Declares “Rowdy” Schorr to Continue Pitching,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), May 21, 1918: 17.

22 “Duthies Win Opening Battle, “ Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), May 19, 1918: 67.

23 “Buckaroos Put Run of Wins At End By 3 to 1,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), May 19, 1918: 68.

24 “Shipyard Teams My Wreck Coast Leagues,” Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana), May 14, 1918, 12.

25 Ibid.

26 Barry, John M., “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 171-172.