2020 First Time In A Century Baseball Season Shortened By World Events

The first ever time Major League Baseball ever had to shorten a season was during World War I. As explained by the Baseball Hall of Fame, things were much different during that war than it was during any subsequent war. Part of the reason was after World War I, President Roosevelt encouraged baseball to keep playing even as players like Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams were shipped overseas.

With players joining the war effort during World War I, including Christy Mathewson, who was exposed to chemical weapons during an exercise, Major League Baseball shortened the season by 14 games, which back in 1918 meant going from 154 to 140 games. They also canceled the minor league season.

It would become the earliest ever World Series played with Babe Ruth leading the Boston Red Sox to a World Series title by extending his World Series record consecutive scoreless innings streak to 29.2

Yes, that’s exactly how long ago a Major League season had to be shortened by world events. At that time, not only was Babe Ruth not a Yankee, but he was also not a slugging outfielder.

The ensuing season would forever be known for the Black Sox scandal with Eddie Cicotte plunking Morrie Rath to let the gamblers know the fix was on. As time has wore on, that scandal has completely overshadowed the fact the 1919 season was a shortened one as well.

The 1919 season was also shortened from 154 to 140 games to permit the players time to come home and get into baseball shape to play in the 1919 season. You have to wonder if those 14 games had been played if the late charging Cleveland Indians could have made up the 4.0 game deficit in the standings under new manager Tris Speaker. You also wonder if the owners didn’t “release” all the players at the end of the 1918 season to save money if there ever would have been a fix.

Believe it or not, that 1919 season was the last time a baseball season was interrupted by world events.

Major League Baseball played full seasons during World War II, and there was even the AAGPBL to help fill the gaps. To a certain extent, you can’t help but think of that with Tom Hanks being the first known celebrity being infected with COVID19. After all, it Hanks who played Jimmy Dugan, a player based off of Jimmie Foxx, in A League of Their Own.

World War II would be the last time baseball players were subject to the draft. That meant playing through the Vietnam War, and after the Vietnam War, there were no longer any drafts in the United States.

Baseball did not have to take time off when President Kennedy was assassinated as Kennedy was assassinated in the offseason. The same holds true for the President Reagan assassination attempt as that happened during Spring Training.

Really, it would not be until 9/11 that world events would directly impact a baseball season. That one was more than world events as it was an attack against the United States with the Twin Towers falling. Baseball, like everything else, shut down for a week or more as we went through the process of healing. For most New Yorkers, we really didn’t feel normal until Mike Piazza homered off Steve Karsay:

As we know, even with that interruption, baseball still played their full 162 game slate, which led to them playing into November. That led to Derek Jeter being called Mr. November in a series where the winning run was blooped over his head by Luis Gonzalez and Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson were named co-MVPs of the World Series.

So, while baseball had been impacted directly and indirectly by world events, we are in relatively uncharted territory. In fact, not even the deadly Spanish flu which followed World War I would impact baseball, at least not in terms of interrupting as season.

As a result, baseball has really only been impacted by self-wounds like the 1981 and the 1994 strikes.

Not once over the past century has baseball been prevented from playing a full schedule due to world or national events. Over the past century, baseball has always found a way to play while the world was hurting to give us the escapism we all needed.

If nothing else, that should tell you just how different the COVID19 pandemic is. Baseball could not be stopped by wars or assassinations. They could not be stopped by attacks on United States soil, whether that be Pearl Harbor or 9/11. No, the only thing that could stop it is a pandemic.

COVID19 is the only thing which has stopped baseball in a century. If you are one of the people who are at the beach on Spring Break or have not socially isolated, please let that tell you just how dangerous this situation is.