Golden Baseball Magazine
Baseball Vignettes
The articles in this series contain stories about baseball's colorful personalities.
Babe's Transitional 1918 Season

Like all major league teams, the Boston Red Sox had difficulty putting together a roster for the 1918 season.

  • The United States had entered World War I in April 1917. A month later, Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register with their draft boards.
    American League teams hastened to show their patriotism by hiring former army sergeants to drill their players during spring training and before regular season games. Under fire from politicians and segments of the public, the National League clubs had no choice but to follow suit. The American League even held drill competitions where army officers reviewed the players' pregame performances before the two teams squared off on the diamond.

    Washington Senators drilling before a game
  • Married men with children and men working in essential wartime industries such as steel production, ship building, transportation, and agriculture were exempt. Many baseball players without children sought jobs in those industries, which benefitted teams on the Eastern seaboard, where those industries were concentrated. Players could arrange their work schedules to play some games. In some cases, a player's "job" was playing ball for the company team in an industrial league.
  • After only 73,000 volunteered for military service, Congress mandated a draft lottery to meet the target of 1,000,000 soldiers and sailors needed to fulfill the military's needs.

When the '17 season ended, the Red Sox lost a number of their personnel to the war effort.

  • Manager Jack Barry was called up.
  • C Hank Gowdy enlisted and was on the front lines by the start of the 1918 baseball season. OF Duffy Lewis and P Ernie Shore were in the naval reserve.
  • 1B Del Gainor joined the navy, and IF Hal Janvrin joined the signal corps.
  • Pitchers Herb Pennock and Lore Bader entered into service at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Red Sox owner Harry Frazee found a new advisor during the off-season in the person of an old friend.

  • Ed Barrow, who had managed the Detroit Tigers in 1903-04, had been the president of the International League since 1912.
  • With the future of the minor leagues in doubt, Barrow resigned his post.

With Barrow's help, Frazee went about rebuilding the Red Sox roster for 1918 after losing eleven players to the war effort, the most of any big league club.

  • His best selection was George Whiteman to replace Duffy Lewis in LF.
  • Boston also made a trade with the Athletics that brought P "Bullet" Joe Bush, OF Amos Strunk, and C Wally Schang.
  • The Red Sox signed Johnny Evers, the longtime 2B of the Cubs. Evers would not only play but also coach.
  • Sparing no expense to win the '18 pennant, Frazee purchased 1B Stuffy McInnis from the A's.
  • After several other candidates didn't work out, Frazee hired Barrow as Red Sox manager March 5, four days before the club was scheduled to leave for spring training in Hot Springs AZ.
    Barrow would make the Hall of Fame because of his years as General Manager of the Yankees from 1920-1945.

The only member of the Red Sox on the train that left Boston March 9 for the journey to Arkansas was 23-year-old P Babe Ruth, a veteran of three full seasons with Boston.

  • Frazee, Barrow, and other players joined the train along the way.
  • Boston began spring training with barely enough to players for an intrasquad game.
  • After a week in Hot Springs, the Red Sox began a "barnstorming" tour with the Brooklyn Dodgers through Texas and then to New Orleans and Mobile before heading back to the Northeast.
  • The disappointing news was that Evers accepted an offer to manage the New Jersey team of the International League.

The 1918 season would mark a major turning point in Ruth's career.

  • During spring training, he played 1B and RF but returned to the pitching mound as the regular season neared.
  • In great shape and "enthusiastic to a fault," Babe pestered Barrow to let him play the outfield when he wasn't pitching. Babe made a good case for playing in every game during the games against Brooklyn. In one game, he hit an inside-the-park HR and also drove another pitch "so far over the right field fence ... even players of the Brooklyn team had to arise to the occasion and cheer." When a game at Camp Pike in Arkansas was rained out, Ruth entertained the soldiers by taking batting practice. He clouted five homers, all traveling more than 400'.

By opening day of the regular season, 124 American League players had been lost to the war. But with its pitching staff intact and the lineup bolstered by strong offseason acquisitions, the Red Sox were the consensus favorite to win the 1918 pennant.

Only four of the players (in bold below) in the Red Sox opening day lineup had started the 1917 opener.

Harry Hooper RF
Dave Shean 2B
Amos Strunk CF
Dick Holbitzell 1B
Stuffy McGinnis 3B
George Whiteman LF
Everett Scott SS
Sam Agnew C
Babe Ruth P

Barrow followed the custom of the day and batted Ruth 9th when he pitched.

During the course of the season, which ended prematurely on Labor Day by order of the Department of Defense, Ruth played in 95 games at four different positions.

Pitcher: 20     1B: 13     LF: 47     CF: 12

Babe didn't hit a home run until Boston's 17th game, May 4.

  • But what a clout it was - into the upper deck of the Polo Grounds where the Yankees played their home games.
  • He repeated the feat in the next game.
    Impressed, the Yankees offered Frazee $150,000 in cash for Ruth. But Harry wasn't interested. He made his money producing Broadway plays and expected his new play to be a hit.
  • Babe homered in a third straight game the next day at Washington. Then he went 5-for-5 in the next game against the Senators.
  • All this was part of a seven-game tear in which he went 14-for-27 (.519).
  • He did not smack another four-bagger until June 2 at Detroit, which triggered another streak of four roundtrippers in four games.

The last part of June was not kind to Ruth.

  • The league noticed that he had trouble against lefthanders. So the other clubs used every southpaw on their roster against the Red Sox.
  • From June 9-July 2, Babe went 15-for-65 (.230) with four HRs.
  • So Barrow stopped using Ruth except as a pitcher, which didn't sit well with Babe. To make matters worse, Ed fined Ruth on July 1 for ignoring a "take" sign while at bat.

So Babe jumped the club July 3 instead of traveling from Washington to Philadelphia for the next series.

  • He contacted the Chester Shipyards in Pennsylvania and offered to join the company team.
  • When first asked about Ruth's absence, a Red Sox spokesman denied there was any problem between Barrow and Babe. Ruth "hasn't been feeling well lately, so Barrow thought he'd let him have a day off." But that was a smoke screen.
  • When Frazee found out what his star player was trying to do, he threatened the shipyard with legal action.
  • But that wasn't necessary because Babe changed his mind when he learned that the shipyard team expected him to pitch and sheepishly returned to the Sox.
  • He also agreed to take Barrow's advice and quit trying to pull every pitch from lefthanders.

With Ruth back in the fold, the Sox went on a tear starting July 4.

  • They won 20 of the remaining 27 games that month.
  • Tied with Cleveland and New York for first place on Independence Day, the Sox ended the month 4.5 games in front.
  • The lead never went below two games the rest of the way as Boston finished 2.5 games up on the Indians when play was halted after the Labor Day doubleheaders.

Babe finished the 1918 season with these totals.
    Batting: BA .300 (40-123), R 50, 2B 26, 3B 11, HR 11, RBI 61, BB 58, K 58
    Pitching: W 13, L 7, ERA 2.22, G 20, GS 19, CG 18, IP 166.1, K 40, BB 108
Ruth's 11 homers led all of major league baseball and was more than four other AL teams and one NL club. His 58 strikeouts as a batter also led the majors in that era of "contact hitting."

So the Red Sox met the Chicago Cubs in the 1918 World Series, which was one of the most interesting Fall Classics in history.

To be continued ...


Jack Barry

Hank Gowdy

Duffy Lewis

Ernie Shore

Harry Frazee

Ed Barrow

George Whiteman

Joe Bush

Amos Strunk

Wally Schang

Babe Ruth

Return to Baseball Magazine

Baseball Vignettes - I
Greatest Year by a Hitter | Mahatma, Larry, and the Lip | The Saga of Ray Caldwell | Jake Powell, Racist | The Colossus Prevails | Last Tripleheader | Whose Record Did Babe Break?

Baseball Vignettes - II
The AL's Dizzy Dean | He Shoulda Got the Flu before Every Start | "Lucky" Lohrke | Don't Let Ty Get That Title! | Be Careful What You Say | Quick Work | Almost Another Red Double No-Hitter | Anything to Stop a Double Play | Joe Earley Night | Another Giants-Dodgers Playoff

Baseball Vignettes - III
Durocher on Mays | Durocher on Rhodes | Scorer Shenanigans | The "Real" 1944 World Series | Wacky Waddell | Lost Home Runs | Scooter's Biggest Embarrassment | Fastest Pitcher Ever | The Fuss over Feller

Baseball Vignettes - IV
Babe Ruth's 1927 Season | Mugsy and Mattie | From Bad to Worse | Juan Mad Dude | Another Met Miracle | Reggie Was Hip That Night | The Pine Tar Game

Baseball Vignettes - V
Home Run Baker | Flint Went AWOL | Dizzy Tames Detroit | The End of a Career | Diz Nearly Upsets the Bombers | Defering to a Hitting Streak | Almost Five HRs in a Game

Baseball Vignettes - VI
World Series Lost by a Straw Hat | What's He Clapping About? | "Only Time I Saw Durocher Back Down" | Ugly No-Hitter | MacPhail's Flying Circus | Bases Loaded Intentional Walks | A Pebble Helps a Rock | Rube Returns to Louisville | Tragedy at the Polo Grounds | Stan's 3,000th

Baseball Vignettes - VII
Rube's Great Season | Don't Put Luke in a Foul Mood | Hank Stuck on 58 | No Foot? No Problem! | Never the Same | Ted's Remarkable Streak | Three Shutouts in Four Days | Castro Hosts the World Series | Jimmy Was Certifiable | Five Wins, Two No-Hitters

Baseball Vignettes - VIII
Excitement in Chicago | Major League Beaver | Stan Becomes the Man | Piersall's Month | Most Watched Event | Stick to Boxing, Tim | Yips Can Strike Anyone | Hidden Ball Tricks

Baseball Vignettes - IX
The Spaceman | Exhibition Games | Everyday Babe | The End at Ebbets Field and Polo Grounds | Babe's Final Turn on the Mound | Did He or Didn't He? | A. "SPLIT" CENTURY | Rickey Being Rickey | Meteoric Rise and Fall of Karl Spooner

Baseball Vignettes - X
"Best I Ever Saw" | Herb and St. Jude | Cubs-Giants 1908 | Louisiana War Hero Returns | Diz's Interesting '34 | Curse of the Colonel | Brought Together by Tragedy

Baseball Vignettes - XI
Tim Lincecum | $50 in Pennies | Waite Hoyt | The One and Only Earl Weaver | Paul's Rough Start | Unsung Star of '34 All-Star Game | Worst Hitter Ever | Did Babe Call His Shot? | Seminick vs. Giants

Baseball Vignettes - XII
The Making of a Team | Mantle I - "Go West, young man." | Mantle II - "The next great ballplayer." | How Ernie Banks Became a Cub | Thank a Football Game for Vince Scully | "The Next Bob Feller" | Crybaby Cleveland

"Shot Heard 'Round the World"
1951 NL Playoff - Game 3