The original pandemic World Series

Inspired by Skip Desjardin‘s September 1918: War, Plague, and the World Series, my friend Keith Curtis and I decided to replay the war- and influenza-torn series between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.

Given we have been dealing with our own pandemic in 2020, Keith and I used APBAGO, the online APBA Baseball platform, so we could play remotely instead of meeting in person at our local library, as we usually do. While we’re both old-school, cards-and-dice gamers, we found APBAGO to be a nice change of pace and a way to enjoy a reasonable approximation of the in-person, tabletop experience. (Basically, APBA’s baseball game card results and charts have been incorporated into an online engine that does most of the heavy lifting and gives you a graphical representation of the game and the cards as the players come to bat. It’s okay, but has some limitations, as you’ll see.)

APBAGO and the 1918 World Series
APBAGO’s graphical interface, which shows you the lineups, displays ratings for players while they are on the bases and in the field, and where, apparently, every game takes place at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark for some reason.

If you haven’t read Desjardin’s book, I recommend it, though you may have some sense of what happened in the fall of 1918 because of its obvious parallels to our current situation. Basically, an infectious disease outbreak, exacerbated by government inaction and a desire to project national strength and unity during an election year and downplayed at the highest levels resulted in hundreds of thousands of needless American deaths. And, coincidentally, that all happened in 1918, too1Sidebar: my great-grandparents lost three daughters in the span of a week to the “Spanish Flu,” and in the same week were told their son, a soldier, had been killed in action in Europe. Thankfully, the War Department had the wrong man, and my great-uncle, George, returned from the war and lived until 1959.!

The 1918 baseball season was abruptly truncated at the end of August, and the World(‘s) Series was played in the first half of September for the first and only time. As you probably know, the 2020 baseball season was sliced by nearly two-thirds at the front because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the World Series will be played at a neutral site (Arlington, Tex.) after most of the postseason took place in neutral-site “bubbles” to reduce the risk of infection and transmission of the virus.

With wartime travel restrictions in effect, the 1918 Red Sox and Cubs played the first three Series games in Chicago before heading east to finish the competition in Boston. The Hub was, by that point, a viral epicenter2Another quick sidebar: another set of great-grandparents lived in Boston at the time, and my great-grandmother’s insistence that her husband and their daughter stay home from work and school, respectively, very likely saved both their lives and made possible the very blog post you are currently reading., and the combination of war, disease, xenophobia and medical ignorance made for a confluence of events that Desjardin wraps up nicely.

While in real life, the Red Sox beat the Cubs in six games3You may have heard that the Cubs went a few years between championships., our APBAGO World Series went the distance.

Game 1: Sept. 5, 1918 at Comiskey Park4As happened more than once back in the day, the White Sox let the Cubs use their home for the Series, rather than the smaller Weeghman Park on the north side.
Boston 4, Chicago 2 (14 innings)
Harry Hooper went 4-for-7 and Babe Ruth pitched a 14-inning complete game, but it was a two-run error in the final frame that gave the visiting Red Sox a 4-2 win over the Cubs. Ruth scattered eight hits and six walks in outdueling Chicago’s Hippo Vaughn, who went 10 1/3 innings himself and struck out 10. (Unfortunately, I can’t give you much more than that, not even a linescore, because for all its features, APBAGO doesn’t let you export play-by-play, so unless you are also scoring by hand yourself, you quickly forget all the little things that go on in a game.)

Game 2: Sept. 6, 1918 at Comiskey Park
Chicago 5, Boston 3
It was “Charles in Charge,” as Charlie Pick and Charlie Deal combined to go 4-for-7 and drive in all five runs as the Red Sox knotted the series. Meanwhile, Chicago’s George Tyler allowed just five singles, a double and a triple in beating Bullet Joe Bush.

Game 3: Sept. 7, 1918 at Comiskey Park
Boston 4, Chicago 1
Carl Mays5Yes, the same Carl Mays who, as a member of the Yankees less than two years later, would hit Cleveland Indians star Ray Chapman with a fatal beanball. threw a five-hitter, and Harry Hooper continued his hot start with a 2-for-4, two-RBI day that led the Red Sox to the win and a 2-1 lead in the Series. George Whiteman6Who sounds like the perfectly named Boston player, if you know your history. went 3-for-3 and drove in a run for Boston.

Game 4: Sept. 9, 1918 at Fenway Park7The Red Sox had used the larger Braves Field for their home games in the 1915 and 1916 Series, but played at their traditional home in the 1918 Fall Classic.
Boston 2, Chicago 1 (18 innings)
Amos Strunk‘s sacrifice fly8The sac fly has a long and inconsistent history. In 1918, they were actually a thing, before they weren’t again. with two outs in the bottom of the 14th inning gave the Red Sox a 2-1 win over the Cubs and a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series. Babe Ruth and George Tyler both pitched into the 13th, but neither was around when Strunk’s fly ball plated the winning run off Phil Douglas and gave Game Two loser Bullet Joe Bush the win in relief. Les Mann went 4-for-6 with two walks for Chicago, while Harry Hooper kept up his hot pace with a 3-for-7 day that included two doubles and a walk. Dozens of wounded servicemen attended the game as guests of the Boston Globe (photo at top of the page).

Game 5: Sept. 10, 1918 at Fenway Park
Chicago 7, Boston 0
Hungry for a win, Chicago’s James “Hippo” Vaughn tossed a four-hit shutout and went 2-for-4 at the plate as the Cubs made Red Sox starter Sam Jones very sad indeed by scoring five runs in the first two innings and coasting to the victory. Les Mann went 3-for-3 with two more walks, continuing a stretch of 13 plate appearances in which he reached base 11 times. The win kept the Cubs’ hopes alive, though they trailed three games to two.

Game 6: Sept. 11, 1918 at Fenway Park
Chicago 2, Boston 1 (10 innings)
In the third extra-inning affair of the series, Charlie Hollacher singled home Max Flack in the top of the 10th off Babe Ruth to break a 1-1 tie and lift the Red Sox to the victory that squared accounts at 3-3. The Cubs’ George Tyler allowed just four hits in pitching a complete game to record his second win of the series.

Game 7: Sept. 12, 1918 at Fenway Park
Chicago 8, Boston 3
The Cubs completed their remarkable comeback with a convincing victory in the final game behind another outstanding all-around effort from Hippo Vaughn. Vaughn pitched a complete game six-hitter, again went 2-for-4 at the plate, scored two runs and stole his second base of the series. The Cubs jumped on Bullet Joe Bush for four runs in less than six innings, and Babe Ruth fared no better, giving up four more runs in his two and a third innings of work. Ruth also went hitless in his only at-bat, capping a goat-like (rather than GOAT-like) series that saw him go just 2-for-13 (.154) with one extra-base hit and no RBI9In reality, Ruth only got five at-bats in the series, with one hit.. Vaughn was an easy choice for the series’ Most Valuable Player (37 years before there actually was such a thing) as he went 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA, three complete games, 28 strikeouts10The most in any of my several APBA World Series replays, though none have been past 1987. in 37 1/3 innings and a .357 average (5-for-14) at the plate.

The Red Sox hit just .168 as a team, which, oddly enough, is not close to the worst team batting average in these many World Series replays, which are notoriously dominated by great pitching. The Cubs’ .215 team average was tied for second-worst among teams that won one of these replays11Which includes a couple I have completed but haven’t written up yet., and Boston’s 17 runs scored in seven games were the fewest in a seven-game replay. It’s also the first of these replays I’ve done where neither team hit a home run. (That’s the deadball era for you.) You can check out the composite individual stats here.

Besides cutting their century-plus of futility down to a slightly more manageable 98 years, the Cubs became the first team (in this universe, though stay tuned, I have World Series to replay that may retcon that at some point) to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win. Overall, it was fun and good to be able to play face-to-face despite the necessary distancing measures. APBAGO isn’t something I see myself doing a lot of, but if you’re not a super-old geezer like me and you want to try something that combines old-school charm and new-school tech, click here to check it out.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch