Just as America’s involvement in World War I greatly affected the American League pennant race in 1918, it similarly impacted the race in the National League. The conflict in Europe cost the defending N.L. champion New York Giants the services of outfielder Benny Kauff and pitchers Rube Benton and Jeff Tesreau. Unable to overcome their losses, the Giants finished second in the league, 10 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Chicago Cubs, who topped the circuit with a record of 84-45.
Featuring both the league’s top offense and its best pitching staff, the relatively intact Cubs ran away with the N.L. flag. The trio of Fred Merkle, Charlie Hollocher, and Max Flack paced the Cubs on offense. Merkle batted .297 and led the team with 65 runs batted in. Hollocher led the league with 161 hits and 202 total bases, and he placed among the leaders with a .316 batting average, a .379 on-base percentage, 72 runs scored, and 26 stolen bases. Flack finished near the top of the league rankings with 74 runs scored and 10 triples.
Meanwhile, Hippo Vaughn anchored Chicago’s league-leading pitching staff. With Grover Cleveland Alexander serving in the military, Vaughn replaced “Old Pete” as the senior circuit’s dominant hurler. Vaughn led all N.L. pitchers with 22 victories, a 1.74 ERA, 148 strikeouts, 290 innings pitched, and eight shutouts, and he finished second with 27 complete games. Lefty Tyler and Claude Hendrix ably assisted Vaughn. Tyler finished 19-8 with a 2.00 ERA, while Hendrix posted a record of 20-7.
Despite their outstanding team balance, the Cubs found themselves unable to overcome the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, losing a rather uninspiring Fall Classic in six games. Yet, even though the conflict in Europe preyed on everyone’s mind throughout the 1918 World Series, the Fall Classic could hardly be described as uneventful. Rumors persisted that the players would not be paid their prize money (a $2,000 share for each winner, a $1,400 share for each loser). After approaching the National Commission and receiving no support, the players planned to boycott the rest of the event, with the Series standing at three games to one, in favor of the Red Sox at that juncture.
With almost 25,000 fans in attendance at Game Four, Boston Mayor Fitzgerald made a public appeal to the patriotism of the players, who ultimately gave in; the owners, however, somehow escaped adhering to the players' compromise proposal that all proceeds from the Series be donated to a war charity.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• August 1 - The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Braves went head-to-head for a major league record 20 scoreless innings. Marathon man Art Nehf went the distance for Boston, although he ended up on the short end of a 21 inning, 2-0 Pittsburgh victory.
• August 9 - Cincinnati Reds manager Christy Mathewson suspended Hal Chase indefinitely after suspecting his first baseman of taking bribes to fix games. Chase was eventually reinstated and returned to play for the New York Giants in 1919.
• October 5 - National League infielder Eddie Grant became the first major league player killed in wartime action while leading a mission in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive to rescue the Lost Battalion, which was trapped behind German lines. Other players who died during World War I included Alex Burr, Larry Chappell, Ralph Sharman and Bun Troy.
• Brooklyn's Zach Wheat won the batting title with a mark of .335, nosing out Cincinnati’s Edd Roush, who finished the season at .333.
• After enlisting in the military, Christy Mathewson was accidentally gassed. He subsequently contracted tuberculosis, spending the remainder of his relatively brief life struggling with the illness.
- 1918 World Series, Alex Burr, Art Nehf, Benny Kauff, Bun Troy, Charlie Hollocher, Chicago Cubs, Christy Mathewson, Claude Hendrix, Edd Roush, Eddie Grant, Fred Merkle, Hal Chase, Hippo Vaughn, Jeff Tesreau, Larry Chappell, Lefty Tyler, Max Flack, Pete Alexander, Ralph Sharman, Rube Benton, Zach wheat