Although 1918 was a year that quickly signaled the end of the Pirates flirtation with the second division as the team went on a 14-5 run in June to pull it out of the doldrums into the first division, it’s a season that will be more remembered for what happened overseas, World War I.
As America was finally pulled into the great conflict in 1917, baseball went through the season relatively unscathed. Only 76 players from the majors were called to arms during the campaign as the game went on as normal and the White Sox won the World Series, the last world championship the great city of Chicago has seen.
Things began normally in 1918 until the Provost Marshal of the armed forces, General Enoch Crowder, declared that all men who are not in war essential occupations be sent to help the effort. When the men who ran baseball did not send a representative to plead their case as to the national pastime being declared essential, baseball, unlike the entertainment industry that did argue their position, was left off the list and their players would be subject to military service, which 277 players eventually were.
The season was shut down the first week of September, except for the World Series, which for the second consecutive year proved to be both a happy and sad occasion as this time the Boston Red Sox won it all, their last championship to date.
What all this meant for the Pirates was that the organization lost an NL high 18 players, including 15 that missed time during the 1918 campaign. It also meant the signing of a couple old vets, who were over the draft age of 35, coming back to help the franchise in a pinch covering the positions created by the drafting of their players. 40-year old Tommy Leach hit .194 in 72 at bats and 36-year old former World Series hero, Babe Adams, was 1-1 with a fine 1.17 ERA in 23 innings of work.
The mound corps would be the key to the Bucs resurgence this season as they posted a 2.48 team ERA, second in the senior circuit. Wilbur Cooper had his strongest season to date with a 19-14 mark and 2.11 ERA, third in the league, while Erskine Meyer, who was obtained from the Phillies in July for Elmer Jacobs, proved to be a very advantageous pick up as he went 9-3 (16-7 overall good for an NL second best .696 winning percentage), with a 2.27 ERA. 26-year old southpaw Earl Hamilton was off to a spectacular 6-0-0.83 start in 6 complete game outings, when he went to help Uncle Sam. Ironically for Hamilton he was coming off a campaign in which he went in reverse going 0-9 for the Browns in 1917. The Gibson, City, Illinois native returned to the Pirates after the conflict, as did all the players when they were reminded by management before they went that the reserve clause was still in effect when they came back, to win 48 games over the next 5 seasons.
Offensively, the team was more noted for its trio of soon to be tremendous managerial candidates than it was for it’s offensive prowess. Billy Southworth, the great Cardinals manager of the 1940’s, who had last played in the majors for the Indians in 1915, hit a team high .341, in right field, while the future Pirates manager of the early to mid 20’s who led them to the summit in 1925, Bill McKechnie, was purchased in May from Cincinnati and patrolled the hot corner, hitting .255. The third member of the group had come to the Bucs in a January trade with the Dodgers that sent among other Burliegh Grimes, who unfortunately came off his 3-16 1917 season to go 19-9-2.14 for the Brooklynites in 1918, his name, Casey Stengel. Stengel who spiked Honus Wagner the year before, ruining what was the great shortstops last major league season, hit .246 in 122 at bats before heading off to the service himself.
With all the managerial talent on the bench, perhaps it was one of the reasons that the minimally experienced Hugo Bezdek was able to fashion the incredible turnaround. Nonetheless it was a strange season, which included a 20 inning scoreless tie with the Braves on August 1st , which the Pirates won 2-0 in the 21st frame, and despite the success on the field, is one the team and the nation, would rather forget.By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Babe Adams, Bill McKechnie, Billy Southworth, Earl Hamilton, Elmer Jacobs, Erskine Mayer, Honus Wagner, Hugo Bezdek, Tommy Leach, Wilbur Cooper