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Kevin Paul Dupont | On Second Thought

Red Sox fans now can look back at 1918 differently

A scene from the 1918 World Series at Fenway Park.Bettmann Archive

We have a tough time letting go of things around here, although that changed considerably, and thankfully, in 2004 when the Red Sox finally stopped the losing. The letting go became far easier three years later and easier still in 2013.

Sometimes it’s almost like those 86 wait-till-next-years never happened, the “Curse of the Bambino” rendered some cute bedtime story for millennials to read to their kids, with mom, dad, and the gang falling to sleep while chortling over what was our enduring and collective angst.

Imagine if all the winning never happened, and what the hand-wringing would be like right now, another spring training soon to commence in Florida, on what would be the 100-year anniversary of the last . . . time . . . the . . . Red . . . Sox . . . won.


We clung so dearly to 1918. For decades, it was all we had, and now it is but the faintest memory in a place that perennially delivers 3 million customers to Fenway Park, carrying signs that mostly say hooray for our side and mostly believing that, of course, there will be another World Series here in October.

If it’s not this October, then surely the next, or the next. The Back Bay has morphed into Bronx East, even in years, like this one, when it’s the Yankees who appear to be loaded and the Sox are still picking over Winter Meeting yard sales to find a bona fide middle-of-the-order slugger some 16 torturous months into the post-David Ortiz era.

Seems like an eternity, doesn’t it, 16 months? For decades, we were ecstatic if the Sox clipped a weekend series against the Indians or White Sox. Now Red Sox Nation goes all 911 when the guy in the 3-hole can’t deliver .316, 37 HRs, and 116 RBIs every year. Ted Williams himself might not be enough today to placate an entitled fandom, a portion of whom, frankly, probably doesn’t know the last Sox player to wear No. 9 flannels.


Let us not go too far into 2018, though, without yet another, and perhaps last, look back at 1918.

Babe Ruth turned 23 in February that year, and it would be the season that he added everyday outfielder duties to his robust pitching work. The move was made, in part, because World War I conscripted such regulars as servicemen Duffy Lewis and Dutch Leonard.

It was skipper Ed Barrow, an ex-journalist born in a covered wagon, who urged his sensational southpaw (47-25 in his previous two seasons) to help fill the gap in the batting order.

“I’ll try, Ed, and see how it goes,” said the Bambino.

Ruth hit .300 (95 hits, 317 at-bats) and swatted 11 homers, tied for tops in the big leagues.

The ’18 season is what sustained us through the failed Series tries in 1946, ’67, ’75, and ’86. Postseason visits in those years were cherished anomalies, double shots of pure adrenaline for a fandom that grew to embrace, even enjoy the losing. Families defined themselves, somewhat proudly, as generational Sox sufferers.

In ’18, one year before Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees to buoy his sinking Broadway business, the World Series was de rigueur around here. It was the 15th World Series to be staged, and when it was over, the American League entry from Boston had won the title for a fifth time (adding to championships in ’03, ’12, ’15, and ’16).


We were then what we are now.

The ’18 Series began early because of WWI pressures, the big leagues calling an end to the regular season on Sept. 1, bowing to “Work or Fight” pressure from the US government.

America’s population at the time was just over 100 million, and Uncle Sam needed men with guns and boots more than those with bats and cleats. Something to remember a century later when we stand during staged moments at games around the country and cheer the honored soldier in the crowd, a moment’s nod to our oft-anonymous courageous.

The ’18 season was truncated from 154 to 140 games (with player pay pro-rated), and the 75-51 Red Sox were paired with the 84-45 Cubs. Bowing to wartime pressures on travel limitations, the first three games were scheduled for Comiskey Park, Games 4-7 for Fenway.

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” which did not become our national anthem until 1931, was played during the seventh-inning stretch in Game 1 — the first time it was ever played at a big league game. It wasn’t adopted as a routine part of America’s sporting experience until the next World War.

Following Game 3 in Chicago, a 2-1 win that provided the Sox a 2-1 Series lead, the clubs hustled to board trains on the evening of Sept. 7, not arriving in Boston until the morning of Game 4, Sept. 9. Game time: 2:30 p.m. No worry about TV timeouts or diminishing daylight. Each of the six games lasted less than two hours.


As primitive as that transportation might sound today — albeit with a robust bar car and a convivial Ruth holding court — consider the communication world: Inning-by-inning updates for the games at Fenway were relayed to soldiers at Fort Devens via carrier pigeon.

A modest crowd of 15,238 filed into Fenway for the Game 6 clincher. Again, winning was a routine thing for the Red Sox, and a threatened player strike prior to Game 5 had dulled fan interest even more.

Backed by a Carl Mays three-hitter, the Sox again became the world champions of baseball with a 2-0 victory, the final out recorded shortly before 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 1918. The winner’s share was $1,103, which sounds modest, but it translated to a year’s pay in the working world.

Now 100 years later, we’re back to where we were at the start of the 20th century, a baseball city where we think the winning never stops.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought” appears regularly in the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.