Baseball and the Star Spangled Banner

A Tradition Dating Back to WWI
Sepia photograph of a WWI-era baseball game. Soldiers sit in the stands and march by the field.

The United States formally entered World War I on April 6, 1917 and the first global conflict in human history affected virtually everyone in some manner. One aspect of American life not anticipated to be uprooted by this catastrophe: Major League Baseball. Hundreds of current and future MLB players served in WWI, including Hall of Famers such as Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson as well as Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Due to shorthanded rosters, the 1918 season ended early and it marked the only time the “October Classic” was played entirely in September. On Sept. 5, 1918, the Boston Red Sox traveled to Comiskey Park to face the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series. In a move that changed baseball history, the Red Sox needed an extra outfielder, so the team’s top pitcher shifted positions between starts. That player? None other than Babe Ruth.

Special thanks to Producer Grant Curtis for the creation of this film, to Major League Baseball for archival footage and to Kansas City Royals Announcer Denny Matthews for providing narration.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the 1918 World Series is unrelated to actually playing baseball. During the seventh inning stretch of Game 1, the military band struck up an impromptu rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, playing while on leave from the Navy, snapped to attention and saluted the flag. The rest of the players turned to face the flag with their hands on their hearts. Fans followed suit. As the band played the final notes, the entire stadium joined in the melody.

Even though the Star-Spangled Banner did not become the official national anthem until 1931, this patriotic moment in 1918 began a lasting tradition that continues to this day.


Want to learn more about the historical ties between WWI and Baseball?

Watch the following presentation by Jim Leeke, author of From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War, recorded at the Museum and Memorial in 2017:



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