March 13, 2020

To cancel or not? Baseball faced similar decision during 1918 flu pandemic, says sports historian

roberts-r07 Randy Roberts. (Courtesy photo) Download image

WHAT: Major League Baseball recently announced it would cancel spring training games and delay opening day for at least two weeks as the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the United States. The news comes as other major professional sports leagues, including the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, decided to suspend their seasons indefinitely.

EXPERT: Sports historian Randy Roberts, a distinguished professor of history at Purdue University, is author of the forthcoming book, “War Fever: Boston, Baseball, and America in the Shadow of the Great War,” which explores the impact of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic on that year's professional baseball season. He can discuss how club owners and league commissioners were forced to make a tough decision between canceling or continuing the season.

QUOTE: “Sports during a time of national crisis gives the illusion of normality, and we always ask ourselves, ‘Should we cancel everything or not?’ Right now, we don’t know if we’re going to cancel the entire MLB season, and it was the same thing in 1918. It was maddeningly frustrating. The owners did not know if there was going to be a season, if there was going to be a World Series, or how long the series would last. The owners had to pay for their stadiums and their players, so they were invested in having, in some way, a season.”

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 6 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

Writer: Joseph Paul, 765-494-9541,

Source: Randy Roberts, 765-412-1117,

Note to Journalists: A photograph of the professor is available to journalists via Google Drive.

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2015-20 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints | Maintained by Office of Strategic Communications

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact News Service at