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

3/13/2020 |

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.

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. 

“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,” Roberts says. “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.”