Although the 1918 season ended early, it ended even earlier than scheduled for the Indians.
In 1917, the United States joined the conflict then known as the War to End All Wars and now more mundanely known as World War I. Despite predictions of a short war, European powers had bogged down into trench warfare.
By 1918, the U.S. government was expecting to be at war for the long haul, having passed a constitutional amendment for a federal income tax to fund it. Those plans also included the “Work or Fight” directive, saying that all able-bodied men would either join the armed forces or work in a job essential to the war effort – which did not include playing professional baseball. In fact, many of the minor leagues had shut down in 1917.
Ban Johnson had at one point suggested no baseball in 1918 if the nation was at war. That didn’t happen, but the major leagues held spring training closer to home and ended the season on Labor Day.
The Indians contended that year for the American League pennant, and were in first place as late as July 4, but then lost five of their next seven to drop into second place in the league, which they stuck to like grim death, as the Plain Dealer put it.
The Red Sox clinched the pennant on Aug. 31, and after the Indians beat the White Sox 2-1 that day, team owner Jim Dunn went to the press box and announced that the Indians’ last game would be the following day, and the team would be canceling its Labor Day doubleheader against the Browns. Dunn made the announcement without consulting with Browns or league officials. The Browns had an exhibition, and the Indians lost the last two games of the year by forfeit — but still remained in second place in the American League.
Red Sox owner Harry Frazee demanded that Dunn and the Indians be penalized for what he called “the greatest violation of the league constitution in the history of the league.” American League officials basically told Frazee to pound salt, since the Indians followed the directive issued by Secretary of War Newton Baker (a former Cleveland mayor).
Despite the Indians’ second-place finish, they got a share of the World Series proceeds. That year, for the first time, teams other than the respective pennant winners would get proceeds from the World Series. However, nobody told the Cubs or Red Sox, who almost staged a walkout in Game 5 before cooler heads prevailed.
When the “September classic” ended, nobody thought baseball would even be played in 1919. The Chicago Tribune said the end of the World Series marked “Taps” for Major League Baseball, and Ebbets Field in Brooklyn had been leased to the U.S. government as a storage facility for 1919.
“When tomorrow’s game has been finished,” wrote the Plain Dealer on Sept. 1, “the Indians will bid farewell to the diamond, will say goodbye until the Hun has been licked and the fans are again in the mood where they care for the sport.”
However, an armistice was reached on Nov. 11, 1918, ceasing hostilities in World War I, and spring training began anew in 1919.