As A Pandemic World Series Starts In Texas, The Game Plays On, Through Crisis After Crisis
This year's World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers is a first, being played at the Texas Rangers' new stadium in Arlington. Even during historical emergencies, baseball perseveres.
The Texas Rangers may have had an abysmal season, but their new stadium, Globe Life Field, will see some glory this year. It’s the neutral zone where the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers will face off in the 2020 World Series, which starts Tuesday night.
Usually, the two competing teams travel between their home fields for the series, but this year, Major League Baseball chose to play at one neutral site to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It’s the first modern World Series to take place at a site unaffiliated with either team, according to John Thorn, MLB’s official historian.
"On the weirdness scale, 2020 is unprecedented,” he said.
According to Thorn, in 1887, competing teams played in several different cities. That was before the World Series we know today began in 1903.
This will also be the first World Series since 1944 to be played at a single stadium.
Earlier this year, people weren’t even sure there would be a baseball season. But historically, Thorn said it’s usually internal conflicts like strikes, not global disasters, that silence baseball. The MLB has soldiered through pandemics and even wars before.
World War I And The 1918 Flu Pandemic
Take 1918, as World War I was winding down. At the same time, the Spanish flu was ravaging the country and the globe; the death toll was estimated at more than 50 million worldwide.
“Somehow, baseball was able to dance through the raindrops and have a full season,” Thorn said.
With the country entrenched in war, the government told MLB to wrap up its season by Labor Day. The World Series began on September 5, 1918, the earliest start ever for a contest that usually happens in October. Babe Ruth and his original team, the Boston Red Sox, had won by September 11.
Thorn said holding the series early meant baseball was able to wrap up before a second wave of flu swept the nation.
World War II
After Pearl Harbor attack dragged the U.S. into WWII, the baseball commissioner sent a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offering to postpone baseball for the duration of the war.
In response, FDR said play ball:
“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before,” he wrote. “And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”
Basically, it’s important to have some fun during hard times. Thorn said that sentiment applies today, too.
“It’s precisely because everything else is falling apart that you want the thing you cared about when you were 5 years old. You want the thing that your grandpa took you to see,” he said.
Even though baseball continued through World War II, players were enlisting or getting drafted.
“The quality of play in 1944 and early ‘45 was such that you had a 15-year-old pitching for Cincinnati, that you had a one-armed outfielder playing for St. Louis,” Thorn said.
Sitting on the sidelines “were perfectly capable Negro League players who could not make an appearance in Major League Baseball for reasons unrelated to their ability,” he added. Baseball began to integrate in 1947.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
This year, MLB responded to the pandemic by shortening the season. Teams played to empty ballparks, except for cardboard cutouts of fans. That includes the Texas Rangers, whose new stadium, Globe Life Field, was completed this year.
The MLB didn’t impose a COVID “bubble” like the NBA or NHL. There were several outbreaks among teams.
But the season made it to the end, and the league held postseason games in Texas and California. Globe Life Field allowed a limited number of fans to attend the National League Championship Series games.
Of course, the pandemic isn't over. UT-Southwestern reports this week COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are rising again in North Texas.
For this World Series, fans will be socially distanced around Globe Life Field, with ticket sales of about 11,000 per game.
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