Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Revisiting the Spanish Flu and 1918 World Series (Podcast)


september 1918

In October of 2018, we published a podcast, “Let’s Get Weird, Sports #5” that focused on the Spanish Flu and the 1918 World Series, in which the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs. The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe in recent history, actually deadlier than World War I, and it was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin.

The Coronavirus outbreak, and the worldwide hysteria it is causing, are drawing a tremendous mount of comparisons to the Spanish Flu, hence we are re-publishing our podcast from 18 months ago, which is embedded and easily accessed below:

Now, we flash back to our original post, first published in September of 2018: 

The team with the best record in baseball, by a substantial margin, is the Boston Red Sox at 103-47. Naturally, they’re a very good bet to represent the American League in the World Series next month.

As of this writing, the team with the best record in the National League is the Chicago Cubs, so maybe we could see a Cubs-Sox Series in October?

It happened once before, and it was exactly 100 years ago, so what an amazing story it would be to see a centennial rematch; especially so given how both teams were just five outs away from reaching the fall classic in 2003.

boston red sox

That autumn, both sides came remarkably close, but neither was able to get over the line.

Since then, both clubs have ended their much publicized and extremely elongated World Series championship droughts, with Boston going for title number three since 1918 and Chicago trying to get title number two since 1908.

A new book by Skip Desjardins, entitled War, Plague, and the World Series, revisits the Cubs-Red Sox World Series of a hundred years ago and all the world changing events that surrounded it, including:

a young pitcher named Babe Ruth rallying the sport’s most dominant team, the Boston Red Sox, to a World Series victory—the last the Sox would see for almost 90 years, the Spanish Flu erupting in Boston and its suburbs, bringing death on a terrifying scale first to military facilities and then to the civilian population, a division of Massachusetts militia volunteers turning the tide of World War I by leading the first unified American fighting force into battle in France.

skip desjardin

It was a World Series that some believe wasn’t on the level. The Cubs and Red Sox basically conspired together to try and negotiate for more money at one point, going on strike for an hour before Game 5 in Boston. The Red Sox were told by the chief negotiator that if the Series ended that day, they would have no leverage in negotiations.

Lo and behold the Red Sox lost, in a very suspicious manner that day. Also, the series didn’t draw well at Comiskey Park, where it was played for the Chicago component because the Cubs’ home field had much smaller capacity.

It’s also worth noting that:

a bombing occurred in Chicago on one of the World Series game days, the Red Sox stayed at the Hotel Metropole, which would become headquarters to Al Capone in future years, the Cubs stayed at the Hotel Buckminster, right down the left field foul pole from Fenway Park, which is where it has been said gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan helped set up the White Sox throwing the World Series the following year.

At the very least, it is where Sullivan was headquartered.


“The controversy over whether the Cubs may have thrown the 1918 World Series revolves largely around Max Flack, who was a steady, talented, borderline All-Star, although there were no All-Star games back then, right fielder for the Cubs who had a very good first three games of the series, but once the controversy broke out about how much the two teams were going to get paid, totally fell apart in some very suspicious ways,” said Desjardin when we spoke to him by phone.

“In game four, Flack got picked off twice, never before or since, has a player been picked off twice in a World Series game.”

Desjardin also told the tale of the Cubs pitcher telling Flack to back up when Ruth came to the plate, with the outfielder ignoring him. Ruth then hit a triple right over Flack’s head which drove in the game winning runs.

Have a listen to the whole interview, which is very wide-ranging, in the Sound Cloud file below. The Cubs talk starts at the 10 minute mark, around the 13:35, 14:15 and 15:54 marks you’ll hear more about various facts, nuggets and tidbits from the Series. 

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link

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  2. […] of Hammer and (SB Nation's Purdue community), and myself recorded a podcast about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the 1918 World Series (listen at this link). The fifth edition of "Let's Get Weird, Sports," a history/sports series of pods, it covered the […]

  3. […] of Hammer and (SB Nation’s Purdue community), and myself recorded a podcast about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the 1918 World Series (listen at this link). The fifth edition of “Let’s Get Weird, Sports,” a history/sports series of pods, […]

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