First Games Back
Throughout baseball history, there have been days and games missed for a variety of reasons. As baseball returns to the field for the 2020 season during a global pandemic, SABR strives to remember many other returns to play in First Games Back, published through the SABR Games Project.
Our stories begin in the earliest era of professional baseball in 1871 and continue into the 21st century. During these days of uncertainty, we remember this is not the first time that we were without baseball or some of the game’s star players for an extended period of time.
After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, baseball games were canceled as America collectively mourned the loss of life. Games began on September 17 and the first games back in New York City produced a blend of exhilaration and remembrance. Another act of terror in Boston in 2013 showed the resilience of that city’s fanbase.
There were pauses in play for natural disasters, including a World Series earthquake in the Bay Area and a devastating hurricane in Houston. There were returns after work stoppages in 1981 and 1994-95. Civil disturbances in the 1960s also impacted the baseball schedule. In 1919, the start of the season was delayed while an influenza pandemic ravaged the entire world.
Cities that had been without major-league baseball for decades saw the game return and fans turned out to welcome new teams. Ballpark renovations resulted in teams finding temporary homes before returning to their rebuilt ballparks.
A few cities welcomed back homegrown heroes who returned to play after spending years with other teams. Teams returned to the field after losing players in tragic accidents. Players had their careers put on hold while serving in the military, some coming under fire during World War I and World War II.
Some players returned after debilitating injuries and illnesses, and others returned after surviving tragedies that resulted in teammates losing their lives. One player appeared in a big-league game for the first time in more than 19 years — “just for the fun of it.”
Baseball is a game for a resilient and perpetually optimistic fanbase, and it is to those fans that these stories are dedicated.
— Alan Cohen
July 23, 2020