Baccellieri: Masks, fundraisers, and smallpox-only teams: How baseball Has dealt with infectious diseases before

From Emma Baccellieri at Sports Illustrated on March 9, 2020:

The pictures show an old-school baseball game, typical in every way save one: Everyone wears a mask. There’s a face mask on the hitter, the bench and the crowd. Underneath their standard equipment, the umpire and catcher have them, too.

This is how the Pasadena Merchants and Standard-Murphys played a game in the Southern California Winter League on January 26, 1919. The influenza epidemic that had started the previous year was spreading, and California was concerned. Pasadena had started requiring residents to wear masks in public; on the first day that the rule went into effect, the city made 60 arrests to show that the new law was for real. So how does a baseball team operate under these regulations? Simple: Just make everyone wear a mask. Per the Los Angeles Times, “even when sliding for bases, the runners managed to keep the cloth over their noses and mouths.”

This was not how most baseball teams addressed the flu. While the MLB season was cut a few weeks short in 1918, that was due less to the outbreak and more to World War I, and it started back on schedule in 1919. But MLB went without any formal protocol about how to handle the outbreak, with no serious talk of canceled games or empty stadiums, and baseball went on, even as the illness came for some of its key figures. (It’s worth saying here that there was no commissioner to issue any formal protocol: Kenesaw Mountain Landis didn’t become the first to hold the gig until a year later, as an answer to the Black Sox scandal.)

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Originally published: March 10, 2020. Last Updated: March 10, 2020.