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A Day In Wrigley Field History: July 11, 1918

War was raging in Europe in the summer of 1918, and that resulted in an interesting event at the Cubs' ballpark.

Photo by Found Image Press/Corbis via Getty Images

The Cubs were a very good team in 1918; on their way to a National League pennant in the war-shortened baseball season, they swept the visiting Braves at Weeghman Park in a doubleheader Thursday, July 11, 4-3 in 10 innings and 3-2 (on their way to a good 26-17 record in one-run games) and extended their league lead to 5½ games.

But the sweep wasn't the most important story on that summer afternoon. With the war (then known as the "Great War"; it wouldn't become "World War I" until there was a "World War II") going and no one knowing that it would end four months later, American men were subject to being drafted into the Army. (My own grandfather served in the U.S. Army during this war.)

You might think draft evasion was something that went on only during the Vietnam era, but it was apparently happening in 1918 as well; Sean Deveney, in his book "The Original Curse", tells of something that happened on that July afternoon:

That day the Cubs took the first half of a home doubleheader from the Braves, 4-3, and between games, as some fans made for the exits, an announcement went up by megaphone: no one would be allowed to leave the park without giving an account of their draft status. The gates were locked and manned by federal agents. If draft-eligible men were found not carrying their cards, they were taken to the nearby Town Hall police station and jammed into the squad room until they could adequately explain their circumstances. This was part of a "slacker sweep" around Chicago that day. Movie houses, theaters, railway stations, cabarets, and poolrooms were swept, and more than 5,000 suspected slackers were detained. Of those, 500 had been at the Cubs game.The Tribune describes one such "slacker":

A great number of men picked up at the Cubs' park were from out of town. In several cases they told police they were taking a final vacation before answering their call to service. One of these was Samuel Milton from Sedalia, Mo. He was taken to Town Hall station.

"I am in the present call downtown," he said. "I just ran up for a little trip before going to camp. I didn't bring my card along and here I am. It looks like an all night session for me for the directions say nothing doing until I telegraph my draft board. I hope I can get a wire through before the telegraph office closes for the night."

Eventually, the 1918 season wound up being shortened; Deveney's book indicates that all contracts were voided after the season ended -- even multiyear deals, as some owners thought the war would go into 1919 and baseball might even cease to exist -- and most players were expected to go into the army. The World Series almost wasn't played, but the Cubs and American League champion Red Sox eventually agreed to play the games, and you surely know what happened there.

It was a different time, no doubt.