Discover the Baseball That Was Nearly the Last Pitch

Learn the history of a baseball that could have signalled the end of a national pastime, from the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

By Google Arts & Culture

Briggs Stadium, Detroit, MI, 1948 (1948) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

On Labor Day 1918, Detroit Tigers fans flooded into Navin Field to watch the traditional double header against the Chicago White Sox. The game itself was not particularly unusual but the day went on to have enormous significance, both for the sport of baseball and for US society as a whole. Keep reading to find out more. 

What made this season so unusual?

It was the beginning of September and in any other year the season would generally run until the end of the month. But in 1918, things were different. The war in Europe was raging and the season was to be brought to a premature close. The minor leagues had shut down in 1917 but the club owners in the majors decided to press ahead, believing baseball would be a morale booster for a country at war. But all that was about to change.

LIFE Photo Collection

Under pressure from a beleaguered military, a new ‘Work or Fight’ edict ruled that baseball was a non-essential industry and should be shut down. Many of the players were to be seconded to war jobs in factories or conscripted into military service. This otherwise ordinary game was to be the last regular season game before baseball officially shut down – who knew for who long. 

Last Baseball Before World War I, 1918National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

What happened on the field?

Davy Jones was making his first and only appearance of the 1918 season – and as it turned out, the last of his career. He had not played in the majors for three years prior to the game. In fact, Jones had come to the game as a spectator but was persuaded to play in the second game by friend and former pitcher Bill Donovan, who also came out of retirement to take part. 

The crowd had been shouting for Donovan to play. He relented on condition that Jones joined him. According to Jones, Donovan said: 'I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go out and pitch if you play left field.' Tigers' coach Hughie Jennings consented, turning to one of the players saying: 'Go in and take off your uniform and give it to Davy.'

Briggs Stadium, Detroit, MI, 1948 (1948) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Catching history

Fate took care of the rest. It was Jones who caught the final ball of the game, gathering a flyball off a Donovan pitch. The ball bears the description: ‘Last ball used in game at Navin Field in last game of season, 1918, caught by Davy Jones. Hit by Jack Collins of Chicago White Sox. Season ending on Labor Day on account of War.’

Can you find the famous ball?

Jones, who had attended the game as a retired player and respected Detroit pharmacist, ended up catching the last ball before the sport shut down and the sport went to war. He kept the ball, donating it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. But can you find it?

Terrapin Park on Opening Day of the Federal League (1914-04-13) by Hughes CompanyNational Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Want to know more about baseball?

You can find out more about America's favorite pastime here.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps