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The Highland Baseball Craze in 1918

One of our Inverness guides, Tom Green, has written this really interesting piece about US Navy baseball in the North of Scotland in 1918. You can find sources for the information at the bottom of the blog. Thanks Tom, and enjoy...



At the beginning of the first world war, the United States of America opted to remain a neutral power. This changed in the spring of 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson was given an intercepted German telegram by the British which suggested the Germans were to resume unrestricted submarine warfare.[1] The telegram also said that the Germans would propose an alliance with Mexico offering Mexico a chance to take New Mexico, Texas and Arizona from the Americans.[2] Following all of this, on the 6th April 1917, the 65th congress of the United States approved a resolution declaring war on the German Empire after an 82-6 vote in the senate on the 4th April 1917.[3]

During the war, Americans served on the frontline in western France but they also helped the Royal Navy mine the North Sea in an attempt to starve Germany out of the war.[4] In order to do this, the United States Navy set up two bases in Scotland in February of 1918. One was at the Dalmore Distillery in Invergordon, named US Naval Base 17, and the other was at the old Glen Albyn Distillery near Merkinch Primary School in Inverness, named US Naval Base 18, to help assemble the mines.[5]

Throughout the war, the US Navy and the Royal Navy laid 70,000 anchored mines in a 230 mile area of the North Sea between the Orkney Islands and Norway.[6] Despite the sheer volume of mines, occasionally mine parts would be delayed which gave the men time to participate in American pastimes such as Baseball.

Baseball was such a popular sport among the sailors that the two bases organised a baseball league that began on the 4th July 1918. The league consisted of 12 teams and over the course of the summer, 176 games were played which is a remarkable feat when you consider that prior to the war Scotland had no baseball mounds or equipment for the sport.[7] This league had more matches than the Anglo-American League down in England which only consisted of 112 matches and consisted of 8 teams.[8]

The Teams[9]

USS Canonicus

USS San Francisco (Flagship)

USS Housatonic

USS Black Hawk (Flagship)

USS Raonoke

USS Baltimore

USS Shawmut

USS Aroostook

USS Quinnebaug

USS Canandaigua

Tugs

USS Saranac

The season

The season opened on US Independence Day (4th July) 1918 and was part of wider independence day celebrations across Inverness which consisted of a church service at the High Parish Church and the famous Stars and Stripes being flown on ships and buildings throughout the town.[10] Over the course of the season, each team gained a local and loyal fan base and, according to one account of the season, local fans would chant “baseball forever” throughout the year.[11]

A lot of the matches in the league were used to help raise funds for prisoner of war funds, such as the Cameron Prisoners of War Fund, and were part of larger sporting events, such as the grand fete on the 3rd August 1918 in Inverness.[12] The event consisted of various athletics events, a baseball match and an exhibition of American football. This particular event raised £100 which is the equivalent of £5725.13 in today's money.[13]


At the end of the season, the crew of the USS Canonicus won the league title by winning 75% of the matches and were closely followed in second place by the crew of the USS San Francisco who finished the season with a 70.6 win percentage.[14] Due to the constraints of war, the league had to be decided using win percentage rather than number of wins because multiple matches were cancelled due to either the Scottish weather or hastened military activities.[15] This meant that some teams like the USS Canonicus and USS San Francisco played far more games than a lot of their rivals. For example, the team representing the Tugs were only able to play in 4 games whereas the Canonicus and San Francisco played in 20 and 17 matches respectively,[16] Below is the full league table,

League Table



After the baseball season, the navy bases had plans to have a full American football season in the fall but these plans were dropped on the 11th November 1918 when the armistice was signed. The US Navy stayed in the Scottish Highlands until the autumn of 1918 as they had to undertake minesweeping operations to reopen up the North Sea.[17]


Thanks again to Tom for writing such an interesting article about arguably one of the most unique baseball seasons in history!


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Source list:

[1] Hugh Brogan, Longman History of the United States of America, (Book Club Associates: London, 1985), pp.489-490 [2] ibid., pp.489-490 [3] ‘S.J. Res. 1’, [02/04/1917]. United States Senate https://senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/image/SJRes1_WWI_Germany.htm (accessed on 30/03/2020); United States Congress, ‘The Statutes at Large of the United States of America from April, 1917, to March, 2019’, (Government Printing House: Washington, 1919), p.1 [4] Secretary Daniels, ‘Daniels Reports on Navy’s War Work; Sent 338 ships and 75,000 men abroad; Helped Convoy 2,000,000 Troops, He Shows. Reducction of Armament. Naval Record Unprecedented. Convoying the Troops. North Sea Mine Barrage’, New York Times, 9 December 1918, p.4 [5] ‘MHG59849 - Submarine Mine Depot, US Naval Base 17 - Dalmore Distillery’. Highland Historic Environment Record https//her.highland.gov.uk/Monument/MHG59849 (accessed on 30/03/2020); ‘MHG60103 - Submarine Mine Depot - United States Naval Base 18, Inverness’. Highland Historic Environment Record https//her.highland.gov.uk/Monument/MHG60103 (accessed on 30/03/2020) [6] Captain Reginald R. Belknap, The Yankee Mining Squadron or Laying the North Sea Mine Barrage’, (The United States Naval Institute: Annapolis, 1920), p.17 [7] All Hands, The Northern Barrage: Mine Force United States Atlantic Fleet, (United States Naval Institute: Annapolis, 1919), pp.88-89 [8] John B. Foster, Spaldings Official Atheletic Library: Baseball Guide 1919, (American Sports Publishing Co.: New York, 1919) pp.285-286 [9] All Hands, The Northern Barrage: Mine Force United States Atlantic Fleet, (United States Naval Institute: Annapolis, 1919), pp.88-89 [10] ‘Inverness Celebrations’, Aberdeen Daily Journal, 5 July 1918, p.4 [11] All Hands, The Northern Barrage: Mine Force United States Atlantic Fleet, (United States Naval Institute: Annapolis, 1919), pp.88-89 [12] ‘Baseball Match at Inverness’, The Sunday Post, 4 August 1918, p.3 [13] ibid., p.3; ‘Inflation Calculator’. Bank of England https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator (accessed on 30/03/2020) [14] All Hands, The Northern Barrage: Mine Force United States Atlantic Fleet, (United States Naval Institute: Annapolis, 1919), pp.88-89 [15] ibid., pp.88-89 [16] ibid., pp.88-89 [17] Secretary Daniels, ‘Daniels Reports on Navy’s War Work; Sent 338 ships and 75,000 men abroad; Helped Convoy 2,000,000 Troops, He Shows. Reducction of Armament. Naval Record Unprecedented. Convoying the Troops. North Sea Mine Barrage’, New York Times, 9 December 1918, p.4

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