Today is Opening Day of the baseball season. I think it might be an intriguing summer here in New York. The Mets and Yanks are looking pretty good. Time will tell.
Opening Day 1918 came of April 15, which was about normal for the era; in the years of the 154-game season and no divisional playoffs, baseball started much later than today. In the weeks leading up to that season’s first pitch, baseball had an interesting issue to think through: what to do about Daylight Savings Time. Congress passed and President Wilson signed the bill creating DST in mid-March 1918. Perhaps not surprisingly the innovative Germans were the first country to try Daylight Savings during the Great War, starting the practice in 1916. The Brits, French, Dutch, Italians, Scandinavians and others quickly followed suit. It was thus inevitable the Americans would institute it as well. Daylight Saving Time here in the United States began at 2:00 am Sunday March 31, 1918. It also happened to be Easter.
Baseball teams, especially in the National League, began discussing the merits of moving weekday games from 3:30 to 4:30 pm at the time of the passing of the legislation in mid-March. Executives believed that moving games back an hour would boost revenue at the turnstiles because it would be easier for people to come to the game from work. It was the extra hour of sunlight made the potential time shift possible. Remember, night games did not begin until the mid-1930s. Much of official Washington vehemently opposed the idea, noting that the Daylight Savings measure was intended not for entertainment purposes but to save resources such as gas and coal, and to boost productivity in the munitions factories.
One man in agreement with this was National League president John Kinley Tener. The Irish-born Tener grew up in Pittsburgh and took to baseball as a young immigrant. He participated in Albert G. Spalding’s world baseball tour in the late 1880s. Tener played for Cap Anson’s Chicago Nationals (today’s Cubs) in 1888 and 1889 and then did a brief stint in the Players League in 1890. A Republican, Tener served in the U.S. Congress from 1909-11 and then became governor of Pennsylvania. It was while serving in Harrisburg that the National League owners voted him president in December 1913. He took the job with the condition that he finish out his gubernatorial term. Tener took the National League reins in 1915.
As early as March 19, 1918, when Daylight Savings Time became law, some baseball executives began advocating for the 4:30 start. Officially the National League Office had no position and left the matter up to individual clubs. The New York Giants wanted to move to 4:30 to better accommodate subway commuters. Charlie Ebbets, owner of the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers), too was keen on the shift. Ban Johnson, president of the American League, split the difference and advocated for a 4:00 start time for his clubs. Johnson’s National League counterpart, Tener, made clear his preference that teams stay with the 3:30 start time. Ebbets eventually bowed to the pressure and kept his team’s schedule as it was in past seasons.
Enjoy the season, everyone.
(top image/Library of Congress)