By Tyler Buchanan and Ohio Capital Journal

A winter without an Ohio State-Michigan football game is, well, it’s like hot soup without a spoon. It’s like an Ohio highway without orange barrels. 

“I know that life in Ohio is not complete without the glory of Ohio State football and other football,” President Trump told supporters in Circleville.

The rivalry is older than the Circleville Pumpkin Show. The two teams first played in 1897 and competed in most years over the next decade or two, though they took several years off during World War I.

Starting in 1918, though, the Buckeyes and Wolverines faced off in every season thereafter. Until this year. A yearly tradition that began the year of the Spanish flu pandemic ends the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The streak of playing 102 years in a row predates Kewpee burgers in Lima and Skyline chili in Cincinnati. It predates the construction of the Cedar Point causeway in Sandusky and the Terminal Tower in Cleveland.

It even predates the founding of the NFL in Canton.

Life was different in 1917, the last year the two teams didn’t play. Let’s look at a few news storylines from that year:

Darke County newspaper: Ohio lawmakers are stupid

The Greenville Journal in western Ohio offered a rather provocative headline on March 15, 1917: “General Assembly Noted As Peculiar.” The subheadline: “Legislature, Taken in the Aggregate, Is Below Average Ohio Body in Intellectual Force.”

Newspapers weren’t nearly as polite back then.

Dr. Clarence Maris, a Columbus physician and political writer, offered an explanation as to why the 1917-18 Ohio General Assembly was, in his view, lacking in intelligence. 

“(M)any of the Democrats elected in normally Republican counties or senatorial districts were thought by the party managers to have no chance for election,” Maris wrote,” and men were put up to be sacrificed, but the (Woodrow) Wilson peace wave carried them into office.”

Maris went on to list a number of legislative projects undertaken by the legislature to back up his claim. In defense of Ohio’s lawmakers from the 1910s, Maris made a lot of wild claims. A decade later, the New York Times quoted him as saying Ohio State University was rife with communism and that the “youth movement” at OSU was controlled by Moscow. 

Ohio overhauls its statewide health authority

The above Greenville Journal paper had another noteworthy article on March 15 in a separate column called “News Culled In The Capital.”

The Ohio House of Representatives had just voted to abolish the state board of health. Instead, lawmakers wanted to have a singular state health commissioner run the show, which would be aided by an advisory council. Governor James Cox supported the move. 

The reason for this change? The Marion Star reported the health board “has been in the limelight repeatedly during the last year because of internal dissensions.”

The Lima Times-Democrat reported that “too much bickering” from the seven health board members made them the “subject of considerable criticism.” The newspaper continued: “The health commissioner, to be chosen by the council, with the governor’s approval, will be endowed with administrative and executive powers.”

The new law specified the commissioner had to be a physician and be skilled in sanitary science. The term would be for five years. Dr. A. W. Freeman of Cincinnati was chosen in September 1917 to be the first state health commissioner.

New Cleveland Indians pitcher paid a pretty penny

Team owner Jim Dunn made a big bet in signing pitcher Joe Wood ahead of the 1917 season.

This illustration of “Smoky” Joe Wood printed in a 1917 edition of the Sandusky Star-Journal.

After all, Dunn paid $15,000 for his prized new hurler. 

“Smoky” Joe Wood, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, didn’t pitch in 1916. But the Tribe hoped he would return to form in ‘17.

“Tris Speaker, Wood’s former teammate and close friend, has said that he believes Joe is in as good of shape as he ever was,” the Sandusky Star-Journal reported. “But of course till Wood shows the goods on the diamond the deal is completely a gamble.”

For reference, a century later, Cleveland Indians star Carlos Santana was paid $20,333,333 for the 2019 season. He came to bat 686 times that year, earning $29,640 per plate appearance.

In essence, Santana earned “Smoky” Joe Wood’s 1917 salary twice over every time he stepped in to hit.

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.

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