Story of the Week
THE LONGEST GAME IN BASEBALL HISTORY
I’ve read this thing four times, trying to cut it down. I determined that if I do, I will be altering a literary masterpiece by Scott Pitoniak, an award-winning columnist for the Rochester, NY. Democrat & Chronicle since 1985, and the author of no fewer than eight books.
By virtue of the fact that the baseball game in question is the longest game ever played, this article should be the longest on my website. It very well could be.
The game that went on forever...will live forever
Epic 33-inning Game Between Pawtuckett and Rochester Took Place 25 Years Ago
By Scott Pitoniak
April 26, 2006
Cal Ripken has lost track of what inning it occurred, and that's understandable, because when a baseball game takes 65 days, 21 hours, 16 minutes to complete, you're bound to forget some of the details.
What he does remember vividly is this: Not long after the longest game in baseball history went into extra innings that raw Rhode Island eve 25 years ago, Pawtucket Red Sox slugger Sam Bowen smashed a ball that seemed headed for Providence.
``It's a bomb, way, way over my head, and I don't even bother turning around because I figure it's out of here and the ballgame's over,'' recalled Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles legend, who was playing third base for the Rochester Red Wings that night at tiny McCoy Stadium. ``But the wind winds up blowing the ball back into the park and our left fielder catches it. As Bowen trots by me on his way back to the dugout, he says, `Cal, I got all of that, and I still couldn't get it out. It's going to be a long, long night.' ''
Man was he ever right.
Baseball's version of War and Peace began on April 18, 1981, and concluded two months later. It lasted 33 innings - just three shy of a quadruple-header - and ended when PawSox first baseman Dave Koza poked a lazy, bases-loaded single to left field to score Marty Barrett for a 3-2 victory. The game surpassed by four innings the previous longevity record, established by Miami and St. Petersburg of the Florida State League in 1966.
``It's still the most bizarre and remarkable game I've ever been involved in,'' said Ripken, the baseball Iron Man who - surprise, surprise - played every inning of that marathon. ``Thirty-three innings in one game. Now there's a record I don't think will ever be broken.''
There are other numbers from that contest Ripken would just as soon forget, such as his 2-for-13 batting line. But it could have been worse. He could have been Wings center fielder Dallas Williams, who went 0-for-13, the worst single-game collar in baseball history.
"There were several of us who had bad weeks that game,'' Ripken joked. ``Think about it, that game was like an entire series in itself. I was so happy when I got a single in the top of the 33rd because I knew all those stats were going to count after that game ended, and my average was going to take a big hit.''
true Iron Man
``The game was dragging so bad that at one point I looked back at the home plate umpire and said, `Would you please call 16 straight balls so we can end this thing and get some sleep?' '' Huppert recalled.
Umpire Jack Lietz refused, and the game staggered on. Actually, the International League contest should have been called three hours earlier, but Lietz's rule book was missing the league's revision about curfews. It wasn't until Pawtucket general manager Mike Tamburro finally tracked down IL president Harold Cooper by phone in the wee hours that Easter morning that the game was suspended and rescheduled to resume two months later during the Wings' next trip to Rhode Island.
The fans and players who showed up that dank New England evening should have had an inkling this was not going to be your ordinary night at the ballpark when the first pitch was delayed a half-hour while maintenance men worked to fix a bank of outfield lights.
``It was an omen,'' Huppert would joke later. ``But we didn't pick up on it.''
``I remember it being a real chilly night, so the pitchers had a clear advantage,'' Ripken said. ``It was so cold, in fact, that as the game dragged on, we actually started little fires in the dugout to keep warm.''
Bob Drew, who doubled as the Wings general manager and radio play-by-play man, attempted to keep warm by imbibing cup after cup of coffee. ``That would have been fine, but there was just one problem - there was no bathroom in the press box, and there wasn't enough time between innings to race downstairs to the restrooms,'' said Drew, who now runs a golf equipment business in Rochester. ``By the time we got into the mid-20s - innings, not degrees - my bladder was ready to burst.'' The Wings broke the scoreless tie with a run in the top of the seventh, but the PawSox tied it in the bottom of the ninth, setting the stage for extra innings - 24 of them to be exact.
Huppert called Boggs' hit ``demoralizing. We weren't thinking history at the time. We were thinking about getting some food and some sleep. I was starving, freezing and dog-tired.''
The inning after Boggs' hit, Jim Umbarger took the mound and wound up striking out nine and allowing just four hits and no runs in 10 innings.
``He gave a whole new meaning to the term `long relief,' '' Ripken joked.
Interestingly, Umbarger felt as if he could have pitched another six or seven innings. "Maybe it was the 22 innings worth of coffee I had downed to keep warm,'' he said with a chuckle. "By the time Doc Edwards called on me I was wired.''
PawSox reliever Luis Aponte also had a scintillating stint - striking out nine of the 14 Wings hitters he faced while pitching the seventh through 10th innings. At 2 a.m., his manager gave him permission to go home. His wife didn't exactly greet him with open arms. ``Where have you been?'' Xiomara Aponte asked angrily upon his arrival. ``At the ballpark,'' he said. ``Like hell you have,'' she snapped. Aponte reportedly spent what was left of the night on the couch.
When the game finally was suspended at 4:07 in the morning, 19 fans remained in the ballpark. The PawSox gave each of them a free season-pass. Though appreciative of the gesture, the diehards must have felt like the kid who has overindulged on Easter candy and has just been handed another chocolate bunny. Enough, already.
"I may have been the only one disappointed to see them suspend play,'' joked Umbarger, who became a golf course real estate developer in Phoenix. "We should have at least played until sunrise.''
in the park
Interest in the game was heightened by the void caused by the Major League Baseball strike. Nearly 140 press credentials were issued, about 138 more than normal, as national columnists and baseball writers descended upon the tiny Rhode Island town. Four networks, including the British Broadcasting Company were on hand, as well as a photographer from a Japanese magazine. The game was broadcast worldwide on the Armed Forces Radio Network.
``There was a real buzz in the park that night,'' Ripken recalled. ``You could feel that this wasn't just another mid-season game; this was something special. Back in April, we just wanted the game to end. Now, we really wanted to go out there and win this thing because we knew this game was one for the history books.''
A crowd of 5,746 - 4,000 more than were on hand for the first inning in April - stuffed little McCoy Stadium. It didn't take long for the Wings and PawSox to finish what they had started. Ripken singled in the top of the 33rd, but was left stranded, and Edwards decided to pitch Steve Grilli in the bottom of the inning. Interestingly, Grilli had opened the season with the Toronto Blue Jays when the first 32 innings were played, but had been acquired by Baltimore and assigned to Rochester before the strike.
in a snap
The final inning had taken all of 18 minutes to play.
``It was so strange how quickly it ended,'' Ripken said. ``The first 32 innings seemed like an eternity, and then it was over in a snap of the fingers.''
Over, just like that. But never to be forgotten. The box score along with Barrett's spikes and Grilli's cap from that game remain on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. And 25 years later, the marathon still occupies space in the minds of all those who were there for that unforgettable occasion.
As Ripken said, it was one for the history books.
long and the short of it
special: The game
surpassed by four innings the previous longevity record, established by
Miami and St. Petersburg of the Florida State League in 1966.
Having a ball: The teams went through 160 baseballs, costing the host PawSox about $600.
Making their pitch: The 14 pitchers combined to throw more than 1,000 pitches. They struck out 60 batters and teamed up for 29 scoreless innings. Steve Grilli, who wasn't even a Red Wing when the game started, officially pitched zero innings and took the loss. The batters combined for just 39 hits in 219 at-bats, a .178 average.
Get the jumper cables? PawSox scoreboard operator Dick Courtens left the lights on in his car for 32 innings. Even a Diehard battery doesn't last that long.
Working overtime: The game was just three innings shy of being a quadrupleheader. It was the equivalent of a football or basketball game that went into 10 overtimes.
Loooooong relief: Wings reliever Jim Umbarger pitched 10 scoreless innings, allowing four hits and no runs while striking out 9.
A major deal: Of the 41 players, 25 went on to play Major League Baseball, the most notable being future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs. Ripken went 2-for-13, while Boggs was 4-for-12.
Iron Cal: ``That game,'' joked Umbarger, ``prepared Cal for his streak. What's a few thousand games in a row when you've played in one that lasted 33 innings?''
Early exit: Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan was ejected in the 22nd inning.
True fans: 19 people witnessed all 33 innings.
Stranded: The Wings left 30 runners on base, while the PawSox left 23.
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The 1969 Seattle Pilots had a 64-98 record. After that miserable season, the only one they played in Seattle, they moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers.
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