4/18/1981 - The longest baseball game


(Marty Barrett scores the winning run in the 33rd inning. Photo courtesy of AP Photos)

It was an April day in 1981 when the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings (the AAA affiliates of the Red Sox and Orioles) met at McCoy Stadium in Rhode Island. The initial 1,740 fans in attendance had to wait to see future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs; a problem with the lights delayed game's start for thirty minutes. Little did the fans know that a thirty-minute delay would be a pittance compared to the length of the game.

What followed was the longest, most-enduring game of baseball ever played at any professional level. 32 innings later, in the wee hours of the morning, the game was finally suspended.

"I remember calling my father the next day and telling him I got four hits," Boggs said. "He said, 'That's great.' I said: 'Yeah, but I was up 12 times. We went 32 last night.' "

Ripken called it, "the most bizarre and remarkable game I've ever been involved in."

The Red Wings held a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. But the PawSox tied it up, sending the game into a marathon of extra innings. Out after out, inning after inning, the ballgame drolled into the early hours of April 19th. "Guys that were big league players and on their way to being big league players couldn't get a hit and couldn't do anything to change the course of the game for 32 innings," said Wings outfielder Dallas Williams.

"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."

By the 21st inning, the temperature had dipped to the low 40's. Less than 100 fans were still in attendance. That inning, Dave Huppert doubled in a run to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead. But in the bottom of the inning, a Wade Boggs double scored Dave Koza to tie the score at 2.

"A lot of people were saying , 'Yeah, yeah, we tied it, we tied it!'" Boggs recalled. "And then they said, 'Oh, no, what did you do? We could have gone home!'"

Huppert and the other Rochester players were devastated. "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."

Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan (not the Joe Morgan) was ejected in the 22nd for arguing a call. Wings reliever Jim Umbarger came on in the 23rd inning and threw 10 innings of shutout ball. Bruce Hurst, who was a major contributor for the 1986 Red Sox team that went to the World Series, closed out the morning with five shutout innings. "No, none of the players fell asleep," said Hurst. "We were just trying to stay warm. It was the coldest I've ever been in uniform."

The game should have stopped at 1 a.m. because of the minor league curfew. However, the umpire's rule books were missing that factoid, and the game went on regardless.

At 2 a.m., ushers started handing out free concessions to the few remaining fans. Sox pitcher Luis Aponte, who had already tossed four innings, was given permission by Morgan to go home. When he arrived at his house at around 3 a.m., his wife didn't believe his excuse. He slept on the couch that night and waited for the newspaper to arrive in the morning. "She finally believed me," he said. "But it wasn't easy."

Finally at 4:07 a.m., the game was halted after 32 innings and a tied score of 2-2. Pawtucket general manager Mike Tamburro had finally gotten through to International League President Harold Cooper, who had been at a wedding and didn't get home until 3. Said Hurst, "I heard that he said: 'You idiot, this is absurd. Call the game.'"

The game was suspended just four innings shy of amounting to a quadruple-header. Only 19 die-hard fans were still in the ballpark; PawSox owner Ben Mondor later gave season tickets to each of them. When the ballgame resumed 65 days later on June 23rd, there was a buzz in McCoy Stadium like never before. The MLB players union was on strike, and the continuation of the longest game in baseball history was the big story of the day. A sellout crowd of 5,746 packed the ballpark; over 140 reporters were on hand and the game was televised on ESPN. "I remember they wanted us to play the continuation of the game at Fenway Park," said Boggs. "But we as players voted not to cross the [picket] line."

Ironically, the longest game in history ended in a blink of an eye. In the bottom of the 33rd, Steve Grilli (who was not with the Red Wings when they played in April) allowed the first three batters to reach base. Cliff Speck was brought in in relief. Dave Koza ended the marathon on a 2-2 curveball that he singled to left field. Marty Barrett high-fived Boggs as he crossed home plate, officially ending it in a 3-2 Red Sox win. The game had gone on for 8 hours and 25 minutes, though the 33rd inning only lasted 18.

"What it took them eight and a half hours to accomplish," Grilli lamented, "I undid in about two minutes."

"There were several of us who had bad weeks that game," joked Ripken. "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."

No player took a bigger hit than Wings outfielder Dallas Williams, who wound up with the worst hitting performance in baseball history. Williams finished 0-13 with no runs and no RBI. A pair of sacrifice bunts spared him from going 0-15. "(My batting average) went down about 15 points," Williams said. "I consider that day the worst day of my baseball life."

Further reading:

Box Score for the longest game [Pawsox.com]
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