On this date in 1981, the longest game in professional baseball history began, between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, two teams from the Triple-A International League. It lasted for 33 innings, with eight hours and 25 minutes of playing time. 32 innings were played April 18/19, 1981 at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and the final 33rd inning was played June 23, 1981. Pawtucket won the game, 3–2.
One of the reasons I loved baseball when I lived in New York (Mets fan), is its quirkiness, especially when it comes to issues of time and space. W. P. Kinsella, who wrote Shoeless Joe (which became the movie Field of Dreams) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is one of several madmen obsessed with baseball whom I admire. He too is captivated by the fact that baseball is determined by its own internal rules (and contradictions) and not by external factors. So, for example, the length of any game is determined by play, not by a clock. An inning for example could, in theory, last 10 minutes, or 2 hours depending on play. If the score is tied after 9 innings there’s no telling how long it will go on for. Likewise, the ball park is theoretically limitless in size. The foul lines can be extended ad infinitum. This fact has led Kinsella to argue that all points in the universe are within the foul lines of every major league ball park. He needs a geometry lesson, but you get the point.
The game in question here began on Saturday, April 18, 1981 at 8:25 p.m., after a delay of about 30 minutes due to problems with stadium lights, with 1,740 in attendance. It continued through the night and into Easter morning. Although most leagues have a curfew rule that would have suspended the game—the International League’s activates at 12:50 a.m.—the rule book that the home plate umpire Dennis Cregg had did not contain this rule. After Pawtucket’s Russ Laribee’s sacrifice fly drove in Chico Walker in the bottom of the ninth inning and tied the game at one run each, the teams continued playing.
Several times, one side neared victory before circumstances changed. When Wade Boggs drove in the tying run in the bottom of the 21st inning after a Rochester run, even the Pawtucket players groaned. He recalled that, “I didn’t know if the guys on the team wanted to hug me or slug me.” The weather was so cold that players burned broken bats and the stadium’s wooden benches to warm themselves, and the clubhouses ran out of food. The wind blew into the infield, making hits difficult; Pawtucket’s Dave Koza later claimed that otherwise his team would have won in nine innings, with “four or five shots that would have been out of the park”. For example, Sam Bowen hit a fly ball to center that reportedly left the field before the wind blew it back to Rochester outfielder Dallas Williams. Williams went 0–for–13 in 15 plate appearances, one of many records achieved during the game.
After Pawtucket’s Luis Aponte pitched the 7th to 10th innings in relief, manager Joe Morgan—who himself would be ejected in the 22nd inning by Cregg—let him leave before the game ended. Aponte’s wife did not believe his explanation for coming home at 3 a.m. Sunday. He promised that the Sunday newspaper would prove his story, but since the game’s postponement occurred too late to appear in it, Aponte had to wait until the Monday edition. Cregg had brought his nephew David to the game; David’s father became concerned for his family and called the police, who told him that the game had not ended.
By 4 a.m. the players were quoted as being “delirious from exhaustion.” Rochester’s Dave Huppert had caught the first 31 innings before being replaced, and Jim Umbarger pitched 10 scoreless innings from the 23rd inning, striking out nine and giving up four hits. The president of the league, Harold Cooper, was finally reached on the phone by Pawtucket public relations manager Mike Tamburro some time after 3:00 a.m. The horrified Cooper ordered that play stop at the end of the current inning. Finally at 4:07 a.m., at the end of the 32nd inning and more than eight hours after it began, the game was stopped. There were 19 fans left in the seats—not including David Cregg, who had fallen asleep—all of whom received season or lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium. As the players went home to rest before returning at 11 a.m. for an afternoon game that Sunday, they saw people going to Easter sunrise services. When Boggs’ father complimented him for getting four hits in the game, he admitted that he had had 12 at bats.
Both teams signed a baseball on Sunday for display at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooper had suggested that the game resume that day, but Rochester manager Doc Edwards requested a delay because of the risk of injury. Instead, it resumed on the evening of Tuesday, June 23, the next time the Red Wings were in town. A sellout crowd of 5,746 and 140 reporters from around the world were present, partly because the major leagues were on strike at the time; the players voted against an offer to resume the game at Fenway Park to avoid crossing the picket line. On that evening, it took just one inning and 18 minutes to finish the game, with Koza driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 33rd. The losing pitcher was Steve Grilli, who had joined Rochester in the interim since the game’s suspension.
Russ Laribee of the PawSox went 0–for–11 with a sacrifice fly, striking out seven times, becoming the first player in history to surpass the titanium sombrero (six strikeout) level. Based on a nine-inning game, Laribee would only have struck out three times per nine innings.
Between the two teams, pitchers faced a total of 246 batters (219 AB, 23 BB, 4 HBP).
A total of 882 pitches were thrown.
Pawtucket’s Dave Koza had the most hits of any player in the game: five, including the game-winner.
53 runners were left on base (30 by Rochester and 23 by Pawtucket).
Two future Hall of Famers were part of the historic game. Cal Ripken, Jr., who was inducted in 2007, went 2–for–13 on the night playing third base for Rochester. Ripken was the American League’s Rookie of the Year the following year. Wade Boggs, who was inducted in 2005, played third base for Pawtucket and went 4–for–12 with a double and an RBI. The Baseball Hall of Fame possesses other artifacts of the game, including the official scorecard.
23 other future major leaguers played in the game.
Bob Ojeda, the winner of the game after pitching a scoreless 33rd inning, would go on to pitch for 15 major league seasons, most notably for the New York Mets (going 18–5 in 1986 to help the team win the World Series that year), Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers. While many of Pawtucket’s players would play key roles in the 1986 World Series as members of the Boston Red Sox, Ojeda would go on to play for their opponent, the New York Mets. He then became the lone survivor in a boat crash that claimed the lives of two other pitchers in spring training before Ojeda’s first season with the Cleveland Indians.
Bruce Hurst pitched for 15 seasons in the majors for the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres. His career record was 145–113, a .562 winning percentage.
Rich Gedman caught for the Boston Red Sox for most of his 13-year major league career.
Marty Barrett played ten major league seasons at second base for the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres, hitting .278 for his career.
Chico Walker later played 11 seasons in the majors with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, California Angels, and New York Mets.
Mike Smithson started 204 games for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and Boston Red Sox.
Manny Sarmiento pitched in 228 major league games for the Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Luis Aponte made 110 pitching appearances as a reliever with the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Julio Valdez played 65 games with the Boston Red Sox, mostly serving as a shortstop and second baseman.
Floyd Rayford went on to play third base and catch for seven years with the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals. His best year was 1985, when he hit .306 with 18 home runs and 48 RBI.
Jim Umbarger appeared in 133 games as a pitcher for the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics between 1975 and 1978. He pitched in the minors until 1983.
Steve Grilli’s major league career was already over by the time he pitched in (and lost) this game. Grilli pitched in 69 games for the Detroit Tigers from 1975–77, and one game as a Toronto Blue Jay in 1979. Grilli, the father of Jason Grilli, retired from baseball at the end of the 1981 season.
Cliff Speck went on to pitch for the Atlanta Braves in 1986, appearing in 13 games, including one start.
Mark Corey played in 59 games in his three years as a Baltimore Oriole outfielder.
Bobby Bonner played for four years in the early ’80s as a middle-infielder with the Baltimore Orioles.
Strictly speaking I shouldn’t be advocating anything but a hot dog to celebrate this game, and I’m about to put one on to heat as I am writing. However, I’ve covered hot dogs extensively before. On the other hand, Pawtucket is dubiously famous for its chili recipe, so let’s go with that. If you want you can pour some over a hot dog. The thing about this recipe, which is not really far out of the ordinary, is that it is meatless.
40 oz can kidney beans (or two 16 oz cans)
15 oz can chickpeas
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz tomato sauce
14¼ oz can whole tomatoes
1 tbsp oregano
½ tsp thyme
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp basil
3 tbsp chili powder
Sauté the garlic and onion in olive oil in a heavy pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low heat for about an hour. You want the sauce to thicken as it cooks down.
That’s it folks. A great deal quicker than the game !! Serve in deep bowls, topped with shredded cheese if you like. I add a good dose of hot sauce.