Long Memories From a Baseball Classic
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Begin with the box score, which, if box scores are like artwork, is the Sistine Chapel. Gaze at the artist's masterstrokes, the grand, virtuoso flourishes -- in this case, a pair of monumental last names, Ripken and Boggs, both of which share the designation "3b." Twenty-five years later, these two names would be the famous touches that give this celebrated piece its historical heft.
But as with any work of genius, the brilliance is in the details.
Take your time. Let the eye take you where it will. Recoil at the odd, all-caps designation at the top: "COMPLETION OF SUSPENDED GAME (April 18)." Pore over the lineups and pitching lines, stopping at each familiar name: Gedman, Barrett, Rayford, Hurst, Ojeda, all of them future big leaguers.
Linger upon the incongruities, which your keen, experienced eye discerns immediately. Take a moment to ponder poor "Williams cf," whose batting line reads 13 0 0 0 -- an 0-fer for the ages. Marvel at the pitching line for Umbarger: 10 4 0 0 0 9. Move your gaze to the very bottom, to the time of game: 8:25. Say it out loud: Eight hours 25 minutes.
Finally, contemplate the ungodly line score:
There is an epic to be told from those two lines of type alone: Pawtucket's tying run in the bottom of the ninth. Rochester's go-ahead tally in the top of the 21st -- after 11 straight scoreless frames -- followed immediately by the horror of another tying run for Pawtucket in the bottom half. Then 23 more infernal zeroes -- 12 for Rochester, 11 for Pawtucket -- before that single, majestic, tall, thin digit, "1," which spelled the merciful end in, yes, the bottom of the 33rd inning.
If it stirs something in you, if it leaves you wanting more, it is not unlike any other great work of art. This, then, is the rest of the story -- the story of The Longest Game in History:
The box score, as brilliant as it is, falls short in some respects. It does not, for instance, convey how incredibly cold it was that Saturday night, April 18, 1981, in Pawtucket, R.I., where the home town PawSox were hosting the Rochester Red Wings -- the Class AAA affiliates of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, respectively.
"I'll never forget how cold it was, and how hard the wind was blowing -- straight in," said Marty Barrett, the PawSox' second baseman, who went on to play parts of 10 seasons in the majors. "You felt it as soon as you got out there. We all just wanted the night to go real fast."
The box score also does not denote the game's start being delayed by about 30 minutes because of a problem with the lights at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium, where a crowd of 1,740 had gathered. By the time the whole affair ended, at precisely 4:07 a.m. the next morning -- when someone finally had the good sense to suspend play -- there were less than two dozens fans still on hand, each of whom was rewarded with a season ticket.
And when the game was resumed more than two months later, it took place in front of a sellout crowd of 5,746, and on a national stage -- with 140 media members on hand, many of whom had little else to do, since Major League Baseball players were on strike that summer.
In the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle the next morning, the game story began, "Not since the time they had to shoot the drunken camel at the city zoo has there been this much excitement in Pawtucket."