The beautiful thing about baseball is there is no clock. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said it best, “In baseball, you can’t kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance.” There are no clocks counting down the end of a game, just the anticipation of the final out.
Baseball, and the lack of a clock, does from time to time does go a little crazy. The 26 inning marathon on May 1, 1920 between the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins ended in a 1-1 tie, called due to darkness. The 25 inning game on May 8 and 9, 1984 between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes. Newly elected Hall of Famer Harold Baines mercifully hit a walk off home run to give Chicago a 7-6 victory. A day at the ballpark is far from predictable.
Then there was the April 18, 1981 Triple A game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings. The longest game in professional baseball history and the subject of Dan Barry’s book, Bottom of the 33rd. The start of the game was delayed a half hour due to malfunctioning lights at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. The cold New England air and Easter church services the next morning kept many fans away, as paid attendance that fateful night did not total 2,000, yet many later claimed to have attended.
The game plotted along with Rochester leading 1-0 as the bottom of the 9th began. The Red Sox needed one run to force extra innings. Be careful what you wish for. Chico Walker scored on a Russ Laribee sac fly to left field, sending the game into the great unknown that is free baseball. Normally, extra inning games are quickly resolved allowing the fans and players go on about their lives. This game was different. What followed was a struggle for survival between two teams, a cold New England night, a missing page in the rule book, and a League President gone missing.
Even Pawtucket Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan was pleading for the game to be over. (Bottom of the 33rd/ Harper Collins)
I will stop here to not ruin the rest of the story. I can say Dan Barry’s writing is magnificent. Bottom of the 33rd reads like a radio broadcast. However, the book’s advantage over radio is Barry ability to take side trips about the people involved with the game. Humanizing those trapped in the game heightens the excitement of the story.
The account of the longest baseball game goes beyond the diamond and into the lives of the people. Two future Hall of Famer players, Wade Boggs for Pawtucket and Cal Ripken Jr. for Rochester, are well chronicled. However, the most poignant and painful parts of the book are the destinies of the players who never made it to the Majors.
Triple A is one step away from the top of the sport, yet many players never take that final step. They are so close to the summit, yet they continue to struggle to survive in the Minors. The life of a Minor League player is not glamorous. Long bus rides, cramped living and working conditions, a long season with few off days, low pay, and knowing your dream of playing in the Majors can disappear in a flash. Despite the long odds, every year players attempt to do the improbable and make it to the Majors. Their struggles were on full display that night in Pawtucket. Bottom of the 33rd is a microcosm of the cruelty that is baseball.