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.
Cooperstown is the desired destination for players. Most will not openly discuss their desire to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, however human nature all but dictates that highly driven people strive to become the best at their chosen profession. The process to reach Cooperstown for a player is typically through the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) election process, which announces its results each January. However, there is another way into the Hall of Fame.
Previously known as the Veterans Committee, the Era Committees were formed to reexamine players who are no longer eligible for the BBWAA voting. The committees also examine the contributions of managers, umpires, and executives to determine if they warrant enshrinement. Currently, there are four committees: Early Baseball (pre 1950), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-2016). Each committee considers 10 candidates, with each committee member allowed to vote for a maximum of four candidates. A candidate needs at least 75% of the votes to be elected.
The Today’s Game Committee has 16 voting members. The members include members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, executives, and veteran media members. This year the committee considered the candidacy of Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Lou Piniella, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and George Steinbrenner.
Harold Baines and Lee Smith, the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (John Locker/ AP)
After much examination by the Today’s Game Committee, Cooperstown will welcome two new members to the Hall of Fame this summer. Lee Smith and Harold Baines will forever be enshrined along side the greatest players, managers, umpires, and executives in baseball history. Smith appeared on all 16 ballots, while Baines appeared on 12 ballots. Lou Piniella missed his place in Cooperstown by a single vote, appearing on 11 ballots. The remaining seven candidates each received fewer than five votes.
The journey to Cooperstown was longer than Smith or Baines preferred. However, receiving the highest honor in baseball was worth the wait. The Today’s Game Committee, as well as the other committees, are vital to the thorough examination of baseball. The committees give those deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame the recognition they deserve, no matter how long the wait.