In 'Bottom Of The 33rd,' A Look At Baseball's Longest Game

Apr 24, 2011
Originally published on April 25, 2011 10:28 am

This Sunday on Weekend Edition, Liane Hansen talks to Dan Barry, author of the new book Bottom Of The 33rd: Hope, Redemption And Baseball's Longest Game. The book is all about a minor-league game that took place — or, rather, began — on April 18, 1981. It was suspended after 32 innings, tied at 2-2, at four in the morning on April 19, Easter Sunday. It resumed two months later, when the Pawtucket Red Sox finally beat the Rochester Red Wings 3-2 in the bottom of the 33rd inning.

Now, when you hear "minor league," you might assume this game involved a bunch of nobodies you've never heard of, but as Barry notes, not only was superstar-to-be Wade Boggs responsible for tying the game back up at 2:00 in the morning at the one point where it threatened to actually end, but among those who played all 33 innings was Cal Ripken, Jr., who went 2-for-13.

Barry talks in the interview about the fact that when the game was suspended, there were roughly 19 people still in the stands, who had spent eight hours in the cold. When it resumed for what became the final inning, it had become a well-known game and Major League Baseball was on strike besides. So it attracted a lot of attention, meaning that 6000 people showed up, all of whom could claim to have attended baseball's longest game, but few of whom had stuck it out on Easter morning, 1981, until just after four.

The game, he notes, is only more compelling as a story because minor league baseball doesn't carry the assumption that a major league game does that everyone involved has already, in a sense, "made it." Barry says that there's "an undercurrent of aspiration" and "a touch of the tragic" in a league in which many of the players will, in fact, never become the successes they dream of being. But because they won't, he says, "we learn at a minor league game that it is the journey to cherish, not necessarily the conclusion."

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

There were fewer than 2,000 people in attendance for the April 18, 1981 AAA baseball game between the visiting Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox - the Paw Sox as the faithful call them. When the last handful of diehard fans left McCoy Stadium, the date had turned to April 19th. They had sat in the cold for nearly eight and a half hours. They had seen 882 pitches thrown; 246 batters come to the plate; 60 strikeouts and the equivalent of three and two- thirds games, and this one still wasn't over.

WBUR: Hope, Redemption and Baseball's Longest Game." He joins us from member station WBUR in Boston, home to the Paw Sox, Major League affiliate, the Boston Red Sox. Welcome to the program, Dan.

DAN BARRY: Thanks very much.

HANSEN: Well, as we all know, there is no clock in baseball, so theoretically a game could go on forever and it seemed at times that this one would. What was it about this one weird night that kept things tied up for so long?

BARRY: The game was tied in the bottom of the ninth 1-1 by Pawtucket. And in the 15th inning, I think everybody thought, OK, we're almost done here. They closed - most baseball teams have curfews, except for some reason that one paragraph that allowed for a curfew in the International League rules. It was in there 1980, it was there in 1982, it's there today, but for some reason in 1981 it just fell out of the script. And no one was aware of it, except for the umpires.

OK: 09 that morning.

HANSEN: In your book, you described the game took on a sort of absurd dream- like quality. I mean, was it just the numb backsides or in what way?

BARRY: Well, they started at around 8 o'clock on Holy Saturday night. And first the night itself played a role. It was very cold and the wind was blowing in. The baseball would be hit into the air and it wouldn't go anywhere. In the 21st, Rochester had gone ahead 2-1 in the top of the 21st and then Wade Boggs gets up - Wade Boggs who would go on to be a member of the Hall of Fame - he hits a double, ties up the game, he's standing on second base and he looks into his dugout and he can't tell whether his teammates want to hug him or kill him because now it's somewhere around 2 o'clock in the morning.

HANSEN: Wade Boggs is not the only famous baseball name in that game. There was another player who's known for his longevity, showing up for games, Cal Ripken, Jr.

BARRY: Cal Ripken, Jr., sure. He was 20 years old. And whereas Wade Boggs was not really much of a prospect - it seems silly to say that now, given his 3,000 hits. Ripken was a prospect. He was an up-and-comer. He was being groomed as the next third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, but certainly Cal Ripken was in that game and he played all 33 innings.

HANSEN: And he only went 2-for-13, right?

BARRY: Right. If you looked at this game and said, well, you know, is this guy going to make the major leagues, you would say Ripken may not make it.

HANSEN: Well, you know, there were only a handful of people left in the stands who had stuck it out all night in the cold and, you know, a very intimate kind of - there was an almost brotherhood of the people who were still waiting in the stands. But this is the interesting part: For the 33rd inning, it was played two months later and everyone in the country was let in on this game. Did that cheapen it in some way?

BARRY: And so the country turns to the city of Pawtucket, and so whereas there were 19 people in the stands there are now 6,000. There are people from the BBC, Japanese reporters, all the national baseball media are there. And the 19 who returned for the conclusion of the game really felt as those all these other people now are going to say, oh, they were at the longest game but, nah, they really weren't.

HANSEN: Do you think it would've been better if the game had been finished in obscurity on Easter morning?

BARRY: You know, there's a part of me that thinks that would be a wonderful, fitting ending. But by the same token, the 33rd inning was good for Pawtucket, which was a struggling mill city at the time, it was good for this franchise, which was struggling at the time and it was good for these minor league ball players who really many of them would never play before tens of thousands in a major league stadium. This would be as good as it got. This is their piece of the Hall of Fame. They may not have made it to the major leagues, but they know that the scorebook and some other memorabilia from this game are in the Hall of Fame and that means something to them. It's precious.

HANSEN: Dan Barry is a columnist for The New York Times. His new book is called "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball's Longest Game." Thanks a lot for being with us.

BARRY: Oh, thank you very much.

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