Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry
Pure serendipity is the only way I can explain how I came to be at Pawtucket’s McCoy stadium a few weeks ago to see the PawSox, Boston’s AAA team, take on the Syracuse Chiefs the farm team of the Washington Nationals. I had opened the morning paper and, only two hours away, lay a perfect game for my son and I to attend during his spring break. The weather was raw, windy, and generally inhospitable for viewing baseball –just like a game played in the same stadium 30 years ago.
On April 18th, 1981, starting at about 8pm, after a delay with the lights, and ending on Easter morning, April 19th, a little after 4am, the game between the PawSox and the Rochester Red Wings was still tied at 2-2 after 32 innings!
Because of MLB’s strike in 1981, and the void it created for true fans, there was a huge focus on the minor league game’s resumption on June 23rd with a sell-out crowd and over 150 journalists from many countries. The game ended after only 18 minutes with a walk-off single by Pawtucket’s Dave Koza (see photo below left) in the 33rd inning giving the Sox a 3-2 victory. In all, the game lasted over 8 hours and was the longest in Major or Minor league history.
Because of its length, some statistical oddities surfaced including Dallas Williams’ 0-13, Jim Umbarger’s 10 innings of shutout relief pitching, Russ Laribee striking out 7 times, and hardscrabble New Englander, PawSox manager Joe Morgan having to watch the game from a hole in the wall after being ejected in the 22nd inning. The game even has its own Wikipedia Page!
The game is merely a stage prop for Dan Barry’s sensational book — Bottom of the 33rd — Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game. Beyond the game, Barry’s narrative is more a human interest story about the people involved in the game, a couple of Hall-of-Famers-to-be (Cal Ripken, Jr and Wade Boggs) but mostly about ordinary people; players who will never make the big show, those who have already had their “cup of coffee”, about the few rapid fans who stayed the course, the clubhouse attendants, the owners, and about McCoy stadium and and city of Pawtucket.
Barry does wonderful research giving us the back story of fans, players, radio announcers and the personalities who came together in this wonderful confluence of circumstances that created the seemingly never-ending game–the umpires’ ground rule handbook that had the pages omitted allowing the umpires to stop the game earlier, the league commissioner ignoring calls at home from the game umpires because he had been badgered at home by fans, and the howling wind which reduced home runs to fly balls.
Bottom of the 33rd tells how the previously ramshackle McCoy stadium and the moribund Pawtucket team are saved by local businessman Ben Mondoor and how he built the PawSox into one of the premier minor league franchises in all of baseball. This is a wonderful book, part baseball, but mostly of the human condition, the good, the bad, and the ordinary. Like the game, you wish the book to go on and on and on….
BoB Rating Home Run (A baseball bookshelf classic in the Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, Lawrence Ritter style)
Amazon (4.6 stars), Goodreads (4.17 stars)
CBS Sunday Morning had a recent segment on the longest game