It was an eerily cold and blustery mid-April Saturday night at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., 32 years ago for the Triple-A baseball game between the Rochester Red Wings and host PawSox.
Making the atmosphere even gloomier was the fact the game was delayed 30 minutes because a bank of lights malfunctioned. But once the umpire finally yelled “Play Ball!” all in attendance were about to witness an event of historic proportions – the longest game in pro baseball history.
That evening, April 16, and well into the next morning –4:09 a.m. ET to be exact – future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr., and eventual stars pitcher Bruce Hurst and Bobby Ojeda were among the participants as the Red Wings and host PawSox played to a 2-2 tie through 32 innings, at which point the game was suspended.
Play was picked up again June 23 in Pawtucket, with the PawSox winning 3-2 in the 33rd frame. According to BaseballReference.com, Kevin Kennedy was said to be the only player who didn’t get in the game.
That’s only part of the story.
By rule, play should never have gone on into the wee hours, but plate umpire Dennis Cregg didn’t have an updated version of the arbiters’ guidebook that detailed those instructions. It wasn’t until about 3 a.m. that International League boss Harold Cooper was contacted. He then ordered that the game be suspended after the next completed inning.
Pawtucket’s Dave Koza not only was the game’s hero, thanks to his RBI single in the 33rd, but also considered somewhat of a goat for keeping the game going that long in the first place. In the bottom of inning 21 with the Red Wings ahead 2-1, Koza scored on a double by Boggs.
“That’s why everyone’s head was hanging when we scored,” Koza, 58, said with a chuckle during lunch last week at the Peppermill restaurant on The Strip. “It was, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’ ”
Boggs was quoted afterward: “A lot of people were saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, we tied it, we tied it!’ And then they said, ‘Oh, no! What did you do? We all could have gone home.”
One person who was quite happy the game went on and on was Rochester long reliever Jim Umbarger, a pitcher in the majors with Texas and Oakland from 1975-78 who was in the Orioles’ farm system at the time. He worked innings 23 through 32, allowing only four hits.
“By the time I got to the mound, it was really chewed up, like pitching out of a hole,” Umbarger, 60, said from Peoria, Ariz. “But I could have gone another five or six innings, easy.”
For the first 22 innings, though, Umbarger’s primary task was to not freeze.
“I had about 12 cups of coffee,” he said. “It was in the high 30s, and in the late morning it was down to 35. We were burning benches in the bullpen to make a fire.”
Early on, though, little seemed too out of the ordinary as the Red Wings took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
“When the game gets to about the ninth inning, you kind of want it to be over,” said Koza, who moved to Las Vegas last year. “Especially in those kind of conditions.”
But in the bottom half, Pawtucket’s Russ Laribee ruined a lot of post-game plans when he lofted a sacrifice fly to make it 1-1.
“So we just kept playing, drinking coffee every other inning,” Koza said. “And all the bats that were broken during the game, we threw them in a big 55-gallon drum and started a fire. Anything to stay warm.”
For the next 11 innings, the teams’ bullpens took charge and it remained 1-1 until well past midnight. Somewhat surprisingly, the crowd started to swell.
“It was about 1 a.m., and Boddicker counted the fans and said he got 18,” Umbarger said. “But at 1:30, it was up to about a hundred. They were getting out of the bars and came over to see what was going on.”
It wasn’t until the top of the 21st, that Rochester catcher Dave Huppert hit a run-scoring double for a 2-1 lead. In many online box scores, though, Huppert is listed as going 0-for-11.
That run preceded Boggs’ double that scored Koza and kept the game going.
“It wasn’t too long after that that someone mentioned, “Geez, this could be a record,” Koza said. “With things like that said, it kind of puts the cold aside and you know you are a part of history.”
The record for longest game finally was broken in the 30th inning, surpassing the 29 played 15 years earlier in the Florida State League between St. Petersburg and Miami.
Once the game resumed June 23, the scene was surreal. A packed house of 5,746 at McCoy and 140 members of the press, including writers from Japan and China, were there to be part of baseball’s ultimate marathon.
“It was like two different worlds, because two months later, the weather was nice and we were the only game in town because the major leaguers were on strike,” Koza said.
In a matter of 16 minutes, though, Koza drove in the winning run. Total tally: 8 hours, 25 minutes.
And there was hardly any rest for the weary. The PawSox had roughly six hours from the time they left the ballpark after the game to when they had to show up for the next day’s Easter matinee.
“It was pretty exhausting,” Koza said. “I think I just went laid in bed with my eyes open.
“Joe Morgan gave us a break, though, and said we didn’t have to take batting practice.”
(Editor’s note: Not the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Famer, but the Morgan who later went on to manage the parent Boston Red Sox to AL East titles in 1988 and 1990.)
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting Professional Sports games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].