Heath Bintliff: The longest game in pro ball, 30 years later

Thirty years ago this morning, the longest game in professional baseball history was suspended. At 4:07 a.m., after 32 innings of play, umpires finally called the game, still tied at 2, between the Rochester Red Wings, the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, and the Pawtucket Red Sox of the International League.

Famously, future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs played the entire game, both manning third base for their respective teams. But there were other players of note on the field that evening - even if those notes are odd or obscure.

Among the Rochester players:

Dave Huppert - Huppert was just returning from a knee injury when he was penciled into the starting lineup at catcher. Huppert would catch the first 31 innings of the game. He had a cup of coffee with Baltimore in 1983 and another for the Brewers in 1985. Since he retired, he has managed in the minor leagues and is currently at the helm of the Triple-A Lehigh IronPigs in the Phillies organization.

Floyd Rayford - “Sugar Bear” Rayford spent parts of a few season with the Orioles from1980-1987 (with a stint in St. Louis in between). He relieved Huppert at catcher. He’s now a coach in the Minnesota farm system.

Bob Bonner - The Orioles’ shortstop of the future before Ripken came along. Bonner is probably most famous for being on Ripken’s “Future Stars” baseball card for Topps in 1981.

Chris Bourjos - The father of current Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos.

John Hale - Hale hit 1.000 over four at-bats in 1974 for the Dodgers. No other player ever hit 1.000 with that many ABs in a season.

Steve Grilli - The father of relief pitcher Jason Grilli.

For Pawtucket, Marty Barrett would be the Most Valuable Player of the 1986 American League Championship Series and Rich Gedman would become an All-Star slugging catcher. Bruce Hurst, a future All-Star pitcher, and Bob Ojeda also pitched for the Paw Sox.

At the time of the game, it was not greeted as a great accomplishment. Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan called the game “ridiculous.”

“This game could have been stopped 1,000 times with two words: common sense,” said Morgan, “I never saw so much stubborness in my life. I think (the umpires) forgot what common sense is.”

Indeed, Morgan was right. The International League bylaws contained an addendum stating that no inning could start after 12:50 a.m. However, that addendum was not contained in the rules supplied to the umpires.

“There is nothing in my manual about calling a game because of a curfew,” Jack Leitz, the crew chief, said the next day. Leitz umpired the last 17 innings of the game after being struck in the face with a ball.

If the umps had been aware of the curfew, the last 16 innings of the game would not have been played that night. In the middle of the 32nd, league president Harold Cooper got Leitz on the phone. “Call the damn game after this inning.”, he ordered.

The 19 fans left in the stands were given lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium.

“It’s the only time I ever remember our postgame meal being breakfast.” remembered Ripken.

The sheer length of the game was not the only hardship the players endured. The start of the game was delayed 30 minutes due to a power outage. After power was restored, the light towers in left-center and right would not come back on.

The game was resumed June 23 to great hoopla. It sold out and was covered by four television networks. Ojeda retired the Red Wings in the top of the 33rd (although Ripken got a single). Steve Grilli proceded to hit Barrett to lead off the inning. He then gave up singles to Chico Walker and Dave Koza, who drove in Barrett to win in the game, 3-2. After 8 hours, 25 minutes, the marathon was complete.

“There were several of us who had bad weeks that game,” said Ripken. “Think about it: That game was like an entire series in itself. I was so happy when I got a single in the top of the 33rd because I knew all those stats were going to count after that game ended, and my average was going to take a big hit.”

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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