On a chilly Saturday evening in April 1981 1740 hearty souls gathered for a Triple-A baseball game in a run-down 1940's-era ballpark in the city of Pawtucket, RI. This night the game pitted the Rochester Red Wings, AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles against the hometown Pawtucket Red Sox. Earlier in the week I had promised a couple of young teenagers in my neighborhood that I would take them to the game that night. I was hoping that the cold and wind would discourage them but Allen and Joey held me to my vow. We would be three among the 1740 in attendance at the start of the game. Yet not a one of us, the fans, the players and coaches, the umpires or the staff and management of the Pawtucket Red Sox had any inking that this night would be different and that this game would turn out to be "Baesball's Longest". Much was written about it at the time but memories have faded. Dan Barry, currently a columnist for the New York Times and a former Providence Journal reporter was surprised to discover that a book had never been written about this extraordinary game. Mr. Barry has corrected this oversight and them some with his splendid new book "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game". I will make it clear right from the get-go that this is one of the finest sports books I have ever read.
In the pages of "Bottom of the 33rd" Dan Barry recreates for his readers the ebb and flow of this unforgettable night in baseball history. It seemed for all the world like the Red Wings were going to walk away with a very nondescript 1-0 win before PawSox outfielder Russ Laribee tied the score with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning to the chagrin of just about everyone still in the ballpark at that point. Damn it! It was getting cold, very cold and wind was swirling around McCoy Stadium. By this point most of us had gone home but a few hundred brave souls remained in the stands. As it turned out the night was really just getting started. After 15 innings the score remained 1-1. The hour was rapidly approaching 1:00 A.M. In the past, International League rules had specified that no inning was to start after 12:50 A.M. Dan Barry explains why a simple clerical error in the league office several months earlier and International League's President Harold Cooper's refusal to answer several frantic phone calls from irate Pawsox team officials would cause this game to continue on for better than three hours more. The Red Wings did manage a run in the top of the 21st only to have the PawSox tie it up again in the bottom half of the frame. Incredible! And on and on it went. When the game was finally suspended at 4:07 in the morning the score was tied at 2. There were 19 fans left in the stands. The teams were scheduled to play again in just 9 hours at 1:00 P.M. on Easter Sunday. Travel comittments would dictate that this game, already the longest in professional baseball history, would not be completed until Rochester's next visit to Pawtucket in mid-June.
But what Dan Barry is writing about in "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game" is much more than simply the recap of one historic game. For this is also a book about the individuals who participated in this contest and about minor league baseball in general. Future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs played in this game. An additional half dozen or so including Bruce Hurst, Marty Barrett, Bob Ojeda, Rich Gedman and Chico Walker would go on to have productive major league careers. But the overwhelming majority of the players in "Baseball's Longest Game" would never make it to the big leagues. It seems that only about 3% of those who sign professional baseball contracts ever do. Dan Barry helps us to understand the heartache and frustration of those like Rochester's highly touted shortstop Bob Bonner or the man who patrolled center field for the Red Wings on this frigid night Dallas Williams (he would go 0 for 13 in the game). They were ultimately deemed "not quite good enough" by the powers that be in Baltimore. Ditto for Sam Bowen and Dave Koza of the Pawtucket Red Sox. It is a bitter pill to swallow to get so close and not be able to have at least that "cup of coffee" in the big leagues as is so often the case with many of these players. AAA baseball is that odd mix of "hot shot" prospects on their way up, career minor leaguers just hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and major league "has-beens" hoping for just one more shot to impress. Many hang around too long. It is an emotional rollercoaster that can wreak havoc on a players personal and professional life. In addition, Dan Barry spends considerable time painting a portrait of the hard-luck city of Pawtucket and how this town that spawned the Industrial Revolution in America almost lost its team in the mid-1970s. That is when a retired industrialist named Ben Mondor purchased the club and miraculously brought it back to life. Today, McCoy Stadium is considered a showplace while the Pawtucket Red Sox are consistantly one of the most successful franchises in all of minor league baseball.
Surely the baseball gods were smiling on owner Ben Mondor and his Pawtucket Red Sox when the game at long last resumed on June 23, 1981. Pawtucket was the center of the baseball universe on that early summer evening as the major league players had gone on strike just a few days earlier. More than 150 reporters and photographers descended on McCoy Stadium hoping to capture a piece of baseball history. The stadium was packed. On this night Allen, Joey and I were three amongst a multitude. Everyone was kinda hoping the game would go on for several more innings at least. We wanted to make sure that this was one record that would never be broken. Dan Berry tells us how it all ended and who would emerge as the hero in "Bottom of the 33rd". Now there is no doubt in my mind that "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game" was a labor of love for author Dan Barry. After all, he spent four years living in Pawtucket during his tenure at The Providence Journal. Mr. Barry is a wordsmith extraordinaire whom I would compare favorably to Theodore Sorenson ("Counselor: A Life At The Edge of History") and Laura Hillenbrand ("Seabiscuit"). "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game" should be considered a "must read" for sports fans of all ages and would be a great choice for history buffs and general readers as well. Very highly recommended!
Baseball is unique among professional sports simply because infinity is built into the rules - not only teasing us with the remote possibility of endlessness but suspending time for those who play, and watch. At 30, some players evolve into veterans but never really get old and simply fade with their skills, perhaps losing a step to everything but our memory. This is both the genius of the sport and the genius of Dan Barry's Bottom of the 33rd who places that timeless … more
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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