CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 16, 2016 – The waning hours of June 16 and the wee hours of the morning on June 17, 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of its longest uninterrupted game in professional baseball history. The 29-inning contest stood as the longest ever for 10 years until a 33-inning marathon broke the record. Even so, it remains the second-longest game in baseball history and the longest game ever completed in a single night. It was played in St. Petersburg, Florida.
I played all 29 innings in left field that night, and this is my story.
It was a typically sultry Florida night that began like any other muggy summer night in the minor leagues. It was the type of event after which a person says, “Now I’ll have something to tell my grandchildren.”
Today, I am indeed telling those grandchildren the story. My manager, George “Sparky” Anderson, who later captured several World Series championships, was officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and has now joined other legends of the sport in the ultimate diamond beyond.
Photographs of the game were displayed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown until the 33-inning game. The difference is that our game was completed in a single night. It’s a small distinction, but one I will proudly take to my grave, even though I went 1 for 13 at the plate during the marathon.
Just before game time, “Sparky” completed his daily ritual of posting the line-up on the wall of the St. Petersburg Cardinals’ dugout. As a utility outfielder, I would be playing left field, replacing Ernie “Sweetpea” Davis, who was in the throes of a horrible batting slump.
Only 740 fans braved the heat. Likely there would have been fewer, but they were giving away a motorcycle during the seventh-inning stretch and you had to be present to win.
For six and a half innings, the starting pitchers matched zeroes. Then St. Pete drew first blood in the bottom of the seventh when Terry Milani singled and went to second on a throwing error. Sonny Ruberto bunted in front of the plate, sending Milani around third to score when Marlins catcher Charlie Sands made a wild throw to first. Ruberto advanced to third on the throw and later scored on a single by Frank Rodriquez.
And that’s when the game got weird.
In the top of the eighth, Miami’s Charlie Sands singled. Manager Billy DeMars sent in a pinch hitter for Hank King, who was pitching in relief of the Marlins’ starter. Lloyd Fourroux went to the plate and was down 1-2 on the count when he drove the next pitch over the left field fence to knot the game at 2. Pinch-hit home runs are rare but hardly unprecedented. The oddity, however, was the fact that Fourroux was a pitcher.
Neither team scored again until the top of the 11th, when Tim Thompson, the third Cardinals pitcher, gave up three straight singles and a run to put Miami ahead, 3-2, but it was the way the inning ended that had everyone shaking their heads.
Following the front end of a double play at second, first baseman Terry Milani was pulled off the bag at first to keep the inning alive. Running from second, Carl Cmejrek rounded third and headed for home. Milani charged the runner faking throws until Cmejrek committed.
As the runner broke for the plate, Milani let the ball slip from his grasp. The errant throw took one bounce before hitting Cmejrek in the left knee and kicking it to home for a bang-bang out at the plate.
The Cardinals answered with a run in the bottom of the 11th to tie the score at 3, but it would take 18 more innings to determine the winner.
During the marathon stretch, Miami’s only threat came in the top of the 22nd when Dennis Denning hit a long fly ball to left.
Manager Billy DeMars said after the game, “I knew it was in for a home run, then this kid out there (Bob Taylor) leaps in the air, sticks his glove over the fence and grabs the ball.”
If it wasn’t the best catch of my professional baseball career, it was certainly the most memorable. Oddly enough, it was the first putout I made in left field all night.
As the game slogged onward to the 27th inning, both managers and the umpires held a meeting at home and decided to stop if a winner was not decided after 30 innings. With the meeting was in progress, a Miami player ran on the field and snapped a picture of the home plate summit with the scoreboard in the background.
The 30th inning never arrived, but the final stanza was just as strange as the rest of the game. Miami pitcher of record, Mike Herbert, led off with a resounding double. Dennis Denning was walked intentionally, putting runners at first and second to set up a potential double play. Gary Carnegie followed with an unplayable bunt, loading the bases with no outs.
On the next pitch Fred Rico hit a sharp grounder to right that hit Carnegie in the leg as he was running to second. Dead ball, one out. Herbert, who had scored, was sent back to third while Denning returned to second.
The next batter, Carl Cmejrek, had one mission, to get the lead runner home. He lofted a long fly to center allowing Herbert to tag up, making the score 4-3. In the process, Denning, trying for an insurance run from second, was gunned down at the plate to end the inning.
Nevertheless, the damage had been done. The Cardinals went down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the 29th and, seven hours after the game began, history had been made.
For me, to have competed in the longest uninterrupted game in professional baseball history while playing for future Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson is the highlight of a largely unheralded minor league career. It remains, however, a form of personal immortality.
There was one final irony for the losing Cardinals, however. Miami arrived home at 8:30 in the morning after a four-plus-hour bus ride from St. Pete. They returned to the park at 11 a.m. to play a day/night doubleheader.
On that particular day, revenge was ever so sweet for the St. Petersburg Cardinals.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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