CHARLOTTE, NC, March 31, 2014 – No sport loves statistics more than baseball. When the Miami Marlins outlasted the St. Petersburg Cardinals in 29 innings in 1966, it was a statistical gold mine filled with interesting oddities.
The 29-inning battle was surpassed in 1981 by a 33-inning game. That contest was completed in two nights however, leaving the 1966 marathon as the longest uninterrupted professional baseball game in history.
It was a typically steamy June night in 1966 in St. Petersburg, Fla. when the sparse crowd of 740 fans filed through the turnstiles.
The Cardinals had already made news earlier that season with a 22-game winning streak that vaulted them from last place to first. They stayed there one night. The loss that ended the streak dropped St. Pete back to second and they never regained the lead during the remainder of the first half of the season.
When Cardinal Manager Sparky Anderson posted the line-up on the dugout wall, slugging left fielder, Ernie “Sweetpea” Davis, was not pleased to see my name on the card instead of his. “Sweets” was in the throes of a severe slump, so Anderson was giving him the night off. Since opening day, Davis had been courting a young woman and that night was supposed to be the culmination of his efforts. Now his date wouldn’t even get to see him play.
The game was scoreless for six and a half innings before St. Petersburg plated two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After pinch-hitter Lloyd Fourroux tied the game with a homer to deep left field in the top of the eighth, he showered and went to watch the rest of the game at 9:30. En route to his seat, Fourroux grabbed a hot dog. Five hours and three more trips to the concession stand later, the game mercifully came to an end. Fourroux’s total hot dog bill for the night, $4.
Soon after, Sweetpea Davis suffered another blow to his dignity. Sent to pinch-hit in the bottom of the 11th, Davis struck out on four pitches. The temporary upside was that Davis could now join his date since he was no longer eligible to play. The blessing only lasted until the 12th inning, however. Running short of players Anderson called Sweetpea back into uniform to suffer the further embarrassment of warming up relief pitchers for the rest of the night. His date left and Davis never saw her again.
After 11 o’clock, free coffee was served to the roughly 200 fans that had steadfastly remained. One man went to his bowling league and came back when it was over.
At 1 a.m., when the bars closed, several fans saw the lights were still on and returned for more baseball.
Hidden among the numerous innings were several outstanding performances. Except for a single walk by Cardinals pitcher Jim Williamson from the 14th through the 21st innings, he pitched eight shutout frames without giving up a hit.
For Miami, Paul Gilliford came on in relief in the 15th and pitched 11 innings through the 25th. Not bad for someone who pitched eight innings the night before.
Marlins catcher, Charlie Sands, was behind the plate all 29-innings, losing 15 pounds in the process. Oddly enough, Sands was behind the plate for every inning of the previous longest game just one year earlier.
Not only did Michael Hebert score the winning run in the 29th, he was also the winning pitcher. When Miami arrived home at 8:30 a.m, Hebert was sent down to the rookie league.
The game featured 203 official at bats with 44 hits between the teams. Only six of those hits went for extra bases. There were 41 strikeouts shared among 11 pitchers and only 12 walks.
Two players, Lloyd Fourroux and Richard Hickerson, had both played in the previous longest game in 1965 in Elmira, N.Y., which went 27 innings.
Of the participants on both rosters, eight players made it to the major leagues. Charlie Sands had the longest career as a player, while Sparky Anderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000 for his managerial career with Cincinnati and Detroit
Cardinals center fielder Archie Wade went on to get his doctorate degree in physical education and Dennis Denning of Miami became one of the most successful Division III college baseball coaches in history.
For me, I entered the game as the second leading hitter in the league. Though hardly illustrious, for 15 years I held the professional baseball record of having 13 official at bats in a single game. On the downside, I had only one hit, dropping my batting average from .368 to .250.
Later, in the 1981 game, four players batted 14 times and Cal Ripken made 13 plate appearances.
Though the 29-inning game is now the second longest in history, it remains the longest uninterrupted game ever played. And while my record no longer stands, only six players in all of baseball have ever batted 13 or more times in a single game.
I still savor my brief 15-year stay in Cooperstown. Baseball is a game that thrives on history and tradition. In its unbroken chain spanning generations it represents a semblance of baseball immortality no matter how small. Today, I relish the joy of being in the Hall of Fame, even if the only way I can do it now is to buy a ticket.
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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