CHARLOTTE, NC, June 16, 2015 – Forty-nine years ago on a typically sultry Florida night in St. Petersburg, two minor teams made professional baseball history by playing the longest uninterrupted game in history.
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, whenever they will sit long enough to listen. My manager, George “Sparky” Anderson since 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.
For about ten years, I, myself, was among the photographs displayed at Cooperstown as one of the participants who played all 29-innings that night. Since then a 33-inning game has surpassed our record, but the lone difference is that our game was completed in a single night. It is that small distinction I will proudly take to my grave, even though I went 1 for 13 at the plate during the marathon.
Just before game time on that eventful night in 1966, “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 slump.
Only 740 fans braved the heat. Likely there would have been less but they were giving away a motorcycle during the 7th 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.
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, however the real oddity 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.
However, 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
bag at first to keep the inning alive. Running from second, Carl Cmejrek rounded third and headed for home. Milani picked up the ball and charged the runner.
With faking throws, Milani accidentally let the ball slip as Cmejrek broke for the plate. The ball took one bounce before hitting Cmejrek in the left knee, 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.”
It was probably the best catch of my professional baseball career. For me 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 quit if it was not over 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. 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 out to center allowing Herbert to tag and make 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 was done. The Cardinals went down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the 29th and seven hours after it began history was made with a final score of 4-3.
For myself, 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 last element of irony for the losing Cardinals, however. Miami arrived home at 8:30 in the morning after a four plus hour bus ride before returning 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.
Watch the WRAL TV report Charlotte man played in the longest professional baseball game on record
Bob Taylor has traveled 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)
Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News
Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod