Baseball’s Longest Game

The longest game ever played in professional baseball started on April 18, 1981. I’ve long been fascinated by this game and several years ago I wrote a 33-stanza poem about it: one stanza for each inning.

This poem is the one I receive the most comments on and the most requests for. It was first published in Bardball.

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No Ties, No Ticking Clocks
April 18, 1981

There are no ties in baseball,
there is no ticking clock.
The game could continue forever.

One night in Rhode Island
the Rochester Red Wings
face the Pawtucket Red Sox.

A fierce wind invades the stadium,
numbing fans and players alike.
Make this one quick, everyone hopes.

Lights generate no warmth.
Fans applaud, the game begins.
Six scoreless innings, then Rochester drives in

a single run. Bottom of the ninth,
the PawSox also score a single run.
There are no ties in baseball,

there is no ticking clock. There are only
more chances. The extra innings creep
like icicles: tenth, eleventh, twelfth arrive

and depart with nothing but snowballs
to show: big, round, cold zeros.
At the end of eighteen innings

the score remains one-one.
The temperature drops to bathyspheric depths.
Players light bonfires in trash barrels,

burning broken bats as fuel. Fans go home
to furnaces that blast hot air.
Players long to go home, too, but first

one of them must cross home.
The stadium sells out of food. Clubhouse men
deploy into the frigid night and return

with chow the players bolt down. The game
goes on — four hours . . . five . . . six.
There are no ties in baseball,

there is no ticking clock.
And then, top of the twenty-first inning —
Rochester scores a second run.

Hallelujah!
The game will, at long last, be over.
Completed.

No. Not meant to be.
Pawtucket also scores a second run
in the bottom of the twenty-first. Game tied,

two-two. The contest will continue. Players
know it, the remaining fans know it. This is baseball,
not some nickel-and-dime tick-tock diversion.

The managers think otherwise:
they want the game called and resumed
later, preferably on a warm

summer day. They appeal to the umpire,
who pages through his book coldly
and finds . . . no applicable rule.

“Play ball!” he huffs, his breath a speech
bubble in the frosty air. And so players stumble
through the motions they’ve been making since

they were six years old. Half-asleep, half-frozen,
they are all good enough to play at the Triple-A level,
and definitely good enough to keep one another from scoring.

By the end of the twenty-seventh inning,
Rochester and Pawtucket have played
three full baseball games. Again the managers

appeal to the umpire, but the blue man stands
by his earlier decision. There are no ties
in baseball, there is no ticking clock.

The fans: a score of them remain. (A score!
If only somebody would score!) Nobody goes out
to scrounge up food for the fans, who dare not

burn stadium seats to stay warm.
Why do they stay? Do they know
they are witnessing baseball history?

History, schmistory, the managers don’t care —
they understand about ticking clocks
and no ties, they just think somebody

has to show some common sense.
And so, calling it common sense,
somebody calls the league president

at three o’clock in the morning.
After he is awake enough to understand
the situation, the league president grants

permission to call the game. And so,
at the end of the thirty-second inning,
the game is called, to be resumed another day.

Before the fans can unstiffen enough to leave,
the Pawtucket organization awards a free season pass
to each of these true blue-from-the-cold lovers of the game,

The players stand in hot showers to thaw,
then dress to go home, stepping out
into the early morning sunrise.

Two months later, the Red Wings return
and the game resumes, the score still two-two.
Rochester fails to score,

but Pawtucket does not, driving a run
across the plate in the bottom of the thirty-third inning.
The longest game in baseball history

is finally completed.
There are no ties in baseball.
There is no ticking clock.

_____________________

Barbara Gregorich is fascinated by long games and long odds, such as those faced by the Cleveland Naps/Indians during their first two decades of existence. She wrote about this in Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog.

2 thoughts on “Baseball’s Longest Game

  1. Harrington E. Crissey, Jr. says:

    That’s an excellent poem, Barbara. Thanks for sharing it with us. I had forgotten that the game was played in mid-April and didn’t realize it was so cold that night.
    Kit Crissey

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kit. I didn’t realize how very cold it was until I began researching the game. Now, I cannot think of the words “longest game” without at the same time thinking: “bitter cold.”

      Like

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