On Saturday, April 18, 1981, a routine Triple A baseball game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings started. For the players, Triple A represents that tantalizing cusp of big league stardom, a place where one can almost touch the pinnacle, yet for the majority will merely be a tease as they would fall short of the ultimate prize.
Two of the players in action that day went on to become icons in the major leagues – Cal Ripken of the Red Wings and Wade Boggs of the Red Sox. But what ensured that game’s place in history, chronicled with lyricism and verve by Dan Barry, is what did not happen that day. The game did not end - even at midnight - because the two teams were deadlocked, and baseball prohibits a game ending in a tie. The International League, the parent organization that the two clubs were affiliated with, erroneously missed printing in their rule book the time cut-off for a game, and the umpires on hand on that day staunchly stuck to the rule book. The game went on till the morning hours of Easter Sunday, amidst freezing cold and bone-weary players and spectators, a full eight hours after it had started. The game ultimately ended in the 33rd inning when it was rescheduled for June 23. It was - and remains - the longest professional baseball ever played.
How do you describe a historical event with such detail that it seems to the reader as a current ongoing event? Dan Barry seeks the help of the key protagonists of the game – both on field and off – and with their help reconstructs with vivid detail (and not a small dose of wit) the event itself and its impact on the town of Pawtucket. What results is an enthralling book that is one part sociological portrait of small-town America and equal part description of a seemingly mundane minor league game that caught the country’s attention for its sheer absurdity.
Dan Barry takes multiple detours in his narrative – including a portrait of Thomas P. McCoy, the erstwhile mayor of Pawtucket who built the stadium that bears his name – that adds the all-important context to the story. It tends to slow down the book a bit, but Barry more than makes up for it with a cast of colorful characters that includes a manager so tired that he wants to get thrown out of the game, and a player afraid that his wife won’t believe that he is at the game at this late hour and will suspect him of carousing at the local bar. The book is a keeper for baseball lovers –very well written and informed by a poignancy that is an endearing ode to the great game.