May 31, 1964: San Francisco (5-8) at N.Y. Mets (3-6)
Clouds hung overhead as the first remnants of the crowd entered the new Shea Stadium, situated adjacent to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The time was half past ten on the morning of Sunday, May 31, 1964. The crowd would eventually number 57,037 paid for the scheduled doubleheader between the Mets and the San Francisco Giants, the largest major-league crowd of the season.
A mist-like rain began to fall. Umbrellas sprung up all over the park, and some spectators elected to purchase hats. The rain stopped just as the first game began at 1:05 PM. Six weeks into the season, the Giants (24-17) were in second place, a game behind the Phillies. The Mets (14-30) looked to be well on their way to their third last-place finish in their three years as a team.
In the second inning of the first game, Joe Christopher, who, as day passed into night, gained a great following in right field, singled off Giants starter Juan Marichal. Ed Kranepool, who had just been called up to the Mets from their Buffalo farm team, singled. The day before, Ed had played a doubleheader in Syracuse that ended late, and he arrived in New York at 6:00 AM. Jim Hickman cleared the bases with a homer to left.
The Giants took a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. Orlando Cepeda’s double had scored Willie Mays and moved Jim Ray Hart to third base. A sacrifice fly by Jim Davenport scored Hart with the tying run and moved Cepeda to third. Cepeda attempted a steal of home. Reliever Tom Sturdivant’s pitch appeared to have the runner beaten by at least ten feet. Catcher Jesse Gonder was slow in applying the tag and the steal was complete.
The Giants completed the scoring in the ninth when Harvey Kuenn drove in Jesus Alou with the Giants’ fifth run. Marichal completed the 5-3 Giant win by striking out two batters in the ninth inning, wrapping up his eighth victory of the season. The time of game was 2:29.
The Giants took the second game lead, and the score was 6-3 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. In the Mets’ seventh, Roy McMillan and Frank Thomas singled. Christopher then stepped in. Joe hit Bolin’s 3-0 pitch to deepest center field, 410 feet from home plate. Mays leaped against the wall and, with his glove extended, grabbed at the ball as it was leaving the field. He came to the ground with his glove high in the air, signifying for all to see that he had caught the ball. There was one thing wrong, however. There was no ball in the glove. After Christopher circled the bases and touched home plate, the score was knotted at 6-6.
The score remained tied, inning after inning. Shuffling of players between positions became commonplace. In the bottom of the tenth, Mays took over at shortstop. Mays was replaced in center field, temporarily, by Matty Alou.
Gaylord Perry, young and unproven, entered the game to pitch the bottom of the 13th, and there were wholesale changes. Mays returned to center field. He did not have anything hit at him during his three innings in the infield.
In his autobiography, Me and the Spitter, Perry devotes an entire chapter to the events of this day. He lists the records set, and concludes by saying that “they saw Gaylord Perry throw a spitter under pressure for the first, but hardly the last, time in his career.” Prior to May 31, 1964, Perry “was the eleventh man on an eleven man pitching staff. The twelfth man was in Tacoma.” In the 13th inning, Amado “Sammy” Samuel reached Perry for a single. This was followed with a single to right field by Roy McMillan. A great throw by Jesus Alou cut down Samuel trying to advance to third base.
In the 14th, Galen Cisco took over for the Mets. The Giants had Jesus Alou on second and Mays on first with none out. The red-hot Cepeda was up. Giants’ manager Alvin Dark, with fast runners on base, put on the hit-and-run play. McMillan was racing to cover second when he intercepted Cepeda’s liner to center, stepped on second, and fired to Kranepool at first. The Mets had a triple play, and the game went on.
In the Mets’ 15th inning, Perry was struggling. Hickman had singled and advanced to second on Smith’s sacrifice bunt. Catcher Tom Haller went to the mound and suggested that Perry try out that “new pitch” that he had been working on. If there was ever a time to use it, this was it. Haller said, “It’s time to break the maiden, kid. I think you can do it.” Before resuming his position behind the plate, Haller told Perry, “Throw it when you can get it on the ball. Don’t worry about me. You throw it. I’ll catch it. Let’s go.”
Chris Cannizzaro stepped in and Perry loaded it up. Five spitters later, the count went to three-and-two. What followed was the best argument of the long day. Perry unleashed a fast ball and Cannizzaro checked his swing. Umpire Ed Sudol awarded Cannizzaro first base. Dark argued that umpire Ed Sudol should have conferred with the other umpires before making the decision. Sudol quickly ejected Dark.
Sudol’s temper was short because Cannizzaro, earlier in the at-bat, had fouled the 0-2 pitch off Sudol’s foot. His temper might have been made even shorter by hunger. Someone had forgotten to bring food to the umpires’ quarters between games. Before he left the playing area, Dark put the game under protest. The base on balls proved harmless. While the commotion was going on, Gaylord loaded up another spitter and Cisco hit a ball back to Perry. Perry fired to Jim Davenport who threw the still wet ball to Cepeda to complete the inning-ending double play.1
The innings continued to roll past. In the 23rd inning, Davenport stepped in with two out. He hit a ball safely toward the right-field corner. By the time Christopher could retrieve the ball, Davenport was standing at third base with a triple. Cisco intentionally walked Cap Peterson, with Perry, remarkably still in the game, scheduled to hit next. Perry was a worse hitter than even a typical pitcher, but he was pitching great — he had struck out nine batters, and allowed seven hits in ten innings. The Giants sent Del Crandall up to pinch hit for Perry. Crandall came through, plating Davenport with a ground rule double to right field. Peterson advanced to third and scored on an infield hit by Jesus Alou. After being shut out for 19 consecutive innings, the Giants had taken an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the 23rd inning, Bob Hendley came in to settle the issue, retiring the three Mets he faced, striking out two.
The strikeouts brought the total by Giants’ pitchers for the game to 22, eclipsing the mark for strikeouts in an extra-inning game (21), set initially by the Phillies against the Pirates in a 14-inning win on September 22, 1958 and tied by Tom Cheney of Washington in a 16-inning complete game against Baltimore in 1962. When the final out was registered, the game became the longest ever, in terms of time, to be completed in the history of the Major Leagues – 7 hours and 23 minutes. The doubleheader, also the longest in history, went 9 hours and 52 minutes; the record still stands.
I was a high school senior when the Giants first came to Shea Stadium to play the Mets in a four-game series. Each time they came to town, I would go to the local Howard Clothes Store and reserve my ticket. For the May 31, 1964 series finale, it would just be me, as I was unable to find anyone to drag along.
By the 15th inning of the second game, the vendors were gone. I found a discarded program and persevered with my score-keeping. I stepped on a mustard container, splattering its contents on my left leg. When Joe Christopher assumed his position in right field, the few of us remaining waved in his direction, and he waved back.
At the end of baseball’s longest day, I put my thoughts together in an article. After I retired, I discovered the paper, dusted it off, and did some updates.
Val Adams. “If it’s any help, Mets won TV Rating,” The New York Times, June 2, 1964, 75.
Arthur Daley. “Sports of the Times: Amazing is Correct,” The New York Times, June 2, 1964, 44.
Joseph Durso. “Giants Top Mets Twice, as 7 hour 23 Minute 23-Inning Sets Marks,” The New York Times, June 1, 1964.
Barney Kremenko. “Mets, Giants Go Round and Round to L. P. Record,” The Sporting News, June 13, 1964, 5.
Barney Kremenko. “Christopher Heating up Mets with Sizzling Bat,” The Sporting News, June 13, 1961, 6.
Robert Lipsyte. “Ball Park Well Built and ‘Could have lasted forever’,” The New York Times, May 31, 1964.
Associated Press. “Mets Fans Discussing Marathon,” The Hartford Courant, June 2, 1964 19A.
Gaylord Perry (with Bob Sudyk). Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession. New York. E. P. Dutton and Company. 1974
Joe Christopher, Jim Davenport, Ed Kranepool, Rusty Staub, and Joan Haller (Tom’s wife) were interviewed for this article.
- 1. Perry, pages 12-20.