On July 23, 1912, Boston Braves pitcher Otto Hess elected to pitch to Honus Wagner in the bottom of the ninth with a base open and the winning run in scoring position. Two pitches later, Wagner, the reigning (and eight-time overall) NL batting champion, singled home the game-winner for the Pittsburgh Pirates.1
Eight days later, Hess intentionally walked Wagner the first three times he came to bat in overtime during a marathon game in Boston. When Hess finally pitched to Wagner in the 19th inning, the Flying Dutchman made him pay dearly in what at the time was the second-longest National League game in the modern era.2
Despite new ownership and their third nickname in three years, Boston’s 1912 NL franchise was headed for its third straight last-place finish. Formerly the Rustlers, and before that the Doves, they’d become the Braves in the offseason, team President John Montgomery Ward’s homage to the club’s new principal owner and treasurer, James E. Gaffney.3 On the field, the Braves were led by Johnny Kling, a part-time catcher and their sixth manager in five seasons.4
The Corsairs, as the Pirates were commonly known in Pittsburgh, were in Boston in late July on the second stop of a four-city, 17-game Eastern trip. They sat in third place, 14 games behind the New York Giants, as they kicked off a four-game series with a doubleheader scheduled for Wednesday, July 31.
Both teams had won in extra innings the day before. The Braves edged the St. Louis Cardinals in 14 innings on a pinch-hit single by Kling, and the Pirates won in 10 innings in Philadelphia, their game ending on an ill-advised steal attempt.5
A crowd of 6,000 shuffled into South End Grounds under fair skies, with the temperature in the low 70s. The opener began with Boston’s Hess, a 6-foot-1 southpaw, on the mound. The only (as of 2022) major leaguer born in Switzerland, he’d been a one-year wonder with the 1906 American League Cleveland Naps, winning 20 games that season, but had spent the last three with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.e
In his first season in Boston, Hess was 4-11 coming into the game, with the Braves losing his last seven starts.
Pitching for the Pirates was 23-year-old right hander Marty O’Toole. A native of nearby South Framingham, Massachusetts, he’d won both of his career starts in Boston, including shutting out the Rustlers in his August 1911 debut. He’d lost his last three starts but sported a very respectable 2.50 ERA and on this day had a passel of hometown fans in the stands rooting for him.6
Hess walked the first batter he faced, rookie Ed Mensor, hitting .378 after his first two weeks in the majors. With one out, Mensor stole second and was still there one batter later when Wagner, the Pirates’ cleanup hitter, stepped to the plate.
Honus Wagner enjoyed great success against Boston in his career, with more home runs, more RBIs, a higher batting average, and a higher slugging average against them from 1901 on than against any other NL franchise. True to form, the 38-year-old Wagner, the NL’s oldest player,7 singled in Mensor for the first run of the game. After advancing to third on a fielding error, Wagner took off for home on what the Pittsburgh Gazette Times called a double steal and the Pittsburgh Post identified as a pickoff throw to first, but was caught in a rundown to end the first inning.8
Neither side managed another baserunner until the Braves rallied for a pair of runs in the sixth. Leadoff batter and former Pirate Vin Campbell reached on an errant Wagner throw to first, and Sweeney’s sacrifice bunt turned into an infield single. George Jackson sacrificed both runners along, enabling Titus to plate Campbell on a fly out and Devlin to single in Sweeney. The Braves now led, 2-1.
Pittsburgh pulled even in the seventh, thanks to Wagner’s “old time speed.” He reached first on an overthrow by rookie shortstop Frank O’Rourke,10 was sacrificed to second, then stole third. Slugger Owen Wilson walked, and when Braves catcher Bill Rariden tried to pick him off, Wagner once again broke for home. This time he made it.11 Wagner came up limping after the play, from colliding with Rariden’s steel shin guards, according to the Pittsburgh Post.12
Hess raised the hometown fans’ hopes for victory with a two-out single in the ninth, but slick fielding second baseman Alex McCarthy “saved the game … with a fine one-hand grab” of a line drive from Ed McDonald.13 The game was now headed to extra innings, tied 2-2.
O’Toole led off the top of the 13th with a Texas League single to left field, and with one out Carey “clubbed the pellet against the fence in left.”16 A speed-burner and future 10-time NL stolen-base leader, Carey was held to a single as O’Toole was slow to leave first.
After Pirates manager Fred Clarke removed O’Toole for a pinch-runner, spitballer Claude Hendrix, a .322 hitter in 1912, advanced both runners on a pinch-hit groundout. With first base open, Hess again walked Wagner intentionally and retired Dots Miller, a former Wagner backup affectionately known as Hans No. 2,17 on a groundout to end the Pittsburgh threat.
Boston rallied in its half of the 13th against southpaw reliever Hank Robinson18 but failed to score. Sweeney led off with a double but Wagner threw him out when he tried to take third on a grounder. Jackson reached first on that play, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. When Titus grounded to 21-year-old rookie Jimmy Viox, Pittsburgh’s third third baseman of the game,19 Jackson held for a moment, then broke for third as Viox threw to first.
First baseman Miller’s return throw to third sailed over Viox’s head and bounced off a fence. Carey scrambled in from left to retrieve the ball and fired a strike home, nailing Jackson at the plate.20
The Boston Globe reported that Jackson hesitated rounding third,21 but the Fall River Globe wrote that Viox had blocked Jackson, commenting,22 “Had Viox given Jackson a clear field the game would have been over.” A Pittsburgh Post staff correspondent concurred, saying, “Viox cleverly blocked [Jackson’s] way long enough to save the Pirates from defeat.”23
Neither side scored in the 14th inning through the 17th, with Carey robbing Jackson of extra bases on a “dandy catch”24 in the bottom of the 16th, and Jackson returning the favor by robbing McCarthy of his bid for a triple in the top of the 17th. O’Rourke matched Jackson’s athleticism by snaring Mensor’s blooper to left while on the run, with his back to the plate.25 All three Braves batters in the bottom of the 17th “[fanned] the Hubtown breeze,”26 giving Robinson five strikeouts in five innings.
Pittsburgh broke the deadlock off “a clearly weakening”27 Hess in the 18th. Carey led off with a single, then was sacrificed to second. Hess gave Wagner his third extra-innings intentional pass, then unintentionally walked Miller to load the bases. Pittsburgh’s regular catcher, George Gibson, pinch-hit and singled to the left side, scoring Carey and Wagner with the game’s first runs since the seventh.
Down by two in the bottom of the 18th, Hess received an ovation as he put on his sweater and went to the clubhouse to rest. Sweeney and Jackson drew “deadhead tickets” (walks)28 from Robinson, and a sacrifice moved them both into scoring position.
Clarke brought in pitcher Howie Camnitz, known as the Kentucky Rosebud,29 to replace Robinson but the move backfired. Devlin drilled a curveball from the ace of the Pirates’ 1909 World Series champions30 for a single that brought both runners home, tying the score again. The crowd was on its feet, “the air … filled with waving straw hats and rent with cheers.”31 Camnitz retired the next two batters to send the game to the 19th inning.
With one out in the Pittsburgh 19th, Camnitz singled on the first pitch to him from Hess. Mensor singled Camnitz to third, then stole second as Carey struck out. With darkness looming, Viox brought both baserunners home on a triple to the flagpole in center field; his third three-bagger of the season and one of 129 the Pirates collected in 1912, a modern-era major-league record that still stood in 2022.32
Next up was Wagner. Inexplicably, Hess pitched to Wagner with first base unoccupied.33 He “slipped one across” the plate (or in modern parlance, tried to) but “the Dutchman ate it up,”34 pulling a single over the third-base bag. Viox scored, giving Pittsburgh a 7-4 lead.
With the Braves now in a three-run hole, Ben Houser, pinch-hitting for Hess singled to lead off the bottom of the 19th, but was forced out at second on Ed McDonald’s grounder.35 A single by Campbell and a walk to Sweeney loaded the bases. Camnitz got Jackson to hit an apparent double-play grounder to second baseman McCarthy, but Wagner’s relay to first sailed over the first baseman’s head, into the Pittsburgh bench.36 Ed F. Balinger of the Pittsburgh Post credited Sweeney with having raised his hand in front of Wagner, causing “a wild heave.”37 McDonald and Campbell scored on the play, with Jackson awarded third.
Boston’s hopes for a comeback were soon extinguished, as Wagner “ended the afternoon’s frolic” when he snared Titus’s pop fly in short left field for the third out.38
After nearly four hours, the game was over. Hess took the loss after “an awful day’s work,”39 six innings longer any previous major-league game he’d pitched, and Camnitz earned his 100th career victory. The nightcap of the twin bill was rescheduled for the coming Saturday.
Alongside the Boston Globe’s summary of the game the next day was news that Braves President Ward had resigned.40 He returned to his legal practice, resurfacing two years later as an executive in the upstart Federal League.
After getting a week off to recover, Hess lasted less than two innings in his next start. The Braves’ losing streak when Hess pitched reached 14 but he finished the season strong by winning his last eight starts in a row.
Wagner went on to set a league record for fielding percentage by a shortstop (.962),41 finish second in RBIs and second in the NL Chalmers (MVP) Award voting. It would be 44 years before another player 38 years old or older finished that high in National League or American League MVP voting.42
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted game summaries published in the Boston Globe, Fall River (Massachusetts) Globe, Pittsburgh Gazette Times, and Pittsburgh Post as well as Jan Finkel’s SABR biography of Honus Wagner and Gary Hess’s SABR biography of Otto Hess. The Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and baseball-almanac.com websites also provided pertinent material.
1 “One Run Enough to Beat Braves,” Boston Globe, July 24, 1912: 7.
2 The longest modern-era game at the time was a 20-inning contest between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies on August 24, 1905. A 21-inning game between the Pirates and New York Giants on July 17, 1914, supplanted this one as the second longest in NL history.
3 Ward called Gaffney “one of the grand sachems [chiefs]of Tammany Hall in New York,” “known as one of the ‘braves.’” He reasoned that “‘Boston Braves’ would have the true fighting ring that the fans would take to.” T.H. Murnane, “Ward Wants His Team to be Called the ‘Boston Braves,’” Boston Globe, December 21, 1911: 7.
4 Kling, a veteran catcher acquired during the 1911 season, had threatened shortly before the club’s sale to James Gaffney’s group to retire if not given the manager job. He was ultimately selected to manage the team after Ward failed to persuade legendary field general Ned Hanlon to come out of retirement. Shortly after Gaffney purchased the franchise, Hanlon was widely reported as being the new Boston manager, but he could not come to agreement with Ward, telling the press, “I would not manage the club unless I owned control of it.” “Kling Threatens to Retire,” Fall River (Massachusetts) Evening News, November 8, 1911: 3; “A War Cloud on Baseball Horizon,” Tulsa Daily Democrat, December 13, 1911: 3; “John Kling May Manage the Boston Nationals,” Pittsburg Press, December 16, 1911: 8; “Deal Is Off with Cubs for Gandil,” Pittsburgh Post, December 16, 1911: 6.
5 The Phillies’ Otto Knabe was gunned down trying to steal second base by Pittsburgh catcher George Gibson on the play, with Honus Wagner applying the game-ending tag. Melville E. Webb Jr., “Boston’s Game, Anyway,” Boston Globe, July 31, 1912: 7.
6 “Hundreds of townfolk” reportedly attended the game from South Framingham, 20 miles to the west. James Jerpe, “Viox’s Triple Brings Victory to Pirates in a 19-Inning Struggle,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, August 1, 1912: 8.
8 “Viox’s Triple Brings Victory to Pirates in a 19-Inning Struggle”; Ed F. Balinger, “Longest Game of Season Captured by the Corsairs,” Pittsburgh Post, August 1, 1912: 13.
9 “Viox’s Triple Brings Victory to Pirates in a 19-Inning Struggle.” Carey, an excellent fielder throughout his career, finished the season with the highest fielding percentage and range factor (retroactively) of any NL left fielder.
10 This was O’Rourke’s 21st error in under 230 chances since his acquisition in June from Bridgeport of the Class B Connecticut State League. The error pushed his fielding percentage to under .910, well below the league average for shortstops (.931). O’Rourke finished the season with a .915 fielding average as a shortstop.
11 Boston Globe sportswriter Melville E. Webb claimed Wagner’s dash had caught both Rariden and first baseman Devlin “sound asleep.” Melville E. Webb Jr., “Braves Lose in 19-Inning Battle,” Boston Globe, August 1, 1912: 1.
12 “Notes of the Game,” Pittsburgh Post, August 1, 1912: 13.
13 “Viox’s Triple Brings Victory to Pirates in a 19-Inning Struggle.” The 23-year-old McCarthy finished second in the league in fielding percentage among second basemen.
14 Ogden Nash, “Lineup for Yesterday,” Sport, January 1949, posted online at Baseball-Almanac.com website, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_line.shtml, accessed September 30, 2022.
15 Wagner was not one to always accept intentional walks. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian described one instance where Wagner “would have no part” of an intentional pass from future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, reaching across the plate to line a single to right field. Tim Kurkjian, “Bad-ball wonders: Vlad, Ichiro hit everything,” ESPN the Magazine website, May 3, 2002, https://www.espn.com/magazine/kurkjian_20020503.html.
16 Balinger, “Longest Game of Season Captured by the Corsairs.”
18 “Pirates Land the Game, but It Took 19 Innings,” Fall River Globe, August 1, 1912: 11.
19 Viox entered the game in the bottom of the 13th, replacing future Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, who’d been pinch hit for by Hendrix in the top of that inning. McKechnie had replaced starting third baseman Bobby Byrne in the bottom of the seventh, for a reason not explained in any newspaper summary of the game. This was Byrne’s first game back since coming up with bruised ribs and a sore back after an attempted tag play during a game on July 12, so it may simply have been that Pirates manager Fred Clarke was easing him back into the lineup. Not everyone noticed Byrne’s departure right away; the Boston Globe erroneously credited him with five at-bats and McKechnie with none, versus three for Byrne and two for McKechnie as reported in at least three other newspapers that published a box score for the game. Webb Jr., “Braves Lose in 19-Inning Battle.”; Ed. F. Balinger, “Claude Hendrix Allows Six Hits and Bats Homer,” Pittsburgh Post, July 13, 1912: 13; James Jerpe, “On and Off the Field,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 16, 1912: 11.
20 This was one of Carey’s 18 assists as a left fielder on the year. Beginning the following year, he led the NL in assists at either left field or center field seven times in his career.
21 Webb, “Braves Lose in 19-Inning Battle.”
22 “Pirates Land the Game, but It Took 19 Innings.”
23 “Notes of the Game.”
24 “Viox’s Triple Brings Victory to Pirates in a 19-Inning Struggle.”
25 “Pirates Land the Game, but It Took 19 Innings.”
26 “Viox’s Triple Brings Victory to Pirates in a 19-Inning Struggle.”
27 “Viox’s Triple Brings Victory to Pirates in a 19-Inning Struggle.”
28 “Longest Game of Season Captured by the Corsairs.”
29 The Kentucky native was dubbed the Kentucky Rosebud for his bright red hair. Irv Goldfarb, Howie Camnitz SABR biography, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/howie-camnitz/; C.B. Power, “Timely Sporting Comment,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, June 13, 1909, 17.
30 Camnitz led the 1909 Pittsburgh pitching staff with 25 wins (including six shutouts), a 1.62 ERA, and a 0.972 WHIP.
31 “Braves Lose in 19-Inning Battle.”
32 Leading the way in the Pirates’ triples parade was Owen Wilson, who set a major-league record with 36 triples, a total unmatched through the 2022 season.
33 It’s unclear whether a fourth walk to Wagner would’ve set a major-league record. The major leagues did not officially track intentional walks until 1955, and player intentional walk statistics are not currently available for seasons before 1928. The first ballplayer credited with getting four intentional walks in a game was the Cleveland Indians’ Jeff Heath, in 1941.
34 “Notes of the Game.”
35 Houser may be the only major leaguer to both hit a grand slam and earn an assist or putout on a triple play in the same game. He did that on October 9, 1911. in the first game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. The author has identified seven times since that date in which a team hit a grand slam in the same game in which it turned a triple play, but in none of those games was the batter who hit the grand slam involved in the triple play. The seven include the Cleveland Indians’ Elmer Smith’s grand slam in Game Five of the 1920 World Series, in which second baseman Bill Wambsgnass pulled off an unassisted triple play; New York Giants shortstop Travis Jackson on September 6, 1924; Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Carl Scheib on May 8, 1948; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Rico Carty on September 7, 1979; New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza on May 17, 2002; Detroit Tigers right fielder Nick Castellanos on September 8, 2017; and Chicago White Sox right fielder Charlie Tilson on May 22, 2019. “End Season in a Riot of Batting,” Boston Globe, October 10, 1911: 7.
36 Wagner’s throw hit backup catcher Mike Simon. Hitting .321 at the time, Simon who’d started a dozen games in July, didn’t play in another game for the Pirates until three weeks later. Pittsburgh newspapers were silent on why.
37 Balinger, “Longest Game of Season Captured by the Corsairs.”
38 Balinger, “Longest Game of Season Captured by the Corsairs.”
39 “Braves Lose in 19-Inning Battle.”
40 Ward sold his shares in the team to Gaffney. His decision was attributed to team policy disagreements between the two. Melville E. Webb Jr., “Gaffney Buys Ward’s Stock,” Boston Globe, August 1, 1912: 7.
41 Dennis DeValeria and Jeanne Burke DeValeria, Honus Wagner: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1996), 254.