‘I Don’t Care If I Ever Get Back’: Late Finishes Leave Fans Limp But Ecstatic

This article was written by Philip J Lowry

This article was published in 1984 Baseball Research Journal

AT 4:09 A.M. on Easter morning, April 19, 1981, just 51 minutes before sunrise, a hardy group of 17 freezing souls huddled in the 28-degree pre-dawn chill of McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I. They had just seen their beloved PawSox close out the thirty-second inning of a 2-2 tie against the Rochester Red Wings. When the umpires suspended the game, these 17 brave fans could look back on eight hours and seven minutes of baseball, preceded by a 32-minute delay caused by a power failure, and claim to have witnessed the latest local-time conclusion ever to a baseball game. The 4:09 a.m. ending exceeded the previous minor and major league records by 100 and 46 minutes, respectively.

When the game was resumed two months later, the mercury had risen to 80 degrees and McCoy Stadium was packed to capacity. Just one more inning – the thirty-third – was needed for the PawSox to win, 3-2, on Dave Koza’s bases-loaded single. The final totals -33 innings and eight hours, 25 minutes – were all-time baseball records. Mementoes of the marathon are now buried in a time capsule beneath the field, where they join the five-ton truck that in 1942 sank without a trace into the swampy outfield while McCoy was being built by the WPA.

Baseball is free of the artificial boundaries of time within which the clock confines other sports. This freedom helps to shape the magical charm that is an evening at the ballpark, for fans never know when they may be the first to be enchanted until past sunrise by the first-ever ten-hour, 35-inning slugfest.

Detailed research into late-ending games has revealed that at least 91 games have lasted past 1 a.m. local time. The most frequent cause is extra innings (40 games). Other causes have been extra-inning doubleheaders (16 times), rain-delayed overtime contests (10 games) and rain-delayed doubleheaders (five). Other factors include the Alaska midnight sun and delays caused by various circumstances- fog, an automatic tarpaulin malfunction, a scoreboard fire, blinding sunlight, power failures, needs for a stretcher and an automatic sprinkler system that could not be turned off. Of the 91 games that went beyond 1 a.m., 13 ended sometime after 2 o’clock, seven after 3 a.m. and the Pawtucket record-breaker after 4 in the morning.

Strange things can occur when games go beyond 1 o’clock in the morning. One such event led indirectly to the 1978 American League playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox. In the seventeenth inning of a rain-delayed 1:16 a.m. contest at Yankee Stadium on August 3, Dwight Evans’ long fly into the right field corner curved foul and landed in the seats, eluding Reggie Jackson’s grasp. Jackson was just halfway back to his normal playing position when Yankee pitcher Ken Clay inexplicably delivered the next pitch. Evans lined a single to right that probably would have been caught had Clay waited until Reggie was in position. The hit led to two runs and a 7-5 Red Sox victory. Except for that game Bucky Dent might never have had the opportunity to break millions of hearts in New England with one momentous bloop over The Green Monster.

In 1961 critical early-morning mistakes in the final inning twice led to games ending in 1:15 a.m. ties due to the curfew. In a contest at Fenway Park, Gary Geiger smashed an eleventh-inning triple to drive in the tying run. Thinking his hit had won the game, Geiger dashed jubilantly into the dugout where, rather than being mobbed by his teammates, he was tagged out by the Angels. Carl Yastrzemski then delivered what would have been a game-winning sacrifice fly – except for Geiger’s booboo. Just 20 days later, following a routine pitch with two out in the fifteenth inning, Giant catcher Hobie Landrith’s return throw to his pitcher sailed into center field, allowing Tony Gonzalez to scamper home from third base with the Phillies’ tying run. The batter then grounded out to finish the curfew-halted game.

The most bizarre ending to a post-1 a.m. game, however, occurred in 1984 at Centennial Field in Burlington, Vt. Trailing the Albany-Colonie A’s, 9-6, the Vermont Reds came to bat in the bottom of the seventeenth. At 12:5 1 a.m., with a 1-0 count on leadoff batter Ron Little, an automatic timer turned on the six outfield sprinklers, one of which was located between Albany center fielder David Wilder’s feet. Following a 15-minute delay, during which man’s best efforts to turn off the mechanical beast proved unsuccessful, the game was suspended at 1:06 a.m. The resumption of play the next evening saw Vermont score one run and lose, 9-7. After much deliberation the University of Vermont, owner of the park, decided to tempt fate by leaving the automatic timer unchanged.

Night games were first played in 1930 in both the minor leagues and the Negro leagues and in 1935 in the majors. But the first baseball game at night was played by two amateur teams on September 2, 1880 in Hull, Mass., by Nantasket

Bay on the Sea Foam House Lawn. With the score between Jordan Marsh & Co. and R.H. White & Co. tied at 16-16, the game was called after nine innings to allow the 300 fans to catch the last ferry boat of the evening back to the mainland.

Ever since night baseball began the record for the latest-ending game has been getting progressively later despite the fact that starting times have been moved forward. The typical starting time has regressed from 8:30 p.m. in the 1940s to 8 o’clock in the 1960s to 7:35 in the 1980s.

The first known post-1 a.m. game took place on June 15, 1945 in a 27-inning doubleheader at Griffith Stadium. The Red Sox and Senators struggled to a 13-inning tie called at 1:02 a.m. after Boston had won the opener in 14 innings. The next such late-finisher was literally carried into the wee hours on a stretcher. With two out in the bottom of the ninth inning on July 8, 1949 at Shibe Park, Phils second baseman Granny Hamner doubled to center, scoring Richie Ashburn to knot the score at 1-all. After both teams scored twice in the eleventh, Boston shortstop Alvin Dark was knocked unconscious while running the bases in the thirteenth on a ball thrown by Hamner. Dark had to be carried off the field on a stretcher and was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he was listed in satisfactory condition. Del Crandall’s sacrifice fly off Schoolboy Rowe in the sixteenth inning gave the Braves a 4-3 victory at 1:01 a.m.

Two years later, on June 22, 1951, the Dodgers-Pirates 8:30 p.m. start was delayed two hours, 14 minutes when a power failure darkened Forbes Field’s four outfield light towers. The proceedings were held up for another 36 minutes by rain in the sixth inning, and the game didn’t conclude until 1:56 a.m. Approximately 10,000 of the original crowd of 24,966 stuck around to witness the tired Dodgers, keyed by Jackie Robinson’s homer into Greenburg Gardens, walk off with an 8-4 victory.

The 1:56 a.m. mark lasted a little more than 12 years. On August 9, 1963 the scene again was Forbes Field. After rain delayed start of the doubleheader for 60 minutes, the Houston Colt .45s struggled to a 15-inning, 7-6 victory. By the time Roberto Clemente’s bases-loaded single in the eleventh enabled the Pirates to claim the 7-6 nightcap, only 300 of the original 9,420 fans remained, and the large Longines clock atop the scoreboard in left field read 2:30 a.m. One of those remaining 300 fans who sat throughout the long, rainy evening in the left field bleachers with his father and brother was eventually inspired to write this article.

The 2:30 finish eclipsed the former professional sports lateness record that had stood for some 27 years. High above the ice at the Montreal Forum way back on March 24, 1936, the clock showed 2:25 a.m. when Mud Bruneteau found the nets at 16:30 of the sixth overtime to lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Maroons in, the Stanley Cup playoffs after five hours, 44 minutes of elapsed time.

On May 31, 1964 at Shea Stadium the Mets and Giants struggled mightily to break the record, but were unable to overcome the handicap of an early afternoon start as San Francisco took both ends of a twin-bill, winning the nightcap, 8-6 in 23 innings. Del Crandall, still going strong 15 years after having won the 1949 marathon mentioned earlier, delivered the game-winning RBI in the twenty-third, scoring current Giant manager Jim Davenport. Joe Christopher of the

Mets had tied the game at 6-6 in the seventh inning with a three-run homer that bounced off Willie Mays’ glove and over the eight-foot fence in right-center. The time of the game was seven hours, 23 minutes. Including the between-games intermission, the twin-bill lasted ten hours, 17 minutes. Only 8,000 of the sellout crowd of 57,037 remained to the bitter end at 11:25 p.m.

Because the National League twi-night curfew was no longer in effect in 1964, had this Mets-Giants bill been a 6 p.m. twi-nighter rather than a 1 o’clock daylight double-header, an all-time record would have been achieved because the end would have come at 4:25 a.m. rather than at 11:25 p.m. The marathon twin-bill did stand, however, as the record for the latest-ending day games until June 17, 1967 when the current day-game mark was set during a Tigers-A’s doubleheader in Detroit that ran from 2:15 in the afternoon until 12:17 a.m.

Baseball has had many different curfews. In the past curfew times have varied from city to city and have included time limits ranging from as early as 11:40 p.m. to as late as 2:00 a.m. Currently the National League has no time limit, having abolished its 12:50 a.m. curfews for twi-night doubleheaders and for night single games after the 1962 and 1964 seasons, respectively. The current American League curfew, adopted following the 1967 season, does not allow any inning of a night game to begin after 12:59 a.m.

Because the A.L. includes only two types of games in its definition of “night games” – all games starting after 6 p.m. and both games of twi-night bills – there is technically no A.L. curfew for day games or for twilight single games beginning before or at 6 p.m. In addition the A.L. curfew is waived for the final game of the season between two teams in each of the cities. And in Baltimore on Saturday evening play must halt abruptly at 11:59 p.m., no matter what the situation. The latter-type rule used to produce unique consequences as was the case on July 5, 1958 at Yankee Stadium. With the 11:59 curfew approaching in the top half of the eleventh inning after the Red Sox took a 5-3 lead, the Yankees stalled and escaped with a ten-inning, 3-3 tie because under the rule then in effect the score reverted to the final completed inning. Current rules discourage stalling in such situations by providing for resumption of the game from the point of suspension.

On June 14, 1966 a minor league lateness record was set at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The host St. Pete Cards, managed by current Detroit skipper Sparky Anderson, lost a 4-3 decision to the Miami Marlins in 29 innings as the clock struck 2:29 a.m. An announcement by the umpires and managers at 2 o’clock that the game would not continue beyond 30 innings had been met with jeers and cries of “More! More!” from the 150 nightowls who remained from an original crowd of 740. This minor league record stood until the 1981 marathon at Pawtucket.

The 29 innings in St. Petersburg broke the professional baseball record of 28 innings that has been established during World War II when Taiyo and Nagoya of the Japanese Professional Baseball Federation struggled to a 4-4 tie on

May 24, 1942. Because of early-evening starting times, normally 6 o’clock, no game in Japan has ever gone past 1 a.m. The latest Japanese finish involved a Central League twi-nighter between the Yomiuri Giants and the Kokutetsu Swallows on September 7, 1961 at Korakuen Stadium in

Tokyo. In the top of the eleventh inning of the second game a rhubarb raged for one hour, 52 minutes – the longest known rhubarb in baseball history. The argument focused on whether Giant third baseman Nagashima was guilty of interference on a Swallow baserunner named Tsuchiya in a rundown play between third and home. Tsuchiya was finally ruled safe at the plate with what proved to be the winning run in a 3-2 Swallow victory that ended at .12:11 a.m.

The Forbes Field 2:30 a.m. major league mark was broken on June 12, 1967 as Washington downed the White Sox, 6-5, on Paul Casanova’s bases-loaded single in the twenty-second inning. Only 1,500 of the original 7,236 fans remained in D.C. Stadium until the 2:44 finish. This still stands as the A.L. lateness record. Because it was a weekend game, the D.C. ordinance requiring teams to be off the field by 2:00 a.m. on Saturday evenings – baseball’s latest curfew ever – maintained its distinction of being the only curfew which has never had to be enforced.

As the 1960s came to a close, the 3 a.m. barrier remained secure. But the 1970s proved equal to the late-night challenge, both in “early” starts as well as late endings.

Way back in the, 1930s the record for the earliest starting time had been set in a Negro National League game between the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords at Gus Greenlee Field in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. A Pennsylvania state law prevented Sunday games from continuing past 6:59 p.m. Angered that this “Blue Law” prevented him from booking Sunday evening contests, Craws owner Gus Greenlee scheduled a Monday morning game to begin one minute after the stroke of midnight. Unfortunately, as is the case with other Negro League games, there is no record of the ending time.

Fans attending a twi-night doubleheader in San Diego on September 24, 1971 almost saw the record for earliest start broken. After dropping the lidlifter to Houston in 21 innings, the Padres took the field for the nightcap just a bit late and the teams had to settle for tying the Grays-Craws 12:01 a.m. record. The morning was not without further excitement, however. With the score tied and one man on in the bottom of the ninth inning, San Diego’s Nate Colbert lifted a high fly right to Astro center fielder Cesar Cedeno. Unfortunately he lost the ball in a fog bank. With two runners now aboard, the Padres seemed poised for victory, but play was halted at 2:15 a.m. due to the fog. After a 14-minute wait, during which it became apparent that the swirling, soupy fog enveloping Mission Valley was not about to lift any time soon, play resumed. Ollie Brown promptly brought an end to the long evening’s festivities at 2:29 a.m. with an RBI single to right. Right fielder Jim Wynn not only couldn’t see the ball, but he had trouble even seeing his own infielders.

Texas fans listening to this game on radio couldn’t believe their ears, but they could take solace in the fact that they had just broken the record for latest local-time radio broadcast endings because it was then 4:29 in Houston. The current broadcast record of 4:45 a.m. was set by New York listeners tuned in to the Mets’ 19-inning, 7-3 victory at Dodger Stadium on May 24, 1973. This is the only sunrise service in baseball history because Mets’ listeners near a window watched dawn break in New York 14 minutes before the game ended in Los Angeles.

The 3 a.m. barrier for finish of a game was first broken on September 11, 1974 at Shea. Ken Reitz’ two-run homer for St. Louis with two out in the ninth tied the score at 3-3. The pitchers then took total control for 15 innings.

When Met pitcher Hank Webb’s pickoff throw to first base in the twenty-fifth inning was wild and the relay from the outfield to the plate was dropped by catcher Ron Hodges, Bake McBride scored all the way from first to give the Cards a 4-3 win. Only a hardy thousand of the original crowd of 13,460 still was on hand for the finish of the seven-hour, four-minute marathon at 3:13 a. m. As plate umpire Ed Sudol ruled the sliding McBride safe, he couldn’t help remembering that he had also been behind the plate during two other Met marathon losses -23 innings to the Giants in 1964 and 24 innings to the Astros in 1968. Amazingly, the first base umpire had called a balk on Webb’s wild pickoff. Under a rule that had been revoked several years earlier, McBride would have been required to return to second base and might not have scored – and the game might never have ended.

A year later the Mets again were a party to pushing back the lateness barrier. On September 26, 1975 in the first of what would be three rainy post-3 a.m. baseball evenings in Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium, the Mets and Phils traded 12-inning decisions. In the nightcap, the third rain delay of the evening halted play for 77 minutes in the third inning. In the bottom of the twelfth Tim McCarver was thrown out at the plate, Rusty Staub to Felix Millan to Jerry Grote, giving the Mets a 3-2 win at 3:15 a.m. History records neither McCarver’s fleetness at that late hour nor how many of the 200 remaining fans were awake.

The Vet seems to love early-morning marathons. Of four documented major league games that went past 3 a.m., three were played at the Vet. Comiskey Park, though, holds the overall record for most post-1 a.m. games at six. By contrast five major leagues cities have had none – Arlington, Kansas City, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Toronto. Wrigley Field, having faithfully served the Federal League Whales and N.L. Cubs in the natural light of day for 71 years, holds the major league record for most consecutive seasons without a post-1 a.m. game. With an effective Illinois noise pollution law, this streak will probably continue forever amidst the sunshine and ivy of the Friendly Confines. The minor league record, 75 years, is held by Birmingham’s Rickwood Field.

The Phillies and Expos established the current major league lateness record on August 10, 1977. Again there was rain at the Vet and the start of the twin-bill opener was delayed 63 minutes when the heavens opened during the playing of “0 Canada.” In the third inning, a second rain delay tasted two hours, 27 minutes, during which the tarpaulin was unrolled and rolled up again four times as the rain played its own games. Beginning at 8:42, hundred of kids played “Slide” on the wet tarp. The nightcap finally got underway at 11:50 p.m., with only a third of the original crowd of 46,664 still present, and was halted in the second inning for one hour, 26 minutes by the evening’s third rain delay. The Phils won both games, 6-1, and 5,000 fans stuck it out to the 3:23 a.m. finish. Extended by three rain delays totaling four hours, 56 minutes, this remains the major league lateness record.

It did, however, have to withstand another rainy, early-morning challenge at the Vet. On June 9, 1980 Steve Canton was hurling a no-hitter against San Francisco as the Phils came to bat in the fourth inning. Two separate rain delays totaling exactly five hours occurred in the bottom of the fourth. The second of these two delays lasted three hours, 32 minutes – the longest known single rain delay ever. As Canton threw the first pitch to start the fifth inning, five hours and nine minutes had elapsed since his last pitch in the top of the fourth, giving him the all-time record for time between pitches by a pitcher in one game. With only 200 of the original 28,702 fans still on hand, the Giants emerged victorious, 3-1, at 3:11 a.m., just 12 minutes shy of the record. That same evening at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, the Reds and Padres had battled to a 6-6 draw in a game finally called at 2:30 a.m. in the bottom of the eleventh after the fourth rain delay.

A major league record for elapsed time of game was set at Comiskey Park on May 8-9, 1984 when the White Sox defeated the Brewers, 7-6 in 25 innings and eight hours, six minutes. Suspended at 1:05 a.m. by the A.L. curfew after 17 innings, the game was decided the following evening by Harold Baines’ home run which just cleared the center field bullpen fence. The White Sox scored twice in the ninth and three times in the twenty-first to tie the game and would have won in the twenty-third except that Dave Stegman was ruled out for coach’s interference when third base coach Jim Leyland helped Stegman to his feet after he tripped rounding third.

This game is rich in “might-have-beens.” Had it been a National League contest with no curfew, it would have ended at 3:42 a.m. and broken the Vet’s record by 19 minutes. Had it been played during either the 1910-1948 or 1976-1980 periods when Comiskey Park had no inner fence in centerfield, Baines’ drive would probably have been caught and the two teams might have broken the major league record of 25 innings by the Dodgers and Braves in 1920. Better yet, had the game been the nightcap of that foggy Astros-Padres twi-nighter back in 1971 which began at 12:01 a.m., it would have finished at 8:07 a.m. and the last few innings could have been covered live by Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley on the “Today” show.

Another unusual post-1 a.m. event occurred in 1984 in Fairbanks, Alaska, during the 79th annual Midnight Sun Game. The contest usually begins around 11 p.m. and is held to commemorate the June summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It involves a different opponent selected each year for the host Fairbanks club and features the emotional singing of the Alaska Flag Song during the first change of sides after midnight. Trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning, the host Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a 9-0 forfeit win at 2:08 a.m. when the Chinese Taipei Olympic team of Taiwan refused to send a batter to the plate.

Unless and until someone discovers evidence to the contrary and until they are broken, these records will stand as an enduring testament to the allure of marathon baseball in the wee hours of the morning:

  • Latest Major League Finish – 3:23 a.m. at Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia.
  • Latest Minor League Finish – 4:09 a.m. in Pawtucket, R.I.

Of course, if Tim McCarver had been safe at the plate at the Vet at 3:15 a.m., the Mets and Phils might still be playing! And every seven innings the fans would still be stretching and singing:

Take me out to the ballpark,
Take me out with the crowd,
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack,
I don’t care if I ever get back.

Phil Lowry: Table 1

(Click image to enlarge)