Marathon Men: Rube and Cy Go the Distance

This article was written by Dan O’Brien

This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 26, 2006)

Cy Young didn’t have a problem when asked to choose his biggest thrill in baseball. Old Cy quickly picked his 1904 perfect game against Rube Waddell and the Philadelphia Athletics. Young’s perfecto was the first in modern major league base­ball history.

Also rating high on Young’s list of personal favorites was another masterpiece against Waddell and the A’s, a game which marks its 101st anniversary this Independence Day. The game was not, however, another of Cy’s 511 career victories. It was a loss to Waddell in one of the most storied games of early American League history.

On July 4, 1905, Young and Waddell got the starting nods for the second game of a doubleheader at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds. The game lasted 20 innings, and so did both pitchers.

With the possible exception of a pennant — or World Series — clinching victory, a Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have created a more dramatic scenario: a pair of future Hall of Fame hurlers for two of the young league’s best teams (the A’s and Americans won four of the first five AL pennants) squaring off on our nation’s birthday.

Granted, complete games were hardly unusual then. From 1900 to 1909 major league pitchers completed nearly 80% of their starts. Young and Waddell were in the upper echelon; Young competed 96 percent of his starts from 1902 through 1905, and Waddell went the distance nearly 87% of the time.

Twenty innings, though, was almost unknown territory for both (Waddell pitched 22 innings in one day in the minors). Waddell, who relieved in the last inning of the morning game, shut out Boston batters over the last 19 innings of the afternoon contest. The eccentric southpaw also drove in the winning run in the Athletics’ 4-2 victory.

Young didn’t allow a walk and tossed 13 consecutive scoreless frames from the seventh through the 19th inning. “For my part, I think it was the greatest game of ball I ever took part in,” Young later wrote.

Despite the long scoring drought, the game was packed with drama. “[T]he two teams kept at it with the excitement at fever beat until three hours and a half had been consumed, suppers forgotten, engagements neglected, trains and boats missed,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer, “for very few would allow anything to interfere with their presence at the finish of such a game.”

This Boston marathon represented the longest completed game in major league history to that point. That in itself was enough to create a stir, but the presence and performances of Waddell and Young added to the mystique — as did the date.

“The fact that it was the 4th of July kept me going,” Waddell noted. “I guess the shooting of revolvers and the fireworks and the yelling made me pitch better.”

Waddell guessed he “must’ve pitched about 250 balls” during the game. Young rather generously estimated his own workload at four pitched balls per batter (the A’s recorded 74 official at-bats). Neither seemed the worse for wear.

Waddell, according to legend, used the game’s notoriety to quench his notorious thirst. “Often he’d go into saloons, triumphantly flourishing a baseball as the one which he had used in defeating Cy Young.” Athletics’ manager Connie Mack remembered. “It was a different ball every occasion, but it always was good for few drinks.”

The game didn’t begin in classic fashion. Waddell gave up two runs in the bottom of the first. Young blanked Philadelphia over the first five innings but the A’s pulled even in the sixth on a two-run homer by first baseman Harry Davis.

Boston threatened when shortstop Freddie Parent opened the bottom of the eighth inning with a triple. But Rube struck out the following two batters and retired the next hitter on a routine fly ball. Boston runners reached second and third in the 10th inning but Waddell again pitched himself out of the jam. “[W]henever danger threatened he put on the speed and the Boston batsmen might just as well been trying to hit his curves with toothpicks,” wrote the Philadelphia North American reporter. Only three Bostonians reached base in the last six innings.

The game wasn’t without controversy, albeit a mild one. In the bottom of the 12th, Boston manager­ third baseman Jimmy Collins reached second base. Catcher Lou Criger followed with a sinking fly ball to right field. A charging Socks Seybold made a shoe-top catch and then doubled Collins off second.

The Boston fans weren’t convinced Seybold made the catch. Young wasn’t so sure, either. “I couldn’t tell whether he caught the ball or not,” Young wrote. “But he said the next day that he did and he is one of those kind you believe when he makes a statement.”

The defensive support behind Young, characterized as “superb” for most of the game, finally broke down in the 20th inning.

After Collins booted Danny Murphy’s ground ball, Young followed with one of his few errant pitches of the day, hitting A’s shortstop John Knight in the head. Athletics catcher Ossee Schreckengost lofted a floater between Young and second baseman Robe Ferris which neither could field. The A’s had the bases loaded with no outs.

With a chance to win his own game, Waddell sent a slow roller to shortstop. When Parent fumbled the ball, Murphy scored the go-ahead run. A single by Hoffman drove home Schreckengost to give Waddell a two-run cushion.

Boston didn’t go down without a fight. With one out, first baseman Bob Unglaub doubled off Waddell, who remained unfazed.

“I felt that two-bagger was a flash in the pan,” recounted Waddell. “I knew, too, the Bostons would be easier, as they would be too anxious, so I didn’t get nervous.” Waddell retired the next two batters on easy pop-ups to finally put an end to it. The flaky Rube, none the worse for wear, celebrated with a few cartwheels across the diamond.

“It didn’t take a feather out of me,” claimed Waddell. “I felt just as good after the game was over as I did during the game.”

Schreckengost, Waddell’s catcher, was probably less energetic at the conclusion. He not only caught every inning of the afternoon tilt, but the entire morning game as well. His major league record for innings caught in a single day remains unequaled.

Waddell’s 1905 season was his best full season in the big leagues. Waddell topped the American League in wins (27), strikeouts (287), and ERA (1. 48), even though he pitched just one inning in the final month due to an injury.

The marathon was indicative of Young’s hard-luck season. He finished among the league leaders in ERA (1.82), complete games (31), and strikeouts (210), but struggled to an 18-19 record, his first losing season in the majors.

Boston, the defending AL champions, finished in fourth place, 16 games behind the A’s. Waddell’s injury also kept him out of the World Series, which the Giants won in five games behind three shutouts by Christy Mathewson.

The Waddell-Young single-game record for combined innings pitched lasted only a year. On September 1, 1906, Philadelphia’s Jack Coombs and Boston’s Joe Harris each pitched every out of the A’s 24-inning, 4-1 victory at — where else? — Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds.

Waddell and Young seemed to bring out the best in each other. They started against each other 14 times. Six of those games ended in shutouts. In their first matchup  in  1900-their only  NL  confrontation — Young’s St. Louis squad blanked Waddell and Pittsburgh, 1-0. Their final dual in 1907 — another Huntington Avenue Grounds classic — ended in a scoreless tie after 13 innings.

“I’d like to say that beating Rube anytime was a big job,” Young recalled years later. “I never saw many who were better pitchers.”

Even Waddell reflected on the 1905 epic with uncharacteristic modesty: “I can’t claim that I did better work than Young. Cy Young is the best pitcher in the business, even now, and to have won over him is credit enough.”

DAN O’BRIEN lives in Indiana and is a former Emmy award­ winning television sportscaster and producer. He is the co­ author of two books: Mark May’s Tales from the Washington Redskins (with Dan O’Brien) and MizzouRah! Memorable Moments in Missouri Tiger Football History. O’Brien is a founding board member of the Pittsburgh Pandas of the Tri­ State Summer Collegiate Baseball League.