The 26-Inning Duel

This article was written by Norman Macht

This article was published in Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles

This article was originally published in “The Northern Game—And Beyond,” the 2002 SABR convention journal.


On Saturday morning, May 1, 1920, Joe Oeschger looked up from the newspaper and laughed. “Theweather forecast says fair today,” the 6’1”, 195-pound Boston Braves pitcher said to his roommate, outfielder Les Mann. They both glanced out the window. It was raining steadily, a cold, gray, wet, and windy morning, not unusual for the first day of May in Boston.1

They went down to the dining room of the Brunswick Hotel, where they shared a room when the team was home, ordered breakfast, and divided the newspaper. Oeschger read the Globe’s account of the Friday game. Braves pitcher Hugh McQuillan had shut out the Brooklyn Dodgers, 3-1. The game had taken just over an hour and a half. “Who’s pitching for the Dodgers today, if we play?” Mann asked.

“It looks like Leon Cadore. Golly,” Oeschger said, “I’d like to get even with him.” Ten days earlier the two had hooked up in an 11- inning duel, Cadore winning it, 1-0. There was no mention of the Boston starting pitcher.

Manager George Stallings liked to wait until just before game time to name his starter.

Oeschger checked the standings. Brooklyn, managed by Wilbert Robinson, was 8-4, in second place. They were fast, had some good hitters led by Zack Wheat, and a top-flight pitching staff. They had won the pennant in 1916 and some experts predicted they would give the favored Giants a run for it in 1920.

The Braves were 4-5. They had gotten great pitching so far, were strong defensively, but weak at the plate. Nobody was hitting over .250. Since their miracle finish and upset sweep of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1914, they had slid into the second division. “Looks like a day off,” Mann said. “What do you want to do?”

“Guess we’ll go to a show.”

They finished a leisurely breakfast at noon and went out on the porch. The rain had stopped. The cold wind had not. Stallings had a rule: All players had to report to the clubhouse even if it was pouring. So Oeschger and Mann went up to their room for sweaters, then walked up Commonwealth Avenue to Braves Field. Oeschger watched the trainer, Jimmy Neery, put a clean bandage on shortstop Rabbit Maranville’s left hand. Maranville had continued to play with a bruised, lacerated hand. He’d had a few shots of whiskey already; it was never too early in the day for the Rabbit to down a few. Then Oeschger had a rubdown.

At 2:30 there was a brief, heavy shower. Then the clouds scudded quickly out to sea. About 3,500 hardy fans had huddled in pockets scattered about the 38,000-seat stands. Just 15 minutes before the 3:00 game time, they decided to play the game. It was just one Saturday afternoon, early-season game, but it would put two sub-.500 pitchers into the record books forever.

George Stallings was very superstitious and given to playing hunches. Bats had to be placed in exact order and kept that way, especially during a rally The drinking cup had to hang just so on the water cooler. Before the game, a Brooklyn player casually walked past the Braves dugout and scattered some peanuts. A few damp pigeons swooped down.

“Get those birds out of here,” Stallings roared. He hated pigeons, and the other teams knew it. He wore out his bench-warmers’ arms throwing pebbles to chase the birds. On the road—there was no Sunday baseball in Boston—he usually pitched Oeschger, a regular churchgoer, on Sundays.

A southern gentleman who had gone to Johns Hopkins intending to be a doctor, he usually wore street clothes in the dugout. Stallings held a meeting to go over the opponents lineup before every game. Today he gave the ball to Joe Oeschger to pitch.

In the visitors clubhouse Wilbert Robinson was entertaining the writers with stories of the good old Baltimore Orioles days. The popular, easygoing Uncle Robbie wasn’t much for pregame meetings.

Both Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore had been their teams’ most effective hurlers in the early going. Oeschger, a power pitcher, had given up two earned runs in 35 innings. Cadore, a curveball artist, had pitched 35 scoreless innings against the Yankees coming north from spring training. He had shut out Boston in that 11-inning game on April 20, but had lost his last start against the Giants.

The umpires were William McCormick, a second-year man, behind the plate, and Robert F. Hart, a rookie, on the bases. The temperature was 49 when Oeschger threw the first pitch.

They ran off four fast, scoreless innings. In the top of the fifth, Oeschger dug a hole for himself. He walked catcher Ernie Krueger. Cadore then hit a sharp bounder to the mound, a perfect double- play ball. In his rush to get two, Oeschger juggled the ball and had to settle for the out at first. With a two-strike count, Ivy Olson hit a broken-bat blooper over Maranville’s head that scored Krueger.

When the inning ended, Oeschger stalked off the mound muttering to himself for his clumsiness. As if to make up for his misplay, he led off the bottom of the fifth with a long double, but was left stranded at second.

Outfielder Wally Cruise, first up in the bottom of the sixth, lined a triple off the scoreboard in left. Walt Holke then blooped a Texas Leaguer back of shortstop. Zack Wheat raced in and speared it off his shoe tops just beyond the infield dirt. Cruise, thinking it might drop in, was halfway to home plate. The third baseman had gone out after the ball, so there was nobody on third to take a throw from Wheat, and Cruise made it back safely. Tony Boeckel followed with a single to center, scoring Cruise with the tying run.

Maranville laced a double to right center. Wally Hood chased it down and threw home as Boeckel rounded third. Cadore cut off the throw and relayed it to the plate in time to nip Boeckel. The Brooklyn catcher, Krueger, was spiked on the play. Rowdy Elhott replaced him.

Joe Oeschger went out for the seventh inning even more angry with himself. But for his poor fielding in the fifth, he would have a 1-0 lead now, and the way he was going he was confident that would have been enough. He bore down and retired the side on three pitches.

Cadore had been hit hard, but was saved by several fielding gems. In the eighth, Mann led off with a single. Cruise sacrificed him to second. Holke lined one back through the box; instinctively down and threw him out. Twice more he stopped line drives that would have scored a run. Wheat and Nets were pulling off impossible catches.

The Braves, too, were on their toes. Catcher Mickey O’Neil picked off two runners at first base. Boston looked like they would win it in the ninth. Maranville led off with a base hit to left. Lloyd Christenbury pinch-hit for O’Neil and bunted down the first base line. Cadore fielded it, but the throw hit the runner in the back as he stepped on first. Oeschger sacrificed them to second and third. Ray Powell walked. With the bases full and one out, the Brooklyn infield played in. Charlie Pick hit a sharp hopper toward right. Second baseman Ivy Olson stabbed it, swiped at Powell coming down from first, and threw to first for the double play Powell had gone out of the baseline to avoid the tag and was called out.

So they went to the 10th, the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, the 14th. Three up, three down for the Dodgers, little more for the Braves. Hank Gowdy, one of the heroes of the 1914 world champions, replaced O’Neil behind the plate in the 15th. He had trouble holding on to Oeschger’s pitches, boxing the ball, dropping it more often than catching it. Gowdy went to the mound. “What the hell are you throwing?” he asked.

“Just a fastball.”

“God almighty, it’s breaking one way one time and somewhere else the next time.”

“Well,” Oeschger replied, “I don’t know which way it’s going to move, either.”

It began to drizzle in the 11th. Wind blew in from center field. It was getting colder. Necks, backs, and arms were chilled by the cold and dampness. Muscles tightened. Between innings, players on both benches put on heavy sweaters.

The Braves threatened in the 15th. Cruise walked. Holke hit a little dribbler toward third. Johnston’s throw to second was too late. Two on, nobody out. Boeckel put down a bunt, but the ball stopped dead on the soggy third base line. Elliott picked it up and forced Cruise at third. Maranville hit a comebacker to Cadore, and Holke was forced at third. Gowdy flied out.

Oeschger led off the 16th determined to win his own game. He hit a shot that looked like it might clear the left-field scoreboard. Wheat, using the fence for a springboard, leaped up and caught it. Oeschger kicked at the dirt near second base as he headed back to die dugout.

As they took the field for the 17th, Rabbit Maranville, never silent at shortstop, chirped, “Just one more inning, Joe. We’ll get a run for you. Hold on.”

Oeschger was beginning to tire. Still, he thought, if Stallings asks if I want to come out, my answer will be an emphatic no. Stallings never asked. “Hold them one more inning, Joe,” was all he said. “We’ll get them.”

The Dodgers came close to winning it in the 17th. Zack Wheat opened with a single to right. Hood sacrifced him to second. First baseman Ed Konetchy grounded sharply to Maranville, who couldn’t handle it. Base hit. First and third, one out. Chuck Ward bounced one to Maranville, who threw to third hoping to catch Wheat off the base. But Zack was wary and scrambled back ahead of me throw. Bases loaded, one out.

Rowdy Elliott was up. The catcher hit back to the mound. This time Oeschger fielded it cleanly and threw home to force Wheat. Gowdy’s throw to first was over Elliott’s head and to the right of the base. Hoike dove to his left and knocked the ball down as Elliott crossed the bag. Konetchy rounded third and bolted for home. The left-handed first baseman Hoike threw home while going down to the ground. The throw was on the first base side of the plate. Gowdy reached out and caught it and lunged through the air across home plate, the ball in his bare hand, into the spikes of Konetchy sliding in. Koney bumped the ball with his shin, but Gowdy held on and the threat was over. It was the last one for the Robins.

Ordinarily fans like to see plenty of hitting and scoring. This day they were getting more than their money’s worth of pitching and fielding thrills. Despite the damp chill, nobody left the park. After the 18th inning they cheered each pitcher as he left the mound or came up to bat.

In the Brooklyn dugout, veteran pitcher Rube Marquard, who had pitched plenty of long games himself, said to Cadore’s roommate, utility infielder Ray Schmandt, “I hope Leon won’t be affected by this strain. I hate to see him stay in this long.”

“Caddy is pure grit,” Schmandt said. “He’ll win out.”

Uncle Robbie didn’t have the heart to take him out. And Cadore wouldn’t have come out if he had been asked. Cadore had been hit hard and often, and had at least one runner on base in each of the first nine innings. But now he was aided by the enclosing twilight and the soiled, discolored ball that remained in play.

Oeschger had allowed nine hits, all singles. He was tired, but he had been more fatigued in some nine-inning games when he had to pitch out of a lot of pinches. This was an easy outing. He seemed to grow stronger as the game went on. He figured he had the advantage in the deepening dusk and did not want the game to be called. He was a fastball pitcher, Cadore a curver. The hitters would have more trouble seeing his stuff. He saved his strength by bearing down only when he had to, which wasn’t often. The Dodgers went out in order more often than not. After the 17th