From “aw, rats” to redemption: Miss Bloomington sings the National Anthem at two ballparks in 1976

This isn’t the first blog post I’ve written based on something I found out about listening to an old radio broadcast. This time I was listening to the WJR Radio broadcast of the Tigers-Angels game of August 17, 1976. As the Tigers came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning, Ernie Harwell passed along this news:

We’ve got a bulletin here on our Western Union ticker, we want to give it to you just as it came in to us. It says, “Tonight is Bloomington Night at the Met.” That’s in Bloomington, Minnesota. [The Minnesota Twins played their home games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, commonly referred to as Met Stadium or the Met.] “In honor of the occasion, Miss Bloomington led the multitudes in the National Anthem. Three-quarters of the way through she lost her place, said, ‘Oh, rats,’ and walked off the field.”

Harwell’s broadcast partner Paul Carey responded with a hearty laugh. Seconds later, Tiger catcher Bruce Kimm hit the only home run he would ever hit in the major leagues to break a 2-2 tie, and Detroit’s rookie pitching sensation Mark Fidrych would go on to defeat the Angels 3-2.

Met StadiumAs soon as I heard Ernie share this story I knew I had to find out more about what happened that night, and what happened to that singer. Especially since this happened in Minnesota; two weeks after this game was played I arrived in Minnesota to start college and I would stay there (Minnesota, not college) for most of the next 30 years; I skipped a few classes to take in a Twins game at the Met.

Little did I know when I started chasing details of this story that there would be a second part to it. Nor did I know I would have a delightful conversation with a woman who can still laugh about this almost 40 years later.

* * * * *

From the Aberdeen (S.D.) American-News of Aug. 18, 1976

From the Aberdeen (S.D.) American-News of Aug. 18, 1976

Her name was misspelled in the first news stories as Stephany Nielsen; she was actually Stephanie Nilson, a 19-year-old graduate of Bloomington Jefferson High School who was about to enter her sophomore year at the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University), an all-women’s college in St. Paul (a fine school from which my wife graduated). Being Miss Bloomington may not have been enough to earn her the honor of singing the anthem on Bloomington Night, but she was an accomplished singer, majoring in voice at St. Kate’s with plans to become a professional opera singer.

StephanieStephanie sang the anthem without accompaniment and was disconcerted by the delayed echo of her voice coming over the loudspeakers. After she sang “Gave proof through the night,” she got confused about where she was in the song and stopped, then after a few seconds threw up her hands and said, “Aw, rats” (or as the Minneapolis Tribune perhaps more accurately recorded it, “Aaaaw rats!”).

“She smiled graciously, bowed, and a sympathetic audience applauded,” according to an Associated Press report. (The official attendance that night was 7,850. By the way, other AP stories said she got through the line “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave” before giving up, but that is incorrect.)

But Stephanie didn’t run and hide in shame…she went back to her seat near the Twins dugout, where she watched the Twins lose to the Orioles, 10-3. (Patrick Reusse, now a Minneapolis StarTribune sports columnist but then the Twins beat writer for the St. Paul Dispatch, led his game story with Stephanie’s anthem breakdown, then added, “After that, things deteriorated as far as the Twins were concerned.”)

From an Associated Press story:

Miss Nielsen told a reporter the two-second delay caused by the echo “threw me off. But I wasn’t nervous. I was enjoying it, but that echo made it difficult.

“I could feel everybody in the audience laughing. But I didn’t feel they were laughing at me. They were laughing with me.”

Stephanie’s boyfriend, Jim Moen, told the reporter, “She blew it at her opening night at the Met” (playing on the fact that the stadium shared a nickname with New York’s famed Metropolitan Opera, for whom Stephanie no doubt would have loved to sing).

“At first I suppose I was embarrassed,” she told another reporter the next day. “But it’s only human and it happens to everybody. I guess I’m just a clown at heart. I’m glad the audience reacted the way they did. That really helped.”

The wire-service account of Stephanie’s misadventure made it into many of the nation’s newspapers in the days to come and gave headline writers something to play with:

From the St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 18, 1976

From the St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 18, 1976

From the Miami News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Miami News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Peoria (Ill.) State Journal-Register, Aug. 20, 1976

From the Peoria (Ill.) State Journal-Register, Aug. 20, 1976

Futire media mogul Ted Turner participated in many of his promotions in his first year as owner of the Atlanta Braves in 1976.

Future international media mogul Ted Turner participated in many of his promotions in his first year as owner of the Atlanta Braves in 1976.

One of the people who read Stephanie’s story was Ted Turner, then in his first season as owner of the Atlanta Braves. Among the reasons Turner was able to buy the team in the first place was that attendance had been pathetically low, and Turner vowed to increase the number of paying customers by staging as many crazy promotions as possible: motorized-bathtub races, mattress-stacking contests, a tightrope walk across the top of the stadium by daredevil Karl Wallenda, ostrich racing, “Headlock and Wedlock Day” (weddings at home plate before the game, professional wrestling on the field afterwards).

When Turner heard about Stephanie Nilson, he decided to make her part of the show at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and invited her to take another shot at singing the anthem the next week, on August 23. “I’m glad to do it again, but I hope I don’t blow it,” Stephanie told a reporter after accepting Turner’s offer.

Stephanie succeedsThis time Stephanie took the field holding a card with the lyrics written on it. (“Someone suggested it,” she told a reporter. “It’s easy to get lost under pressure like that.”) But she didn’t need to look at it as she got through the anthem without incident. “She received generous applause for her flawless performance and waved to the crowd,” the Associated Press reported. As was the case with her bungled performance, the encore received significant national media attention.

Ted Turner doubled up on promotions that night…in addition to featuring the singing beauty queen, he staged a pregame “Baseball Olympics” in which one of the events saw Turner and Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw compete to see who could push a baseball from third base to home plate the fastest using their nose. Yeah, that got some attention…

Tug McGrawTed Turner pushingAnd with that Stephanie Nilson’s 15 minutes of fame came to an end (although she was mentioned in a January 1977 Sports Illustrated story about difficulties singing the national anthem before sporting events). So what happened to her after that?

* * * * *

Stephanie todayThe alumni office at St. Catherine University was kind enough to get me in touch with Stephanie, who is now Stephanie Askew and, along with her husband, owns an art gallery in Redstone, Colorado. (Jim Moen, the boyfriend who made the crack about Stephanie blowing her opening night at the Met? Stephanie married him after she graduated from St. Kate’s in 1979, but they divorced.) Stephanie’s watercolor paintings are on display at the gallery.

She has also had a long career as a professional singer, which continues today. Walking off the Met Stadium field without finishing the national anthem didn’t leave any emotional scars. Here’s part of the phone conversation we had.

Me: Had you ever sung the national anthem at an event before that Twins game?

Stephanie: Yes, but never where I had the echo from across the field. I wasn’t ready for that. Nobody told me about the echo.

Me: When did you realize things were going wrong?

Stephanie: Right away. (laughs) I thought, oh my gosh, this is tricky, I’m going to have to really concentrate. I reached that point where I couldn’t think of where I was as it was coming out of my mouth, and I just totally lost it. What I did, throwing my hands up in the air and saying “oh, rats” was, thankfully, instinctively correct. I could have said other things, but I wasn’t a cusser, so I’m thankful that didn’t come out.

Me: That’s one of the things I love about this story. “Oh, rats” is such a Minnesota response.

Stephanie: (laughs) Yeah. Exactly.

I remember Tony Oliva was the first one to reach me. Two guys came bolting from the dugout, and one of them was Tony, and he grabbed me and swung me around – I’m wearing a dress – and he’s hugging me, thinking I am the funniest thing. Maybe he ran out to give me some moral support, too. They carried me back and it was hilarious.

Me: That’s another thing I love…you didn’t go hide, you stayed and watched the game and talked to a reporter.

“Aw, rats.” (opens envelope) “What are the last words of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’?” (Okay, I don’t know if that’s how Johnny talked about Stephanie Nilson, but he could have…)

Stephanie: I was so embarrassed, but we were laughing about the whole thing. My boyfriend was the one who said I blew my debut at the Met, that was his little tidbit immediately, and I thought, that’s pretty funny. “Opera singer blows her debut at the Met.” How clever is that? I have a funny sense of humor, so we just laughed about the whole thing. I was just amazed by all the press and the stories. Johnny Carson talked about me on his show.

Me: I also love that you didn’t let this experience scar you.

Stephanie: (laughs) Because I have a sick sense of humor. I can laugh at myself, that’s the best part. Things happen. Fortunately everybody else laughed with me. When I stood there and threw my hands up in the air and said “oh, rats,” the sound of the roar of laughter, I’ll never forget that.

Me: How did you find out about Atlanta?

Forgetful singerStephanie: My chaperone [with the Miss Bloomington pageant] called and said, guess what, you’ve just been invited to go to Atlanta, three days, all expenses paid, and meet Ted Turner, he wants to give you another chance. And I’m like, are you kidding me? He said, “And we ARE going.” We are? We’re going? I’m so embarrassed, you’re going to make me go? And he said, “You’re going.”

A photo from Stephanie's personal collection, in Atlanta with her Miss Bloomington chaperones, Todd and Barb Peterson

A photo from Stephanie’s personal collection, in Atlanta with her Miss Bloomington chaperones, Todd and Barb Peterson

Stephanie singing in Atlanta, from her personal collection

Stephanie singing in Atlanta, from her personal collection

We had the best time, I enjoyed it. I have pictures of Ted Turner, standing right next to me in a group. There’s a funny one, I always think I’m going to have it blown up, I could blackmail him. He was saying something to me so his head was turned to me, he was taller so he was looking down, and it looks like he’s looking right down my dress.

Me: I wouldn’t put it past him.

Stephanie: It was a classic. Now I look back and go, wow, I was with Ted Turner.

A photo of the scoreboard in Atlanta from Stephanie's personal collection

A photo of the scoreboard in Atlanta from Stephanie’s personal collection

From the Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News, Aug. 25, 1976

From the Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News, Aug. 25, 1976

Fortunately they didn’t have an echo problem [at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium]. The speakers were wonderful. They had a huge scoreboard, and when I was singing, there was my name in lights, “Stephanie Nilson sings again,” and I thought, this is hilarious. What a silly thing! If I’d sung it correctly [in Minnesota] nobody would have cared, but because I made a mistake… Everybody loves the underdog.

The Twins gave me another chance shortly after I returned from Atlanta. That time it was perfect.

Me: The echo didn’t bother you?

Stephanie: I kind of just put it out of my head. I had my cue card; I didn’t have to use it, but I was ready. [Stephanie doesn’t remember the date of this game; I’d love to find out.]

A plaque at the Mall of America marks where home plate stood at Metropolitan Stadium

A plaque at the Mall of America marks where home plate stood at Metropolitan Stadium

In later years, when I would go to visit my family in Minnesota, I would take my children to the Mall of America [built on the site of Met Stadium], where they have home plate from the Met, and we go and stand on home plate and take pictures because they know that’s my claim to fame. We stand there and we all laugh. They laugh at Mommy. The house that my parents first rented when we moved to Bloomington when I was three years old had to be torn down to build the Mall of America.

Me: How did you get started singing?

Stephanie: For some reason in elementary school they always pulled me out to do any of the little singing parts because they said I had a really pretty voice. In middle school my music teacher knew I had more of an operatic voice so he selected the operetta “Naughty Marietta” for us to do. I was the lead role, and I got really hooked, I just loved classical music and the opera.

In college my voice teacher was Marguerite Gignac Hedges; she got me scholarships and took me under her wing. I had a lesson with her every day of the week, and she didn’t do that for all her students. Every day I went in for 30 minutes and we did exercises. She was so wonderful to me. She wanted me to go to Europe to study, so we found a program and I spent a whole year in Europe, 12 months in Vienna and Germany, in ’77 and ’78. That was the highlight of my life, and I really learned so much.

When I graduated I moved to Texas and I taught voice lessons and I joined some operatic groups there. I sang opera in Dallas for years. I also did commercial jingles and I was always doing some type of music in my church. And then I got to sing with big bands. There is a group called New Horizons for people 50 years of age and older. In Dallas they had a big concert band and also had a 20-piece jazz band. When I was 50 I found out about this group; I auditioned and they grabbed me, and I sang with them for eight years. We would tour throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, retirement communities, senior centers, nursing homes, veterans’ hospitals, private parties. I sang all of the great tunes from the ‘30s and ‘40s; my God, I was in heaven! [Here’s Stephanie singing with the band. Oh heck, here’s another.]


A photo from Atlanta from Stephanie’s personal collection. I’m guessing that guy had just landed and said, “Take me to your leader,” and Stephanie was the closest person around wearing a crown.

I didn’t think I would have a place to sing here when I moved here three years ago [Redstone‘s population is only about 100], and now I have so much singing stuff going on I can hardly make time for my job. I get to sing opera here! There is a group in Glenwood Springs that has a big band and a orchestra, so now I’m performing opera with the orchestra and I do my big band music with this amazing band. My husband gets to play drums with the band, too, so that’s kind of fun. We have a girl group, three of us we call the Redstone Rubies, and we do three-part harmonies and dress up in full costumes and wigs and do the Supremes and country-western and the ‘60s, it’s just hysterical. We do two concerts a month in front of our gallery.

I’ve been so fortunate my whole life. I turn 59 in September and I’m still singing opera. What is so exciting is my voice teacher from St. Kate’s, she’s 86 years old and she summers in Aspen which is 50 minutes away, so I still get to see her. Last summer I was doing a classical recital and she coached me for three weeks, we prepared my concert. Here she is at 86 and she’s helping me still. Isn’t that cool?

That funny baseball thing that happened was just such a fluke, it’s such a funny story. I actually am singing the national anthem with my Redstone Rubies here on the Fourth of July and I shared that story with them a few weeks ago, and they just rolled with laughter. If you can make people laugh, that’s a good thing. I’ve had an extremely joyful life with music.

Thanks to my friend Brendan Henehan of Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac” for finding and sharing with me several Minneapolis and St. Paul newspaper items about Stephanie.

Did Max Patkin perform for a crowd of four people…and other things that happened in baseball the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon

The Clown PrinceApparently Max Patkin, the minor league pitcher turned baseball clown, told this story many times over the years. When Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call reporter John Kunda asked Patkin in 1990 what was the smallest crowd he ever performed for, Patkin replied:

“I’m in Great Falls, Mont., and only four people show up for the game. Two of them were the parents of the pitcher. That was the night they put a man on the moon. Are they gonna watch that or watch me?”

In Max’s 1994 autobiography, “The Clown Prince of Baseball,” he wrote the show he put on in Great Falls had to be the toughest he ever did.

Drew four people — it was 1969, the Sunday afternoon the astronauts landed on the moon. The general manager asked me if I would cancel, and I didn’t want to blow the pay day, so I said I’d go on. He said he’d scatter some television sets around the ballpark, but only four people showed up, and two of them were the parents of the starting pitcher.

I did my whole act and afterwards the general manager said, “Max, I can’t believe you worked that hard with nobody in the ballpark.”

And I told him, “All those kids [players] were rookies, they’d never seen me before. They were enjoying it.”

When Patkin died in 1999, the incident even made it into his New York Times obituary. Richard Goldstein wrote:

He appeared before big crowds in the majors, but there was also the time when he performed before a crowd of four, two of the spectators being the parents of one of the starting pitchers. That was in Great Falls, Mont., the night of July 20, 1969, when the rest of America was watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.

Did it really happen? Or was Max exaggerating a bit…or a lot…to make it a better story? I can’t answer the question definitively. My hunch is he probably exaggerated, but maybe not by a lot.

Apollo 11 did indeed land on the moon on Sunday, July 20, 1969, at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface at 10:56 p.m. EDT. Patkin GFAnd Max Patkin did perform in Great Falls on July 20. While the Great Falls Tribune does not have any coverage of his appearance after the fact, the newspaper’s July 20 edition indicates Patkin will perform that day, as seen at right. (My great thanks to Eva McDunn of the Great Falls Public Library for sharing copies of the library’s microfilm of the Tribune stories included here.)

The Great Falls Giants were members of the rookie level Pioneer League. Note this story says Patkin was scheduled to perform “before the afternoon game of the split doubleheader.” That game was scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. local time (Mountain Daylight), about 45 minutes before Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon. If this is indeed what happened, it means Patkin did not perform on “the night of July 20″ while “the rest of America was watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon,” as the Times obituary says. Patkin would have performed before the astronauts even landed, although it would be understandable if the baseball fans of Great Falls had chosen to stay home to watch the live coverage of the landing carried by all the television networks.

So how many people did show up to watch Patkin’s antics? It doesn’t appear anyone from the Great Falls Tribune was among them; the account of the games in the next day’s paper, which I will share in a moment, has just the barest of details and is unbylined, which I take to mean it was provided by the team, probably in a phone conversation with someone at the Tribune. There is no description of Patkin performing before mostly empty seats.

Maybe you’re thinking, well, how about the official attendance? Here’s the problem: the games were a split doubleheader, starting at 1:30 and 7:30. Nowadays in the majors, a split doubleheader means separate admissions, so there would be an attendance figure for each game. But it’s not clear that was the case in Great Falls that day. An attendance is listed only after the second game in the box scores of the next day’s Tribune, and the attendance is listed as 230…which is certainly more than four. But I have to assume that’s the total number of people who attended either game. How many of them were there before the first game started to watch Max Patkin? We’ll never know for sure if there were only four people on hand, but it certainly wasn’t much of a crowd, and however many there were it may well have been the smallest group Max ever performed for. Combine that with the moon landing and it’s an irresistible story.

Here’s the game story and boxes from the July 21 Tribune: Great Falls boxesNote the visiting team in the first game is misidentified in the box as Caldwell, another team in the Pioneer League. But the opponent in both games was Twin Falls, Idaho. That team is identified as Magic Valley in the 1970 Sporting News Baseball Guide and other reference works, but the newspapers from league cities I’ve looked at consistently used Twin Falls.

By the way, Great Falls’ announced attendance was not the smallest in the Pioneer League on July 20. The box score in the Idaho Falls Post-Register for the local team’s doubleheader against Salt Lake City lists the attendance as “150 (estimated).” That twin bill was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. and would have been in progress when Neil Armstrong took his small step at 8:56 local time. The other games in the league that day were a doubleheader at Billings that started at 2 p.m.; the attendance listed in the next day’s Billings Gazette was 390.

Max Patkin was capable of beating these numbers, even in the Pioneer League. Bob Addie’s column in The Sporting News of September 20, 1969 quoted Patkin as saying he performed before a league-record crowd of 7,200 in Salt Lake City that year and 2,400 in Ogden, Utah, No doubt Great Falls management, which scheduled Patkin’s appearance before the moon landing conflict was known, expected more bang for Max’s bucks.

Most newspapers weren't quite this honest in their coverage of the Apollo 11 landing.

Most newspapers weren’t quite this honest in their coverage of the Apollo 11 landing.

But going back to the rhetorical question Patkin asked in 1990: “Are they gonna watch that [men on the moon] or watch me?” Well, an awful lot of people were watching something other than the astronauts that day. And this stuns me. I was 11 years old in 1969; the quest to put men on the moon had been going on literally as long as I could remember, and here it was, about to come to fruition, live on television. It was one of the most significant accomplishments in human history, and there was high drama, as nobody could say for sure it was going to work (even if later we came to take it all for granted).

I was certainly glued to the TV that day and that night. Why in the world wasn’t everybody else?

There was a full schedule of major league games that day, the last day before the All-Star break. Games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were rained out. Eight of the ten teams that hosted games the day of the moon landing exceeded their average attendance for the season, all but Atlanta and Seattle, most of them by a considerable amount. Of course, a typical Sunday would see higher-than-season-average attendance, but a typical Sunday doesn’t also feature MEN LANDING ON THE MOON FOR THE FIRST TIME. ON LIVE TV.

Game Game time (EDT) Attendance Season average
Detroit at Cleveland (DH) 1:00 13,512 8,611
Cubs at Philadelphia (DH) 1:05 12,393 7,316
Mets at Montreal (DH) 1:35 27,356 16,842
San Diego at Atlanta 1:35 12,282 19,707
Washington at Yankees 2:00 32,933 15,940
Baltimore at Boston 2:00 31,174 25,113
Kansas City at White Sox (DH) 2:15 12,691 6,553
Los Angeles at San Francisco 4:00 32,560 11,805
Oakland at Anaheim (DH) 4:00 17,835 9,849
Minnesota at Seattle 5:00 8,287 9,161

The average attendance I’ve listed for the White Sox is the average for their games in Chicago; they played 11 home games in Milwaukee that year.

I’ve read at least one first-person newspaper account of every game played that day. Here’s what happened. (I should point out Larry Granillo covered some of this material in a post he did on the 40th anniversary of the landing that was reposted on after Armstrong’s death in 2012.)

A more typical morning-after front page

A more typical morning-after front page

Cleveland: While the Indians exceeded their average attendance, the figure was a disappointment, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Russell Schneider wrote the next day:

When the schedule was drawn up last winter, it seemed like yesterday would be the prime date of the summer for the Indians — a double header against the World Champion Tigers. But that was before (1) the Tribe’s collapse, (2) the Baltimore Orioles’ surge, (3) the moon landing and (4) heavy rains yesterday morning.

Consequently, with many fans staying away to watch the astronauts on TV and because of the rain, instead of an anticipated 40,000 crowd, only 13,512 fans showed up…

Alas Russ didn’t tell us how the news of the moon landing was broken to those who did show up, although he did manage to work the landing into his game story: “It was almost as difficult for the Indians to reach the plate as it was for Apollo 11 to reach the moon yesterday.” (Hey, the Indians scored seven runs in the two games…that doesn’t exactly sound like a 250,000-mile trip around the bases to me.)

I don’t have access to the Detroit newspapers, maybe one of their writers had details on how the landing was acknowledged during the game. If you can help, please let me know in the comments section below.

Philadelphia: Bus Saidt tells the story in the next day’s Trenton (N.J.) Evening Times:

At 4:20 yesterday afternoon [this would be right after the Cubs batted in the top of the third of the second game of the doubleheader, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune], Phillies’ PA announcer Eddie Ferenz asked for the Connie Mack Stadium crowd’s attention, then informed one and all that the United States of America had landed a man on the moon.

Immediately, members of both the Chicago Cubs and Phillies lined up along the baselines, there was a moment of silent prayer for the continue safety of our gallant astronauts and for the further success of their mission.

Then the crowd let out a yell and joined in the singing of “God Bless America” with Kate Smith.

Of course the record didn’t play properly, the record playing-system sounded like you would expect of one which first was used right after Tom Edison invented the phonograph, but there was no disguising the genuine emotion generated by the historic moment.

It was the best play the Phillies made all day. [The Phils were swept in the doubleheader, scoring just one run in the process.]

Almost five months later, the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League used Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” in place of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a game, beginning a longtime tradition.

An Associated Press photo taken during the celebration appeared in a number of newspapers the next day; this was in the Omaha World-Herald (note the cutline incorrectly places the ceremony between games of the doubleheader):

Phillies Cubs

Montreal GazetteMontreal: The Mets and Expos took an extra-long break between games of their doubleheader, pausing from 3:55 until 4:30 p.m. Eastern time so fans could listen to broadcast coverage of the landing over the public address system.

Atlanta: Phil Collier, in his game story in the San Diego Union, didn’t tell us exactly when in the game it happened, but he wrote:

The 12,282 who turned out yesterday in the heat and high humidity gave a rousing cheer late in the game when play was suspended and a silent prayer offered for the American astronauts who had just landed on the moon.

I don’t have access to the Atlanta paper, but if anyone does and can find more information, please let me know in the comments.

New York: Arming thousands of prepubescent boys with clubs may not sound like a great idea in the 21st Century, but in the 1960s it was good clean fun. And it had a name: Bat Day, which was annually one of the most popular promotions at Yankee Stadium (Hard Liquor and Handgun Night had not yet been invented). As a result the Yankees had a sizable crowd on hand for their game against the Washington Senators, including 17,000 youngsters with bats. (By the way, there was an actual academic research paper that found the Yankees’ 1990 Bat Day “did not increase the incidence of bat-related trauma in the Bronx and northern Manhattan.”)

The moon landing took place in the top of the eighth inning, and Leonard Koppett described what happened next in the next day’s New York Times:

Ken McMullen, the Washington third baseman, was batting against Jack Aker, with men on first and third and nobody out. The count on him had just gone to one ball, two strikes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,” came the voice of Bob Shepard, the public address announcer.

The umpires, according to prior arrangements, waved their arms and stopped play.

“You will be happy to know,” Shepard continued, “that the Apollo 11 has landed safely…”

And a tremendous cheer drowned out the words “on the moon.”

The cheering continued for about 45 seconds. On the scoreboard, the message section read “They’re on the moon.” People stood. They waved the bats back and forth. Shepard kept talking, but his words could not be made out through the din.

On the field, the players seemed confused, or impatient. Most did not turn toward the scoreboard. Finally, he announcer could be understood, and he asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for the safe return of the astronauts.

The crowd stilled. After a few seconds of silence, a recording of “America the Beautiful,” sung by a chorus, blared through the loudspeakers. At the end of the song, another mighty cheer arose, just like the one that usually greets the completion of the National Anthem before a game.

The game resumed at 4:21 P.M.

The Times also included a photo taken when the landing was announced:

Yankee moon landingBoston: Jack Clary had detailed reporting of the event in the next day’s Boston Herald-Traveler. It started with the pregame playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

The crowd stood for a couple of moments of silent prayer before the game before an all-out effort in singing the National Anthem. “I even sang I was so proud,” [Reggie] Smith said, “and I generally just listen.”

Herald-TravelerClary went on to describe how the news of the landing was broken to the crowd:

Reggie Smith…had just ended the Red Sox half of the seventh inning by forcing Carl Yastrzemski at second base when Mission Control in Houston heard from the moon: “This is base Tranquility. The Eagle has landed.” [Of course, what Neil Armstrong actually said was, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”]

Two minutes later, public address announcer Sherm Feller told the Fenway Park customers and they began an ovation that lasted 57 seconds. The huge throng stood for the last 35 seconds of that salute while organist John Kiley played a nameless tune — “just something dramatic to fit the occasion.”

…Portable radios were in evidence throughout the afternoon and even before the landing was announced over the PA system, a great murmur had begun to swell in the grandstands.

“I didn’t think they were cheering my force out,” Smith said with a grin after the game.

Clary then put the events of the bottom of the seventh inning on the same timeline as the descent to the moon.

[Syd] O’Brien led off the seventh and Houston’s Mission Control reported the Lunar Module 920 feet above the moon’s surface….Aldrin and Armstrong flew past their landing site in a “football field-like crater” and were just 220 feet away as [Mike Andrews] lashed a single to left….Man was just 100 feet away from the first landing on the moon when Yaz forced Andrews…Reggie stepped to the plate as the Eagle began its final few feet of descent.

For Reggie Smith, the moon landing had extra significance, as described in a Herald-Traveler sidebar to the game story:

His brother Lonny worked at MIT as a bacteriologist on that phase of the Apollo program and now has returned to California where he is engaged on research in rocket fuels.

One of the Red Sox center fielder’s best friends, Willard Barnes, also worked at MIT on the lunar orbit phase as part of a North American Rockwell team that was acutely engaged in the computer phase of the flight’s orbit around the moon.

I’d love to know a little more about Lonny (or Lonnie) Smith and Willard Barnes but have not been able to find anything. If you can provide any information, please leave it in the comments.

Chicago: Richard Dozer started his Chicago Tribune game story with the moon landing:

Comiskey Park’s exploding scoreboard must have given Walter Williams a fright when it belched sparks and noise to salute his infield single in the seventh inning of yesterday’s first game between the White Sox and Kansas City Royals.

Actually, it had been synchronized to the moment of the moon landing, and Walter, who seems to be in the right place at the right time, at least as often as any of his teammates, was merely doing his part to trigger a two-run rally against the Royals.

The White Sox went on to lose both games of the doubleheader. Dozer had no other details of how the moon landing was observed at the ballpark, but the Tribune did include this photo:

White SoxSan Francisco: I’ve read four different accounts of this game (in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner and the Los Angeles Times and Herald-Examiner), none of which offer any real detail about how the news of the landing was announced. A story in the news section of the Examiner, about what was going on around the city at the time of the landing, included this: “Out at Candlestick Park a crowd of 32,500 watching the Giants-Dodgers game let out a huge roar when the moon landing was announced over the public address system.” The only mention of the landing in Bob Stevens’ game story in the Chronicle was that the crowd was “remarkably large in light of the Apollo 11 moon landing.” (It was the Giants’ largest crowd of the season to that point and would wind up being their second-largest of the year.) Bob Hunter, in his Herald-Examiner game story, noted Bill Sudakis walked to load the bases in the top of the first inning “at the exact moment when the astronauts landed.”

But this game is the most famous of the games that were played that day, because it featured Gaylord Perry’s first major league home run, in his eighth season. (He would hit five more before retiring in 1983.) Associated Press baseball writer Hal Bock led his roundup of the day’s National League games with this:

The way Gaylord Perry swings a bat, he stands as much chance of hitting a home run as…oh…as a man does of walking on the moon.

Well, Perry and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made it together Sunday. The San Francisco right-hander tagged his first career homer and pitched the Giants to a 7-3 victory over Los Angeles, tightening up the National League’s West Division race while the astronauts took a moon stroll that tightened up the universe.

Here’s the headline the Greensboro (N.C.) Record put on Bock’s story:

Gaylord PerryAnd in the Baton Rouge (La.) State-Times:

Gaylord Perry 2But that’s not the story that became famous. The one that did was told by Pat Frizzell in The Sporting News issue of August 9, 1969:

[Perry’s home run] recalled to Harry Jupiter, formerly of the San Francisco Examiner, that back in 1962 he watched Perry in batting practice one day and remarked to Alvin Dark, then Giant manager, that Gaylord might be a hitter.

“No way,” scoffed Dark. “We’ll have a man on the moon before he hits a home run.”

So, just 25 minutes after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, Gaylord whacked his first big league homer.

There’s no evidence Jupiter, or anyone else, had this anecdote in print before the moon landing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Both Perry and Dark told the story often over the years since.

Anaheim: Here’s the headline on the game story in the next day’s Los Angeles Times:

AngelsFrom Mitch Chortkoff’s story:

The Angels divided a doubleheader with the Oakland Athletics Sunday on an afternoon when baseball was minimized by the major news event of the day.

The opening game was 17 minutes old, and Oakland’s Rick Monday was at bat in the second inning when the contest was halted, and the following words were flashed on the message board in left field:

“We have landed on the moon.”

The Ball Day crowd of 17,835 cheered its approval, and then the game resumed.

…The second game ended five minutes before Apollo 11 astronauts began preparations for their unprecedented walk on the moon. In anticipation of the event, however, all but about 3,000 spectators departed the ballpark before the second game ended.

The A’s starting pitcher in the first game was 19-year-old Vida Blue, making his first appearance in the major leagues. He was the only player to debut in the big leagues the day of the moon landing.

SeattleSeattle: Play didn’t begin in Seattle until about 45 minutes after the moon landing. Hy Zimmerman doesn’t include a mention of what happened at the time of the landing in his Seattle Times game story, his only allusion to the events of the day being that the crowd of 8,287 — the smallest at the day’s major league games — was “presumably held to that number by the moon landing and pregame showers.” But an Associated Press roundup of what was happening at various places in America at the time of the landing included this:

…pregame ceremonies before an American League baseball game between the hometown Pilots and the Minnesota Twins were interrupted by an announcement of the moon landing. The fans cheered, stood up and sang “America the Beautiful.”

(That’s “America the Beautiful” 2, “God Bless America” 1 for those keeping score.)

Alas, Seattle pitcher Jim Bouton didn’t include any mention of the moon landing in his entry for the day in his published diary of the 1969 season, “Ball Four,” but Jim was preoccupied by the tough outing he had on the mound that day in the Pilots’ loss.

The Pilots actually lost two games that day. The previous night’s game was suspended in the 16th inning, tied 7-7, because of the America League’s 1 a.m. curfew and was resumed before Sunday’s scheduled game began. It turned out to be a big day for Twins pitcher Jim Perry, Gaylord’s older brother. Perry finished the suspended game, pitching two shutout innings and scoring the winning run after an 18th-inning double, then shut out the Pilots in the scheduled game to earn his second victory of the day.

I also did a little poking around about minor league games played on July 20, 1969. From the Des Moines Register:

The crowd of 1,517 who watched the Iowa Oaks lose their second baseball game of the day to Omaha at Sec Taylor Stadium finally had something to cheer about when the public address announcer told them Americans were walking on the lunar surface.

Baseball fans weren’t the only ones in Des Moines blowing off the moon business that night; the Register reported 400 people attended the regular Sunday night band concert on the steps of the Iowa Statehouse, and another 400 turned up for the Sunday night community sing at Greenwood Park. (The Register also reported receiving a phone call from a woman who asked, “You don’t really believe all this, do you? It’s all a fake.”)

AlbuquerqueThe Albuquerque Journal story of the local Dodgers’ Texas League game against Memphis said the crowd of 852 was less than a third of what the average Sunday attendance had been prior to that in 1969.

The Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard story of the Emeralds’ Pacific Coast League game against Tucson included this: “The crowd of 1,028, undoubtedly held down by television viewing of the Moon landing, was the smallest of the season at Civic Stadium.”

From the Amarillo (Tex.) Globe-Times: “Some 1,354 baseball fans watched the Amarillo Giants’ 4-3 victory over the Arkansas Travelers….personal radios were much in evidence, and a cheer went up from the crowd when the announcement came over the PA system that the landing was an accomplished fact.”

It wasn’t just professional baseball games Americans were attending instead of watching what was going on on the moon…the attendance for a Central Illinois Collegiate League doubleheader in Springfield was announced as 1,117. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon as the night’s next-to-last batter was striking out.

The biggest crowd at any ballpark on the day of the first landing on the moon was not there to see a baseball game. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reported 81,032 people were at Dodger Stadium for an afternoon address by the president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower Society. He predicted Armageddon would take place in the mid-1970s, although church officials admitted they weren’t quite as sure of that as they had been when they forecast Armageddon would occur in 1925.

One final note about what folks were doing instead of sitting in front of their televisions on July 20, 1969: the Omaha World-Herald reported 156 people attended a performance that night in Brownville, Nebraska of a play, “Fashion,” put on by a Nebraska Wesleyan University theatrical group. The director “stopped the play between the third and fourth acts and placed a television set on the stage,” and the audience watched the moon walk for about 20 minutes before the play resumed.

If you come across any stories about what was going on at baseball games on the day of the Apollo 11 landing, please share them with me in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to credit you in an updated version of this post.

Congratulations, Wally Holborow, you got your record back from Carlos Frias

(Much of this post is repurposed from an earlier post of mine.)

Carlos Frias pitched his way out of the major league record book on May 1, 2015. Well, his record wasn’t exactly in any book…I was probably the only person who knew he held it aside from the person who told me, Sean Forman, creator of Sean was kind enough to use his database for me when I was trying to identify the unlikeliest pitching performances in major league history. I thought one way to do so would be to use the “game score” that Bill James first published in his 1988 Baseball Abstract and look for the pitchers with the biggest difference between their best-ever game score and their second-best. That might be a sign that their best game was a fluke and, hence, unlikely.

Baseball-Reference com has calculated the game score for every start in its database since 1914. Here’s the definition, from’s glossary:

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning).Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

When Sean ran the numbers for me earlier this year, the pitcher with the biggest difference between his two highest game scores was Carlos Frias, who to that point had two major league starts, both in 2014 for the Dodgers.

Carlos Frias

Carlos Frias

Frias was brought up to the Dodgers in August. Working out of the bullpen, he allowed at least one run in five of his first eight appearances, with an ERA of 5.65. Then on Sept. 3, manager Don Mattingly gave Frias a start against Washington, and Frias responded with six shutout innings (he came out of a scoreless tie in a game the Dodgers lost in 14 innings, 8-5). Despite pitching just six innings, Frias’ game score was an admirable 69, and Mattingly said the rookie might get another start.

That chance came two weeks later. Unfortunately for Frias, it came at Denver’s Coors Field, and he didn’t get out of the first inning — he faced 11 batters, eight of whom scored (two of them on a hit after Frias left the game). His performance earned a game score of zero (remember, you start the game with 50). Frias didn’t start again in 2014, so that 69-point difference between his best and second-best starts ever was the largest of all time (at least since 1914).

But Frias got another chance to start on May 1, 2015, and pitched 5-1/3 shutout innings against Arizona a for a game score of 62. That gave the record for biggest difference between top two game scores back to the man who held it before Frias — Wally Holborow.

Wally Holborow in 1948

Wally Holborow in 1948

With major league caliber players at a premium during World War II, Holborow went to the majors directly from the semi-pro ranks in 1944 at age 30. He had been pitching in his native New York and was with the high-profile Brooklyn Bushwicks when he signed with the Washington Senators. His previous professional experience appears to be limited to three games in the Class C Middle Atlantic League in 1935.

Holborow made one relief appearance late in the 1944 season, throwing three scoreless innings, and started the 1945 season in Washington. He wasn’t used often, and almost always in games the Senators were trailing, but he got the job done. He didn’t allow a run in nine of his first 11 appearances, with an ERA of 2.08.

Then on Aug. 4, Nats manager Ossie Bluege selected Holborow to start the first game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox. And he came through…Shirley Povich wrote in the next day’s Washington Post:

Wally Holborow Post

Holborow’s shutout didn’t earn him more opportunities; in fact, he made only three appearances the rest of the season, all in relief, and gave up at least one run in each. But he finished the year with a 2.30 ERA in 31-1/3 innings.

From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of Aug. 31, 1948

From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of Aug. 31, 1948

After the season, with hundreds of players returning from the military, Holborow turned in his voluntary retirement papers and went back to the Bushwicks. But in late August 1948, A’s owner/manager Connie Mack lured Holborow — then 34 years old (although newspaper reports of his signing said he was 31) — to Philadelphia. He made three relief appearances and was the winning pitcher in the third of them when the A’s rallied after he was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

Six days later Holborow was called on to make his second career major league start in the Sept. 23 game at Detroit. The A’s staked him to a 7-2 lead in the fifth inning (Holborow knocked in three of the runs himself), but the Tigers came back, and Sam Vico hit a two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth to give Detroit a 8-7 win.

Why didn’t Connie bring in a relief pitcher? Who knows? Connie was 85 years old, after all; maybe he was resting. But for whatever reason he allowed Holborow to go all the way, facing 43 batters and giving up 16 hits.

Holborow’s game score was 18, 66 points less than the 84 he posted in his 1945 shutout. He made just one more relief appearance for the A’s, finishing his major league career with a 2-3 record and a 3.31 ERA, and then went back to the Bushwicks. Any further information about Wally Holborow would be much appreciated.

I’ve ranked Holborow’s 1945 shutout the sixth-most unlikely pitching performance in major league history; my complete list is at the end of this post, and I’ve written much more about number one and number three on my list here. The complete list of largest differences between best and second-best career Game Scores is here.

Brandon McCarthy now holds an all-time major league record…but not for his pitching

On April 19, 2015, Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy led off the bottom of the third inning and struck out. That gave him sole possession of an all-time major league record. It was the 89th plate appearance of McCarthy’s career, and he has never scored a run. That broke a tie with 1980s Montreal Expo Razor Shines, who finished his career runless in 88 trips to the plate. I have a bit more about Razor at the end of this post. McCarthy had a sacrifice bunt in his other plate appearance in the game to increase his record of runless PAs to 90.

Brandon McCarthy: better at pitching than he is at hitting

Brandon McCarthy: better at pitching than he is at hitting

McCarthy didn’t even reach base in his 10 trips to the plate in interleague games during his years in the American League from 2005-12. He hasn’t done much with the bat in his hand since coming to the National League, with just five hits (all singles) and four walks (he also reached on an error once). He’s never reached third base (although to be honest I haven’t checked to see if he ever reached base on a fielder’s choice and advanced to third after that).

Here is the list, updated through 4/19/2015, of all players in major league history who have had at least 50 career plate appearances without scoring a run. Note almost all of these players were primarily pitchers, the exceptions being Shines and two players from the deadball era, catcher Joe Jenkins and outfielder Frank Hemphill.

Brandon McCarthy 90 0 2005 2015 79 5 4 0 .063 .108 *1 CHW-TEX-OAK-ARI-NYY-LAD
Razor Shines 88 0 1983 1987 81 15 5 1 .185 .239 /*H3175 MON
Gavin Floyd 80 0 2004 2014 74 5 2 0 .068 .092 *1 PHI-CHW-ATL
Mike Fiers 72 0 2011 2015 58 4 0 0 .069 .069 /*1 MIL
Carlos Silva 71 0 2002 2010 58 5 4 0 .086 .145 *1 PHI-MIN-SEA-CHC
Taylor Buchholz 65 0 2006 2011 56 5 4 0 .089 .150 *1/H HOU-COL-TOR-NYM
Jeff Reardon 65 0 1979 1994 57 5 1 0 .088 .103 *1 NYM-MON-MIN-ATL-BOS-CIN-NYY
Joe Jenkins 64 0 1914 1919 60 8 2 0 .133 .161 /*H2 SLB-CHW
John Dopson 62 0 1985 1994 55 3 3 0 .055 .103 *1 MON-BOS-CAL
Rawly Eastwick 62 0 1974 1981 56 4 2 0 .071 .103 *1 STL-CIN-PHI-NYY-KCR-CHC
Jim Colborn 60 0 1969 1978 55 4 2 0 .073 .105 *1 CHC-MIL-SEA-KCR
Al Williams 56 0 1937 1938 49 3 3 0 .061 .115 /*1 PHA
Jason Hirsh 55 0 2006 2008 50 3 1 0 .060 .078 /*1 HOU-COL
Tom Dixon 55 0 1977 1983 48 5 1 0 .104 .122 /*1 HOU-MON
Frank Hemphill 55 0 1906 1909 43 3 9 2 .070 .259 /*7 CHW-WSH
Ed Farmer 53 0 1971 1983 47 4 1 0 .085 .104 *1 CLE-DET-BAL-MIL-TEX-CHW-OAK-PHI
Marty Kutyna 53 0 1959 1962 47 9 1 0 .191 .208 *1 KCA-WSA
Albie Lopez 52 0 1993 2003 46 2 2 1 .043 .102 *1 CLE-ARI-TBD-ATL-KCR
John McPherson 51 0 1901 1904 48 3 2 0 .063 .100 /*1 PHA-PHI
Pat Misch 50 0 2006 2011 39 3 3 0 .077 .143 /*1 SFG-NYM
Johnny Gray 50 0 1954 1958 47 2 1 0 .043 .063 /*1H PHA-KCA-CLE-PHI
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/20/2015.

Standings in the Florida State League before the Internet…well, ¿quién sabía?

As someone who was born in 1958 — someone who, as a kid on Long Island, sometimes had to wait until the afternoon paper (RIP) came out to find out who won a game on the West Coast the night before — I don’t take for granted the marvels of modern technology for a moment. Not only can we get instant updates on all major league games, we can follow, even listen to, minor league games down to the lowest levels. The same is true even for college games…probably a lot of high school and American Legion games too. If you want to know who won, just go online and find out.

It didn’t used to be that way.

It wasn’t all that long ago, at least in terms of the geologic time scale, that it wasn’t so easy to find out who won. A story in The Sporting News of August 4, 1973, pointed out that no one was quite sure what the standings were in the Class A Florida State League.

FSL standingsFrom the story by Jack Flowers:

Exactly, who is in first?

It appears that not even league President George MacDonald, Jr., knows for sure, much less most of the FSL’s 10 general managers.

At a recent meeting in Tampa, there was considerable discussion of records of teams in the league.

Willie Sanchez, G.M. of the Daytona Beach Dodgers [said,] “I’m not even sure what our record is. Our newspaper (the Daytona Beach News-Journal) has stopped publishing the FSL standing because they are incorrect.”

A St. Petersburg Times survey of six newspapers in the state showed that not one of them published FSL standings which coincided with the other.

“I think I’ll look into the situation where next season I’ll have the umpires telephone me with the results of each game immediately after it’s over,” said MacDonald.

“We depend on the wire services to relay the scores to all the newspapers concerned. If these scores are not reported, then this presents a problem.”

Some FSL general managers depend on sportswriters to relay scores to the wire services, but in places like Key West, Daytona Beach, Lakeland and Winter Haven, most FSL games are not even covered by the hometown paper.

"No, for the love of God I don't know how Key West did tonight. Would you please stop calling?"

“No, for the love of God I don’t know how Key West did tonight. Would you please stop calling?”

“Last season,” said Jim Haynes of the Orlando Sentinel, “the only way I could get scores out of Key West was through a pay telephone booth outside the stadium. I would have to figure out about when the game would be finished and then I would start calling the number at the phone booth and when someone would answer, then I knew the game was over and maybe they could give me a score.

“I used to get this little Cuban kid all the time, and he would say: “Sí, sí, the game, it is over. Sí, Key West won. No, Key West lost!”

A spokesman for the Associated Press in Miami said, “We can get news out of Uganda faster than we can get FSL scores from Key West and a couple of other FSL cities.”

This wasn’t exactly the Middle Ages…heck, in 1973 TV shows were in color and we had pushbutton phones…yet finding out who won a professional baseball game in Florida could be an impossible challenge.

Wickers FieldKey West — which is closer to Havana than it is to what was its nearest FSL opponent, Miami — hasn’t had a minor league team since 1975. The site of what was Wickers Field, the home of the FSL’s Key West Conchs (also the nickname of Key West High School’s teams), is now the home of football and softball fields. The photo of Wickers Field at right was taken about 1970; it’s hard to believe it was the home of a professional team. That photo is from a page on Deadball Baseball that also has pictures of the site today, and here’s a page with more on Key West’s minor league history.

Too bad I can’t find a photo of that phone booth Jim Haynes used to call.

Wickers Field was the site of one of the odder events in baseball history, when a ball that went up never came down…or at least no one ever saw where it came down. It happened August 6, 1974. Joe Wallis of the Conchs, who would go on to play in the majors, hit a fly ball to right field, where John Crider of the visiting St. Petersburg Cardinals lost sight of it. None of Crider’s teammates nor the umpires could figure out what happened to the ball, so Wallis was awarded a home run.

Bruce Sutter, who would go on to make the Hall of Fame, was a 21-year-old pitcher for the Conchs. “The stadium wasn’t the best, and the lights weren’t the best,” Sutter told Key West magazine in 2007. (“Stadium” is a pretty generous term here.) “Wallis hit the ball by the lights. And nobody ever saw it come down. So they gave him a home run. What else are you going to do? It was one of the strangest things I ever saw.”

“Nobody knows what happened,” said Ernie Rosseau, who was St. Petersburg’s left fielder that night. “From the fans to the coaches, umps. No one knew. It went up and never came down. Nobody can give me an explanation.” Rosseau made his comments to reporter Ryan O’Leary in 2003, as O’Leary put together what seems to be the most thorough account of the events that night.

Nobody drove them in: the unusual seasons of Ron Northey, Bob Nieman and Smoky Burgess

Bob Nieman had a fine year at the plate as a pinch-hitter and occasional outfielder for the Cardinals and Indians in 1961, compiling a .378 batting average and .427 on-base percentage with 22 singles, seven doubles and seven walks. He also reached base on error twice.

Bob Nieman Cleveland

Bob Nieman

But not once after reaching base did Nieman score a run. He did score twice that season, on his own home runs, but no teammate ever drove him in. Nieman’s 37 times reaching base turns out to be the major league record for most times reaching base in a season for a player who was never driven in. Yes, I said 37 times reaching base, even though his singles, doubles, walks and reached-on-error add up to 38; one of his singles was a walk-off hit, so it wasn’t possible for anyone to drive Nieman in. (By the way, I checked the play-by-play of all Nieman’s games that season to see if he ever reached base on a fielder’s choice; he did not, but others who will come up later in this discussion did.)

One of the reasons Nieman never scored after reaching base was he was frequently removed for a pinch-runner. He was replaced by a runner four of the nine times he reached base for St. Louis, then after he was traded to Cleveland in May (and spent some time on the disabled list with torn leg muscles) he was replaced by a runner six times. Of course, that still leaves 27 times he was on base and didn’t score.

Nieman was thrown out at the plate twice in 1961. The first one was unexceptional, as he was thrown out at home on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice in the seventh inning on April 29. But the other was unusual, as he was thrown out trying to score from second on an infield hit in the first game of a doubleheader at Minnesota on July 16. How do you even think about scoring from second on an infield hit?

Nieman was on second with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the first inning and Bubba Phillips at the plate. Here’s the Retrosheet play-by-play of what happened next:

Phillips singled to shortstop [Temple scored, Nieman out at home (shortstop to catcher), Francona to third]

But the next day’s Cleveland Plain Dealer had a little more detail — and a different player making the throw home:

Phillips hit a slow bouncer to [shortstop Jose] Valdivielso for a single. Temple scored, but Nieman was out at the plate, [second baseman Billy] Martin to [catcher Earl] Battey.

At first glance this is even more puzzling; after all, the “single to shortstop” described in the Retrosheet play-by-play could have been deep in the hole where you might envision a scenario in which a runner could score from second. A “slow bouncer”? No way a man scores from second. But perhaps Valdivielso threw to second base to try to get a force out and Nieman (or his third base coach) thought the Twins were asleep at the switch, but Martin noticed and threw home after taking the throw from Valdivielso. We’ll likely never know what happened for sure. At any rate this appears to have been Nieman’s best chance of scoring a run after reaching base in 1961.

The last time Nieman was driven in by a teammate was on September 18,1960, when he drew a walk with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth, went to third on a double by Ken Boyer and scored on Stan Musial’s single. Nieman was on base seven times after that in 1960 without scoring. In 1962 he started the season with Cleveland, was sold to the Giants in late April and spent the rest of the season with them as a pinch-hitter (making three brief appearances in the outfield). He reached base eight times (six singles, a double and a walk) without scoring (he was removed for a runner six of those times). This is not counting the double he hit July 28 as he was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple (with the Giants trailing by five runs), so he was never in a position to be driven in.

All told, then, Bob Nieman did not score after the last 52 times he reached base in his major league career. If you include postseason, the streak is 53; Nieman was intentionally walked in his final major league appearance, in Game 4 of the 1962 World Series, and was removed for a pinch-runner.

Nieman Patkin

This photo appeared on the front page of the Boston Herald September 15, 1951, the day after Bob Nieman’s major league debut. The Red Sox had hired baseball clown Max Patkin to entertain the fans during the game.

Nieman may not have been much of a runner (he was caught stealing on 30 of his 40 career major league attempts, the lowest career stolen base percentage ever for a player with as many attempts) but he was quite a hitter. A two-time minor league batting champion, he was the first man ever to hit home runs in his first two major league plate appearances in his debut for the St. Louis Browns on September 14, 1951, at Fenway Park. Teammate Satchel Paige said afterward, “Gimme him, two more — t’hell with nine — and we could win a lot of ball games. He’s just a lot of boy. Leans into that ball pretty good, and hits the pitch where it is.” Nieman finished his 12-year major league career with averages of .295/.373/.474. He hit .325 for Baltimore in 1958 and finished seventh in the American League MVP vote in 1956 when he hit .320.

Before Nieman, the record for most times reaching base in a season without ever being driven in was held by Ron Northey, whose nickname was “Round Ron” and who was often described in The Sporting News as “roly-poly.” What was unusual about Northey was at that stage in his career he was never even given the chance to score after he reached base.

Ron Northey TSN 1944

This sketch appeared in The Sporting News issue of March 2, 1944. Northey was spending the offsesason “doing guard duty at a war plant.” Northey was classified as 4-F and was turned down for military service three times because of a punctured eardrum, high blood pressure and a heart ailment, but when the military took a closer look at 4-F ballplayers in 1945 he was inducted into the Army — where he played baseball.

Northey was a left-handed hitting outfielder who drove in 104 runs for the 1944 Phillies and batted .321 in part-time play for the 1948 Cardinals. His weight was a constant source of comment; he was typically listed as 5’10” and 195 pounds, but a story in The Sporting News in 1952 said Northey had lost 24 pounds to get down to 202, “the least he has weighed since he left high school.” Here’s how he was described in the first big feature about him in The Sporting News, by Bill Dooly in 1944:

Northey is a short, bay-windowed party. In civvies he looks like a well-fed, prosperous young merchant. His cheeks bulge out as if he were concealing a couple of all-day suckers and he wears a perpetual grin of geniality and well-being.

In 1946 Phillies manager Ben Chapman said, “Ron has a waistline that looks like a man who just swallowed a watermelon.” In The Sporting News, writer Stan Baumgartner attributed that to Northey’s love of “double chocolate milk.”

In spring training 1951 with the Cubs Northey injured his knee and had to undergo an operation. He returned to action in an exhibition game against the Cubs’ Springfield (Mass.) farm club in July but had to come out of the game after he couldn’t get to an easy fly ball. “He just couldn’t run at all,” Cubs player personnel director Wid Matthews told The Sporting News. “It was pitiful to see him try to hobble around.”

After that Northey actually went on the voluntarily retired list, at age 31. But after a doctor recommended he lose weight to ease the stress on the knee, he cut down to 202 (as alluded to earlier) and was back in spring training with the Cubs in 1952. In The Sporting News, Edgar Munzel told the story of the diet Northey undertook under his doctor’s supervision.

He was allowed only 970 calories per day as against a normal intake of 4,000 to 5,000 calories. He could eat anything except potatoes and bacon as long as he stayed within the low-calorie limit.

“It doesn’t take much to use up those 970 calories,” laughed Northey. “You know, one piece of apple pie is 350 calories. Three pieces would put you over the limit for the day.”

This, my plump little pets, was a typical day’s menus for Northey:

Breakfast: Nothing at all. Feeling faint?

Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich on protein bread and coffee with cream and one sugar (186 calories). Vary with lettuce and tomato sandwich.

Dinner: Lean steak (200 calories), lettuce and tomato salad with vinegar (75), fresh corn on cob out of freezer [sic], with one-quarter pat of butter (50), one cookie (100) and two cups of coffee with cream and sugar (100).

“That would give me about 711 calories for the day, then I would use up the rest on a light snack of cookies and coffee around 10 o’clock in the evening while I was watching television,” said Northey. “That would mean only about two cookies, though.”

The relatively svelte Northey went north with the Cubs out of spring training, but after one pinch-hitting appearance was sent to the minors. In August 1955, at the age of 35, he returned to the majors as a pinch-hitter for the White Sox. Apparently he was no longer relatively svelte; a story in The Sporting News said a Dodger official had asked former Dodger pitcher Rex Barney who was the best left-handed pinch-hitter in the Class AAA American Association, where Barney was working as a broadcaster and Northey was playing. Barney said Northey, to which the Dodger official replied, “That’s what everyone tells us, but he’s so fat we don’t want to put him in a uniform.” In September 1956 Edgar Munzel wrote in The Sporting News that Northey was “built somewhat along the lines of an animated barrel” and “doesn’t move around too sprightly. In fact, he scarcely can bend over for a ground ball. But, brother, he can still swish that bat.”

Ron Northey 1957 Topps

Ron Northey’s 1957 Topps baseball card

Northey stayed in the majors through the end of the 1957 season, except for a brief stint in the minors in 1956. In his last 2+ years in the bigs he started just three games in the outfield and came off the bench to play in the field on just three other occasions. But as Munzel said, he could swish that bat: over the final weeks of the 1955 season his slash line was .357/.471/.714, in 1956 it was .354/.417/.583 (with just one strikeout in 60 plate appearances), and even though his batting average dipped to .226 in 1957 he walked enough to post a .408 OBP. (Apparently White Sox vice president Charles Comiskey had to persuade Northey to return in ’57, as Northey was vice president and sales manager of a toy manufacturer in his native Connecticut and was inclined to concentrate on the business.)

What Northey couldn’t do was run. After his return to the majors in 1955 he was driven in by a teammate just once over the rest of his career. That came on July 19,1956, in his last career start, when Fred Hatfield singled him home from third base. Two days later Northey made his last appearance in the field after pinch-hitting, and when he reached on a fielder’s choice later he stayed in the game (and was promptly doubled up after a line drive to second base).

From that point on, Northey played in 107 major league games, all as a pinch-hitter…and was removed for a pinch-runner EVERY TIME he reached base.

The last 13 times Northey reached base in 1956 (starting with the time he stayed in after the fielder’s choice) he did not score; that included six singles, two doubles and four walks, in addition to the fielder’s choice. (Two walk-off singles don’t count.) In 1957 (when he was released by the White Sox in July and signed with the Phillies the next day) Northey reached base 29 times — nine singles, one double, 17 walks and two fielder’s choices (again, a walk-off single doesn’t count) — and was replaced by a pinch-runner on each occasion. That 29 was the season record for times reached base without scoring before Nieman came along. Northey did score one run, when he homered in his first game after signing with the Phillies. It was his ninth career pinch-hit home run, which at the time tied him for the major league record. (Northey is still tied for the record for most career pinch-hit grand slams, with three, all of which came before his 1951 knee injury.)

Northey set another major league record in 1957. His 73 games played was the most for anyone who never played in the field. That record would be broken ten years later by the man who came closest to breaking Bob Nieman’s mark for not being driven in.

This is Smoky Burgess' 1965 Topps baseball card. The picture was taken while he was still with the Pirates.

This is Smoky Burgess’ 1965 Topps baseball card. The picture was taken while he was still with the Pirates.

Like Ron Northey in the mid-1950s, Smoky Burgess in the mid-1960s was a short, round man late in his career who could hit but couldn’t run. Burgess had been an all-star catcher (based on his bat, not his receiving skills) for the Phillies, Reds and Pirates. By the time he got to the White Sox in 1964 he was considered to be 5’8″ and 195 pounds. “Roly-poly” was his most-used Sporting News adjective, followed by “rotund.” “Smoky is so rotund,” Edgar Munzel wrote in The Sporting News in 1965, “that he looks like he ought to be wearing a bar apron and drawing foaming steins in a beer garden.” (In a 1966 story Munzel alluded to Burgess’ “aldermanic girth,” and in 1967 Munzel described him as “a year-round Santa Claus.” Washington Post columnist Bob Addie wrote in 1967 Burgess most resembled “the member of the state legislature who is eating too many portions of grits and corn pone.”)

The last time Burgess was ever driven in by a teammate was when he was still with the Pirates, on August 30, 1964, when he scored from second on a single by Bob Bailey in the third inning. At the age of 37, Burgess was already primarily a pinch-hitter, but he still started 40 games behind the plate for Pittsburgh in 1964. On September 12, 1964 he went to the White Sox on waivers and remained in a Sox uniform through the end of the 1967 season, but in those 3+ years he started just three games at catcher, came off the bench to catch in only four others, and spent a total of 31 innings behind the dish.

The rest of the time Smoky did what he did best: hit. In 1965 he reached base 34 times without being driven in, with 15 singles, four doubles and 11 walks; he reached on an error twice and on a fielder’s choice twice. Another walk-off single doesn’t count. (Two of the singles and a fielder’s choice came in games he started at catcher, all else was as a pinch-hitter.) Burgess scored twice when he hit home runs, but he never scored otherwise. Of course, Sox manager Al Lopez removed him for a pinch-runner 19 times.

Topps collectors got their first look at Smoky in a White Sox uniform in 1966

Topps collectors got their first look at Smoky in a White Sox uniform in 1966

In 1966 Burgess was 39 years old and playing under a new manager, Eddie Stanky, who cut down on Smoky’s opportunities to run the bases. Burgess again reached base 34 times, with 16 singles, five doubles, 11 walks and a hit-by-pitch, plus he reached once on an error and once on a fielder’s choice. Another single doesn’t count as Smoky was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double! (All but one of his times on base came as a pinch-hitter; he drew one intentional walk after staying in a game to catch.) But Stanky removed him for a runner 29 of those 34 times. In two of the games Burgess was allowed to stay in and run he got as far as third base but didn’t score.

And because Smoky didn’t hit a home run in 1966, he didn’t score at all that season, even though he was on the Sox roster all year. He holds the records for plate appearances (80) and times on base in a season for any player who did not score a run, as well as the record for most games (79) by any non-pitcher who did not score a run.

This photo of Smoky Burgess at his car dealership appeared in The Sporting News in December 1965

This photo of Smoky Burgess at his car dealership appeared in The Sporting News in December 1965

Burgess announced after the 1966 season he was retiring to devote full time to his auto dealership back home in North Carolina, but in February he decided to return to baseball at the age of 40 in 1967. That’s the year he went “the full Northey,” spending the entire year on the roster, never playing in the field (except for a midseason exhibition against the Cubs) and ALWAYS being removed for a pinch-runner whenever he reached base (which was far less frequently than it had been the previous two seasons). He played in 77 games, breaking Northey’s major league record for most games played in a season without playing in the field. (Many players in the DH era have broken that mark. Burgess’ record of most games played in a season without starting one was broken in 1974, when track star Herb Washington was used as a pinch-runner in 92 games for the A’s without ever being allowed to bat.)

Smoky’s batting average in 1967 was a dismal .133, affected by tearing a muscle in his rib cage in May. White Sox pitchers collectively outhit him with a .156 mark, but Smoky drew enough walks to lift his on-base percentage to .303, which was actually better than the overall team mark of .291. Burgess scored twice, on his two home runs, but he came out of the game immediately the 23 times he reached base (five singles, a double, 14 walks, a hit-by-pitch and two fielder’s choices). Burgess did not score a run the last 96 times he reached base in his career (including his last five in 1964).

Smoky Burgess' last baseball card, in 1967. Doesn't he look like he should be the beloved bullpen coach instead of an active player?

Smoky Burgess’ last baseball card, in 1967. Doesn’t he look like he should be the beloved bullpen coach instead of an active player?

After the 1967 season, for the second straight year, Burgess announced his retirement, but as the winter wore on he changed his tune and tried to get the White Sox to bring him back in 1968 at age 41. The Sox, understandably, declined. Burgess ended his career with what was then a record 150 pinch-hits; he still ranks fourth on the all-time list, behind Lenny Harris, Mark Sweeney and Manny Mota. No player active today is remotely close. His 16 career pinch-homers ranked second all-time when he retired.

The modern game doesn’t have room for anyone resembling Bob Nieman or Ron Northey or Smokey Burgess. With 12-man pitching staffs, not to mention designated hitters, who can afford to carry a player whose only job is to pinch-hit — let alone someone who needs to be removed for a runner whenever he gets on? The records they set are likely to last forever barring dramatic changes in tactics.

So, to recap, these are the players who reached base the most times in a season without ever being driven in by a teammate (or, to be more technically accurate, without ever scoring a run on anything but their own home run):

Bob Nieman 1961 Cardinals-Indians 37
Smoky Burgess 1965 White Sox 34
Smoky Burgess 1966 White Sox 34
Ron Northey 1957 White Sox-Phillies 29
Smoky Burgess 1967 White Sox 23

The player who’s come closest to cracking this list since Burgess is Boog Powell, who — like Northey and Burgess — was a heavy, slow man nearing the end of his career. Powell was much taller (6’4″) than Northey and Burgess and as a result much heavier (he was listed at 250 in the Indians’ 1977 media guide, 260 in an April 1977 Sporting News story, and was the largest player in the majors at the time).

Powell was a slugging first baseman who had been the American League Most Valuable Player in 1970 for the World Series champion Orioles; he had also finished second in the MVP vote in 1969 and third in 1966. But in 1976 he had a poor year with the Indians (a .215 average with just nine home runs), in part due to injuries, and late in spring training 1977 Cleveland let him go. The 35-year-old Powell immediately contacted the Dodgers, who had shown some interest in trading for him during the previous offseason, and signed with them just before the regular season started.

Boog Powell

Boog Powell

Steve Garvey was anchored at first base for the Dodgers, but first-year manager Tom Lasorda wanted Powell as a left-handed pinch-hitter. Lasorda already had a full-time right-handed pinch-hitter in 39-year-old Manny Mota, a holdover from Walter Alston’s regime. Powell and Mota each started just one game in 1977.

Powell had hit 339 home runs in the American League and ranked 30th on the all-time home run list when he went to Los Angeles, but he didn’t launch one out of the park as a Dodger; in fact, he didn’t have a single extra-base hit. He did reach base 22 times, on 10 singles and 12 walks. Nineteen of those came as a pinch-hitter. Boog was replaced by a pinch-runner 17 times; when he was allowed to stay on base he got as far as third once, but never scored. His 50 games played is the most in a season for any non-pitcher who didn’t score a run aside from Smoky Burgess’ 79 in 1966.

On August 17 the Dodgers acquired 41-year-old Vic Davalillo, who had been playing in Mexico. That gave Lasorda THREE pinch-hitting specialists (although Davalillo still played a little outfield), which didn’t seem tenable. Two weeks later the Dodgers traded for veteran catcher Jerry Grote, and to make room on the roster Powell was released, never to play again. Davalillo and Mota remained the Dodgers’ left-right tandem off the bench in 1978 and parts of the 1979 and 1980 seasons as well.

Here are some of the other players who never scored aside from their own home run. I identified these using’s Play Index, looking for the most times on base including reached on error for players whose runs scored equaled their home runs. I haven’t gone through any of these to look for times reached on fielder’s choice, or walk-off hits, or times when the player was thrown out trying to stretch a hit; for some of these seasons play-by-play accounts are not available to find those events anyway.

Ed Lennox 22 1 1915 31 PBS FL 55 53 16 3 1 9 7 0 .302 .383 .453
Bill Nicholson 19 3 1950 35 PHI NL 41 58 13 2 1 10 8 0 .224 .318 .448
Cy Falkenberg 21 0 1913 33 CLE AL 39 84 10 1 0 5 9 2 .119 .221 .131
Prince Fielder 17 2 2005 21 MIL NL 39 59 17 4 0 10 2 0 .288 .306 .458
Chris Heintz 18 0 2007 32 MIN AL 24 56 14 0 0 7 3 0 .250 .288 .250
Johnny Pramesa 17 1 1952 26 CHC NL 22 46 13 1 0 5 4 0 .283 .340 .370
Robin Roberts 17 1 1948 21 PHI NL 21 44 11 2 0 5 6 0 .250 .340 .364
Chet Chadbourne 18 0 1907 22 BOS AL 10 38 11 0 0 1 7 0 .289 .400 .289
Kelvin Torve 17 0 1990 30 NYM NL 20 38 11 4 0 2 4 2 .289 .386 .395
Dave Hillman 17 0 1959 31 CHC NL 42 60 9 0 0 3 6 1 .150 .239 .150
Slim Sallee 17 0 1915 30 STL NL 46 92 11 0 0 5 6 0 .120 .173 .120
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/30/2015.

* ETOB (estimated times on base) = H+BB+HBP+ROE (if known)-HR. Sorry I didn’t take the time to neatly rearrange these in ETOB order, although I did change the Play Index category from TOBwe, which includes home runs.

Falkenberg, Roberts, Hillman and Sallee were pitchers. The player here who’s closest to the Nieman-Northey-Burgess-Powell mold is Bill Nicholson, a slugging star with the Cubs through the 1940s who struggled with his health playing for the National League champion Phillies in 1950 and was primarily a pinch-hitter; turned out Nicholson had diabetes and he missed out on playing in the World Series.

Note the player who’s had the most times reaching base without being driven in since Boog Powell is Chris Heintz…which I mention only because his father was my junior high baseball coach. It’s not Bob Heintz’s fault I can’t play baseball.

Razor Shines

Razor Shines

Let’s wrap it up with the player who reached base the most times without being driven in during his entire major league career. That would be Razor Shines, who started nine games at first base and did some pinch-hitting for the Montreal Expos in the 1980s. Shines played 16 seasons in the minors but never got a long look in the majors and didn’t hit when he did get to play, posting a .185 career average. Over four seasons (1983-84-85-87), Shines reached base 21 times on 14 singles, a double, five walks and a hit-by-pitch and got as far as third base twice but never scored; he was removed for a pinch-runner on four occasions. His only multi-hit game in the majors came on September 25, 1984, when he had three singles…only to have the next batter ground into a double play each time (Tom Lawless twice, Mike Stenhouse once).

[ADDED 3/30/15] Actually I should adjust this and say Shines was on base 22 times in his career, because he was used as a pinch-runner in the Expos’ final game of the 1985 season…and was promptly caught stealing.

Shines played in 68 games in his career, the most of any non-pitcher who never scored a run (well, Shines wasn’t completely a “non-pitcher”; he once threw an inning of mop-up relief). His 88 career plate appearances were the most for any player who never scored until Brandon McCarthy broke that mark April 19, 2015. Of course, McCarthy still has a chance to score before his career is over, which could give the record back to Razor.

Razor Shines’ story is told in detail as part of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Baseball Biography Project.

The longest-working men in baseball: Jack Coombs, Joe Harris, Al Jackson and other four-hour pitchers

I wish I could cite the exact source of this, but I believe it was Bill James who speculated the most important factor in causing a starting pitcher to tire may not be the number of innings pitched or the number of pitches thrown, but the length of time he works. If that’s true, it could be that one of the reasons we have seen such a steep decline in complete games in recent years — not the primary reason, maybe not even one of the biggest reasons, but a contributing factor — is that it’s taking longer to play nine innings these days.

With that in mind, I went to’s Play Index to look for the longest complete game performances by length of game, in time (as opposed to innings). A few caveats here. First of all, there are plenty of errors in the time of game data. For instance, shows the longest game in its database (at least as I write this) is a 1941 nine-inning game between the Red Sox and Yankees that for some reason (surely a typographical error) shows up as 348 hours and 55 minutes. The attendance is also listed as 143, so you can see some odd keyboarding was going on…in fact, it looks like the time and attendance were transposed. Retrosheet, where gets is data, shows the time of game as 2:23 with attendance of 20,935. Sometimes the typos are on Retrosheet’s end; for instance, this 1952 nine-inning complete game by Lou Kretlow is listed as 4:47, but in contemporaneous newspaper box scores the time was listed as a more-sensible 2:47.

Second, the only occasions on which time of game will equal what I call a pitcher’s “working time” (the time from his first pitch to his last) is when the home team pitcher throws a complete game and the home team doesn’t bat in the last inning (so the home team pitcher throws both the first and last pitch of the game). Obviously this excludes extra-inning games. Otherwise even a complete-game pitcher either starts pitching after the time-of-game clock begins, or finishes his work before the time-of-game clock stops. So we have no way of knowing for sure what pitcher had the longest “working time” — especially when you include some other factors. Rain delays aren’t included in time of game, so a pitcher who stays in after a rain delay could have a longer “working time” than the official time of game. And it’s possible there are pitchers who didn’t throw complete games — in marathons that went on after they were removed — who could have extremely long “working times.” We’ll look at a few of those later on.

But what we can establish is which pitchers, at least in the database, had the longest game times in a complete game. And here’s more caveats: not all box scores include a time of game, and of course nothing before 1914 is in the database at all.

You may be surprised to learn the famous 26-inning 1920 tie in which both pitchers, Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore, went the distance did not make the list. It was played in a relatively snappy (given the fact that it was the length of almost three normal games) 3 hours and 50 minutes, as the box score from the Boston Herald below shows:

1920 boxBut note the headline above the box score: “1906 Game Slower.” And directly below this box score is the box of what had previously been the longest game, by innings, in major league history, a 24-inning affair between the Athletics and the Red Sox in 1906. This box score is not yet in the Retrosheet or databases, and it looks like it has the record for longest complete game pitching performance by time, as both Philadelphia’s Jack Coombs and Boston’s Joe Harris went the distance in a game that took 4 hours and 47 minutes to play. Here’s the full box from the Boston Herald of September 2, 1906:

1906 box

From the front page of the Boston Herald, Sept. 2, 1906

From the front page of the Boston Herald, Sept. 2, 1906

Jack Coombs was a 23-year-old rookie who had joined the A’s just two months before this game after graduating from Maine’s Colby College (hence he was typically referred to as “Colby Jack Coombs”). In this game he struck out 18 and allowed just one run in 24 innings…and note in the box score he even stole two bases!

Joe Harris was 24 and also a rookie, although he had pitched in three games late in 1905. This game was the 18th of the American League-leading 21 he lost in 1906, against just two wins. But in this game he went 21-1/3 innings without allowing a run, the A’s scoring their first run with one out in the third inning (Coombs being the one who crossed the plate) and not scoring again until there were two out in the 24th, when Socks Seybold (0-for-9 in the game to that point) tripled home Topsy Hartsel. I can’t verify this, but I believe that’s the American League record for most consecutive scoreless innings thrown in a single game…a record set by a man who never won a major league game after this and finished his brief major league career with a 3-30 (!) lifetime mark. (Joe Oeschger held Brooklyn scoreless for the final 21-2/3 innings of that 26-inning game in 1920.) Bill Nowlin has more about this game in his biography of Harris as part of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Biography Project.

Who else has pitched a four-hour game? It turns out it’s been considerably more unusual to pitch for four hours than it has been to, say, pitch more than 15 innings. I used Play Index to search games since 1914 that lasted less than four hours and found 45 pitchers who went at least 16 innings, 88 who went at least 15 and 207 who went at least 14. (By the way, contemporaneous accounts of Red Faber’s 16-inning game in 1920 say the time was 3:33, not 1:33. The Al Milnar-Tommy Bridges game in 1942 came in at 2:27, not 2:00…still remarkable for 14 innings. But Walter Johnson’s 14-inning game in 1918 really was timed at 2:12, and Larry French’s 14-inning game in 1931 really was 2:17.) On the other hand, I’ve found only 20 times in the post-1914 database when a pitcher has pitched a complete game that lasted at least four hours (two of whom pitched less than 14 innings), plus a handful of other pitchers who didn’t go the distance but may have still been in their game when it reached the four-hour mark.

Here is a list generated by Play Index of pitchers who hurled a complete game in a game that lasted four hours or longer. Click on the date to see the box score. I verified the Play Index-listed game time by checking contemporaneous printed box scores or stories. There’s also a qualifying game in the Play Index database that for some reason does not show up when I do this search; I’ll mention that later. (By the way, Tom Cheney‘s 16-inning, 21-strikeout game of 1962 just missed at 3:59.)

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO BF TIME
Al Jackson 1962-08-14 NYM PHI L 1-3 15.0 6 3 2 5 6 57 4:35
Mudcat Grant 1959-06-21 (2) CLE NYY W 5-4 14.0 14 4 4 3 8 58 4:18
Stan Williams 1961-05-17 LAD MLN W 2-1 11.0 4 1 1 12 11 49 4:15
Bob Rush 1957-08-23 CHC NYG L 2-3 15.1 11 3 3 2 10 58 4:14
Billy Hoeft 1957-07-28 (2) DET NYY L 3-4 14.1 9 4 4 5 7 58 4:13
Johnny Antonelli 1955-05-01 NYG CIN W 2-1 16.0 6 1 1 5 11 57 4:13
Mickey McDermott 1951-07-28 BOS CLE W 8-4 16.0 11 4 4 1 15 61 4:12
Mike Norris 1980-06-11 OAK BAL W 6-2 14.0 12 2 2 2 5 51 4:10
Warren Spahn 1963-07-02 MLN SFG L 0-1 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 56 4:10
Juan Marichal 1963-07-02 SFG MLN W 1-0 16.0 8 0 0 4 10 59 4:10
Camilo Pascual 1964-10-01 MIN KCA L 4-5 12.0 12 5 1 3 14 52 4:09
Art Nehf 1918-08-01 BSN PIT L 0-2 21.0 12 2 2 5 8 77 4:08
Carl Hubbell 1933-07-02 (1) NYG STL W 1-0 18.0 6 0 0 0 12 59 4:03
Luis Tiant 1974-06-14 BOS CAL L 3-4 14.1 11 4 4 4 5 56 4:02
Lew Burdette 1958-07-21 MLN STL L 4-5 14.0 10 5 4 5 5 54 4:02
Saul Rogovin 1951-07-12 (2) CHW BOS L 4-5 17.0 10 5 4 6 9 63 4:01
Ray Fisher 1920-08-27 (1) CIN NYG L 4-6 17.0 18 6 6 5 4 71 4:01
Art Nehf 1920-08-27 (1) NYG CIN W 6-4 17.0 16 4 3 2 0 66 4:01
Matt Keough 1980-05-17 OAK TOR W 4-2 14.0 5 2 1 6 8 48 4:00
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/22/2015.


Al JacksonThe longest complete game by time in the database went only 15 innings, but at 4 hours 35 minutes lasted nearly as long as the 24-inning A’s-Red Sox game of 1906. Lefty Al Jackson went the distance for the first-year New York Mets, facing 57 batters and allowing just six hits. The New York Times game story reported Jackson threw 215 pitches.

There’s an odd coincidence involving the two longest games on that list, the Al Jackson game and the Mudcat Grant game. In both, Marv Throneberry, playing first base for the losing team, committed an error in extra innings that led to a run.

The shortest game on this list in terms of innings is the 11-inning game won by Stan Williams in 4 hours 15 minutes. Stan managed to cram 206 pitches into those 11 innings, as he walked 12 and struck out 11 to run up the pitch count. His is one of only 12 games in the post-1914 database in which a pitcher reached double figures in both walks and whiffs (another one of those games will come up later in this discussion) and one of only two pitchers on that list (along with Herb Score) to have more walks than strikeouts in his double-double game. Williams is also one of just seven pitchers in the database to be the winning pitcher in a game in which he walked 12 or more (the record that category being 13, by Pete Schneider and Bud Podbielan).

The winning run in the Williams game scored when Bob Lillis, batting for Williams, drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the winning run, as Braves manager Chuck Dressen outsmarted himself in a battle of wits with the Dodgers’ Walter Alston. Dressen had ordered two intentional walks to load the bases after a leadoff triple by Frank Howard; relief pitcher Seth Morehead then struck out pinch-hitter Bob Aspromonte before walking Lillis in an epic 10-pitch at-bat, with two foul balls after the count went full. Had the Braves gotten out of the inning without a run scoring, Williams would have been replaced on the mound in the 12th inning and wouldn’t have shown up in my search.

The losing pitcher was Warren Spahn, who was relieved after yielding Howard’s 11th-inning triple. The game may have already reached the four-hour mark by the time Spahn got the hook, although possibly not. Spahn pitched in another four-hour game that will come up in a moment.

Johnny Antonelli in his 16-inning win in 1955

Johnny Antonelli in his 16-inning win in 1955

The run that ended Johnny Antonelli‘s 16-inning win after 4 hours 13 minutes came about in an unusual way. Whitey Lockman led off the bottom of the 16th with a single and was sacrificed to second. Bob Hooper tried to issue an intentional walk to Don Mueller, but when what would have been the fourth ball got too close to the plate, Mueller reached out and singled to left, moving Lockman to third. Pinch-hitter Bill Taylor then hit a fly ball to deep right field that Wally Post couldn’t hang onto; it was scored a single, but even if Post had caught the ball Lockman would have scored from third.

Mickey McDermott‘s 16-inning win was likely not even his first four-hour game of the month, although the other one doesn’t show up in this search. Fifteen days earlier he had pitched the first 17 innings of a game against the White Sox that wound up going 19. That game lasted 4 hours 47 minutes, and McDermott was almost certainly still in the game when it reached the four-hour mark. In his 16-inning complete game, McDermott won despite allowing runs in both the 15th and 16th innings. Clyde Vollmer ended the game with a grand-slam home run off Bob Feller, who had come on to pitch in relief in the 15th inning. For Vollmer, that capped a streak dating back to July 4 in which he hit 13 homers and drove in 38 runs in just 24 games.

One team had two pitchers who threw four-hour complete games: Billy Martin’s 1980 Oakland A’s. Matt Keough got a 14-inning win over Toronto May 17 in exactly four hours, and Mike Norris won a 14-inning game against Baltimore June 11 in which he threw 160 pitches in 4 hours 10 minutes. The A’s had two more 14-inning performances that season; Rick Langford beat Cleveland July 20 (in 3 hours 23 minutes) and Steve McCatty lost to Seattle August 10 (in 3 hours 36 minutes). No other team since 1952 has had even two pitchers work 14 innings in the same season, and aside from Martin’s quartet no pitcher has thrown 14 innings in a game since 1974. With help from the designated hitter, Martin got 94 complete games out of his staff in 1980, the most of any major league team since the 1941 White Sox had 106. (All 30 major league teams combined had just 118 in 2014.)

Carl HubbellOnly two pitchers in the database threw four-hour shutouts, and both of them are Hall of Famers. The first was Carl Hubbell, whose 18-inning 1-0 win over the Cardinals in 1933 lasted 4 hours 3 minutes and is arguably the greatest pitching performance ever; it is, at least since 1914, the longest shutout by innings in major league history (Walter Johnson also threw an 18-inning shutout, in 1918, but it took just 2 hours 50 minutes). Tex Carleton, pitching on two days rest after winning a nine-inning complete game against the Giants, worked the first 16 innings of that game for St. Louis. Hubbell faced 59 batters, giving up just six hits (no more than one in any inning) and walking no one. Only one Cardinal reached third base. Hubbell’s “game score” (something I’ve written more about here) is the third-highest in the post-1914 database, behind only the 26-inning performances of Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger. (“Game score” puts a premium on long performances.) Hubbell actually batted in the bottom of the 18th, with one out and runners on first and second; he hit a ground ball that led to a force out at second base, moving Jo-Jo Moore to third, and the next batter, Hughie Critz, drove in the game’s only run.

Hubbell’s win was the first game of a doubleheader. The Giants also won the second game 1-0, but it lasted just 1 hour 25 minutes.

Marichal SpahnThe other four-hour shutout is a game so famous there’s even been a book written about it. Just Google Juan Marichal Warren Spahn 16 innings and you can read a whole slew of writing about this 1963 classic. Marichal came out the 1-0 winner over Spahn when Willie Mays homered with one out in the bottom of the 16th at Candlestick Park after 4 hours 10 minutes. This is actually one of two four-hour games in the post-1914 database in which both pitchers went the distance (of course, the Coombs-Harris 1906 marathon is not in the database). The first came on Aug. 27, 1920, when the Giants scored two runs in the top of the 17th to give Art Nehf a 6-4 win over Cincinnati’s Ray Fisher in 4 hours 1 minute.

Art NehfThat game made Nehf the only pitcher we know of, at least since 1914, to have two complete games that lasted at least four hours. In 1918, pitching for the Boston Braves, he lost a 21-inning game to Pittsburgh, 2-0. Retrosheet shows this game lasted 4 hours 8 minutes, the next day’s Boston Herald game story lists it as 4 hours 7 minutes. This game was scoreless for the first 20 innings; the only game in major league history that has gone longer without a run was the April 15, 1968 game between the Mets and Astros that was scoreless until Houston won it with a run in the bottom of the 24th. Nehf was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 21st, so like Stan Williams he wouldn’t have shown up in my search had his teammates come back to tie the game.

Luis Tiant was the last pitcher to work more than 14 innings in a major league game, a remarkable 1974 affair at Anaheim in which he went the distance, only to lose after 4 hours 2 minutes when Mickey Rivers scored on Denny Doyle’s double with one out in the bottom of the 15th. Nolan Ryan worked the first 13 innings for the Angels and joined Stan Williams on the strikeout-walk “double-double” list, fanning 19 and walking 10. Unfortunately no record of his pitch count survives, but it had to have been huge, as he faced 58 batters, the most of his career. The Los Angeles Times game story does note he threw 84 pitches in just the first four innings, in which he struck out nine and walked six; it’s a shame the game total wasn’t included. Ryan took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning before Carl Yastrzemski tied the game with a two-run homer. The Angels threatened to win when they loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the 12th, but Sox manager Darrell Johnson left Tiant in and he retired Bobby Valentine on a short fly ball and Mickey Rivers on a grounder to get out of the jam. Doyle’s double gave California relief pitcher Barry Raziano the only win of his brief major league career.

The four-hour game by Saul Rogovin is notable in that his 17-inning loss to the Red Sox came the day before the 19-inning game in which Mickey McDermott pitched 17. It’s the only time (at least since 1914) pitchers have worked 17 innings on consecutive days — and in this case the same teams were playing.

I mentioned there was a game that didn’t come up in my Play Index search that qualifies. Bob Smith pitched all 22 innings for the Braves on May 17, 1927, losing to the Cubs 4-3 in a game that lasted 4 hours 13 minutes. Smith faced 89 batters in the game, allowing 20 hits and walking nine. In the post-1914 database, only Cadore and Oeschger pitched more innings in a game or faced more batters. Bob Osborn got the win for the Cubs with 14 innings of shutout relief, the longest scoreless relief appearance in the major leagues, at least since 1914. The Cubs and Braves had played previously three days earlier (a Sunday of idleness due to blue laws and a Monday rainout intervened) in a game that went 18 innings, with Guy Bush going the distance for the victorious Cubs (that game lasted 3 hours 42 minutes).

What about “hidden” four-hour games, in which a pitcher who did not work a complete game may have been still in the game when it reached the four-hour mark? To look for candidates, I used Play Index to find pitchers who threw at least 14 innings in a game that lasted more than four hours.

Gaylord Perry pitched 16 shutout innings (making him the last major leaguer to go 16 innings; he was also the last to go 15, in a 1974 game) in a 1967 game that went 21 and lasted 5 hours 40 minutes. If all the innings were the same length Perry would have been in the game 4 hours 19 minutes. Vern Law worked the first 18 innings of a 19-inning game in 1955 (yes, he’s the last to pitch 18 in a game, or even 17 for that matter) that lasted 4 hours 44 minutes, making his prorated share 4 hours 29 minutes. Saul Rogovin (him again!) went the first 15 innings of a 17-inning game in 1952; his prorated share of the total time of 4 hours 40 minutes is 4:07. Ray Moore pitched the first 15 innings of a 16-inning game in 1957 that went 4:29; his share is 4:12. In 1934, Dizzy Dean and Tony Freitas each pitched the first 17 innings of a game that went 18; total time 4:26, their share was 4:11. Again, we have no way of knowing for sure if any of these pitchers were still in the game four hours after it started, but I would wager at least some of them were.

If you know of any other four-hour pitching performances, please leave them in the comments. Aside from the 1906 A’s-Red Sox game there could be others before 1914, and as I mentioned earlier there are games since 1914 that don’t have time of game in the Retrosheet/Play Index database, so I could be missing some.

And if you’re wondering who pitched the longest nine-inning game? That would be Mickey Lolich, whose shutout on the opening day of the 1970 season at Washington lasted 3 hours 43 minutes. Lolich faced 39 batters (only four pitchers have faced more in a nine-inning shutout since), allowing seven hits, walking five and striking out 10…and he threw 168 pitches — on opening day! Four Senators pitchers combined to throw 177.

The loss marked the eighth straight year the Senators had lost their traditional season opener in the nation’s capital…and I love the headline and subhead that appeared in the next day’s Washington Evening Star:

Mickey Lolich game

Randy Johnson just missed Lolich’s mark in 1990, pitching Seattle to a 13-4 win over the White Sox in Chicago that lasted 3 hours 42 minutes. Johnson gave up 10 hits, struck out 11 and threw 153 pitches; six Sox hurlers threw 192.

And what about the scenario I described earlier…the longest “working time” we can verify, a complete game won by the home team’s pitcher in which the home team did not bat in the last inning, thus the home pitcher threw both the first and last pitches? That distinction would be held by Billy O’Dell, who staggered to a 19-8 win over the Dodgers at Candlestick Park on April 16, 1962 in 3 hours 31 minutes. The Dodgers batted around in the ninth inning, scoring five runs, but Giants manager Al Dark left O’Dell in to finish what he started. O’Dell faced 47 batters in the game; only one pitcher since then has faced as many batters in a game in which he pitched nine innings or less (it didn’t happen all that many times before O’Dell, either). There were 27 hits and 14 walks in the game; O’Dell threw 172 pitches, and five Dodger hurlers combined to throw 199.

Jay Tibbs came up just short in 1989 when he pitched a complete-game 13-hitter (no one has allowed more hits in a complete game win since, and only twice since has a winning pitcher allowed more hits) against Toronto in 3 hours 30 minutes. Tibbs threw “only” 127 pitches…but three Blue Jays pitchers walked 15 Orioles (only five teams since have issued as many walks in a nine-inning game) and combined to throw 225 pitches. The win improved Tibbs’ record on the season with the Orioles to 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA after being called up from the minors. He left his next start in the fourth inning with shoulder trouble, spent the rest of the season on the disabled list and won only three more games in his major league career.

The only game in which the home pitcher threw the first and last pitch of the game to go even three hours since 2003 was Clay Buchholz‘s 2007 no-hitter, which went 3 hours 2 minutes.