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Today in MLB history: They played 26 innings in Boston and nobody won

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The longest game in major-league history happened 100 years ago today.

Braves Field in Boston
Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The game between the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins on Saturday, May 1, 1920 shouldn’t have happened at all. Per the SABR account of this game, it rained all morning in Boston and it was still “overcast, damp and raw” when the scheduled starting time, 3 p.m., arrived.

Even so, they played. And played. And played some more. The Robins (as the Dodgers were known in that time, after their manager, Wilbert Robinson) scored a run on an RBI single in the fifth inning. The Braves tied the game up in the sixth on another RBI single.

And then no one scored for a very, very, very long time. Twenty innings more, in fact, went by that wet afternoon in Boston without a single runner crossing the plate. It was the epitome of a Deadball Era game: 26 innings and 24 total hits, only three of which (two doubles and a triple) went for extra bases. And one of the doubles was hit by Braves pitcher Joe Oeschger... who threw all 26 innings. Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore also threw a complete game that afternoon.

But neither pitcher posted a win. That’s because at 6:50 p.m., close to the time it was becoming dark in Boston that day, the game was ended, declared a 1-1 tie. From the SABR article:

A quirk of the calendar made the longest game possible. May 1 was the first day of Daylight Saving Time, meaning sunset came an hour later than the day before. The 26th inning ended at 6:50 P.M. EDT, still nearly an hour before official sundown, but the sun was nowhere in sight. The dark clouds and mist made it hard to see. Oeschger said, “The batters were griping to end the game.” The umpire in chief, Barry McCormick, talked to both managers and called a halt because of darkness.

The teams played 26 innings, almost three full games, in 3 hours and 50 minutes. Each half-inning, on average, took less than five minutes, even counting the breaks in between. While there has never been another 26-inning game in the majors, the White Sox and Brewers played 25 in 1984; that one, completed over two days because of a curfew, lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes. The 1974 Cardinals and Mets played 25 innings in a brisk 7:04. Obviously players moved at a different pace in 1920.

Three hours and fifty minutes. I mean... there were 154 nine-inning games in MLB in 2019 (that’s about six percent of the season) that went 3:50 or longer. The Cubs were involved in 10 of those. But 100 years ago, with players generally trained to put the ball in play, they could play 26 innings in that amount of time, stopped only by the weather and the lack of daylight.

How many pitches were thrown in that game?

At the time nobody knew how many pitches Oeschger and Cadore threw. Nobody asked until more than 30 years later. Oeschger guessed his total was about 250. Cadore thought he was close to 300.

Both pitchers had fairly long MLB careers. Cadore played 10 seasons; Oeschger 12. Neither was anywhere near great, though Oeschger won 20 games in 1921, back when that meant something. The entire SABR article on this game linked above is worth reading.

Mike Bojanowski, a student of baseball history as I am, told me:

This really does seem like something out of legend, it’s inconceivable that any such game could be played today. Oeschger was a Chicago kid, though he spent the great majority of his long life in northern California. The street on which he lived was even named for him, within his lifetime. If you wrote to him to request an autograph (as I did), he would sign what you requested, but also include a signed copy of the 1920 boxscore.

And here is a copy of that autographed boxscore, from a game played 100 years ago today. It’s definitely from a different time.