Thursday, May 9, 2013
The day the pitchers went 26 innings
By David Schoenfield
Matt Harvey's almost-perfect game on Tuesday night which resulted in him receiving a no-decision reminded me of the ultimate no-decision game: The Saturday afternoon on May 1, 1920, when Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger each pitched 26 innings in a 1-1 tie eventually called because of darkness.
When I was a kid, that game was pretty famous; certainly more famous than it seems now. I have a book The Sporting News published in 1986 titled "Baseball's 50 Greatest Games" and the Cadore-Oeschger battled ranked sixth, ahead of memorable games like Carlton Fisk's 1975 World Series home run, Johnny Vander Meer's second consecutive no-hitter and the Brooklyn Dodgers finally winning the World Series in 1955.
Certainly, the game was different in 1920, but still ... 26 innings is a little crazy. I'm pretty sure no reporters thought to ask managers Wilbert Robinson and George Stallings why they let the pitch counts run so high. Cadore faced 96 batters and Oeschger 90. Conservatively estimating an average of three pitches per batter, we're talking nearly 300 pitches for each guy. Oeschger (pronounced "Eshker") would estimate he threw about 250 pitches, mostly fastballs, while Cadore would guess he'd thrown "at least 300 curves."
The game started at 3 p.m. at Braves Field in Boston and lasted until 6:50, when umpire Bill McCormick called it, despite pleas from the players to go one more inning so they could say they played three full games. It was also the first day of daylight savings, so if the game had been played a day earlier it would have been called well before the 26th inning.
The New York Times report on the game didn't mention Cadore and Oeschger until the fourth subhead below the headline and the game story didn't mention the two hurlers until the ninth paragraph. The big story was that the game had lasted a record 26 innings, not that both pitchers had gone the distance. "The less hardy of the fans began to show signs of the strain by moving restlessly in their seats and babbling about perpetual motion and eternity," wrote the anonymous scribe. Only later in the story did the paper report:
"Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore were the real outstanding heroes among a score of heroes in the monumental affray of this afternoon. ... Instead of showing any signs of weakening under the strain, each of them appeared to grow stronger. In the final six innings neither artist allowed even the shadow of a safe single."
I suspect the gray, damp weather may have helped a bit as well in those days before lights. The closest a team came to winning in extra was the 17th, when Brooklyn loaded the bases with one out. The next batter grounded back to Oeschger, who got the force out at home, but the throw to first to complete the double play was in the dirt and Ed Konetchy tried to score from third, only to get thrown out, with Boston catcher Hank Gowdy apparently making a diving tag on Konetchy's spikes.
From there, neither pitcher wanted out. Years later, Cadore would say of Brooklyn manager Robinson, "If he had tried to make out of the game, I think I would have strangled him."
Long outings by pitchers weren't unusual then. Oeschger, in fact, had dueled Burleigh Grimes for 19 innings almost exactly a year earlier (April 30). Lefty Tyler and Art Nehf had each pitched 21 innings in separate games in 1918 and Milt Watson pitched 20 when matched up against Tyler.
Neither pitcher threw again for more than a week. Cadore said he couldn't raise his arm for three days to comb his hair, but he returned and had a fine season, helping Brooklyn reach the World Series (he lost his only start).
It's difficult to know whether either pitcher suffered long-term damage because of the game. Both were 28 years old for their epic duel, but Cadore wasn't as effective after 1920. He'd been an excellent pitcher in 1917, 1919 and 1920 (missing most of 1918 while serving in the Army), but fell off in 1921 and 1922 was his last full season in the majors. He married the daughter of Dodgers president Charles Ebbets and worked on Wall Street until the stock market crash in 1929, later moving to Idaho to mine copper.
Oeschger's 1921 numbers were nearly identical to his 1920 season as he won 20 games. But he too declined rapidly beginning in 1922, surviving in the majors until 1925. He became a junior high phys ed teacher and vice principal in California and lived until he was 94, the last survivor among participants in the longest game in major league history.