Chat with Dan Barry
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, we welcome New York Times columnist Dan Barry to chat about his writing career, which includes his latest book "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game" - detailing the longest game in professional baseball history.
On April 18, 1981, the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings played for 8 hours, 25 minutes and is the backdrop for Barry's book. He recounts everything and everyone involved in the game, from the game's two future Hall of Famers - Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr. - to the players' wives to the cold fans and the ups and downs of 33 innings of baseball.
Send your questions now and join Barry Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (1:58 PM)
Dan is here!
Did you talk to anyone who hadn't sat through the 32 innings but was there for the 33rd? Did they really feel like they were a part of history? They only sat for 20 minutes.
Dan Barry (2:00 PM)
The answer would be that the pitcher for the Rochester Red Wings was Steve Grilli was not with them for the 32 innings but was pitching for the 33rd. He definitely felt a disconnect. He hadn't frozen with his teammates that night and now the outcome was on his shoulders.
Dan Barry (2:01 PM)
Fans who went to all 33 innings truly resent the fans who only went to the 33rd inning, which was on a warm sunny June evening and for the rest of their lives, have been saying that they were "at baseball's longest game."
The backdrop for this book is the game itself, but it doesn't seem to really be about the game, moreso the stories of the people behind the game. So, I'm assuming it took a lot of planning in developing the book. Did you do an outline or reporting prior to putting together the book's plan?
Dan Barry (2:02 PM)
I spent about a year tracking down and interviewing everybody from the ballplayers to the managers to the batboy in the clubhouse. Then after I had a real clear vision of what that night was like, I structured it around the progression of the game, but I didn't want to do a balls and strikes pitch by pitch accound. So throughout the book, there are these diversions or pauses where I now try to tell you the backstory of the player stepping up to the plate or the fan who caught a foul ball.
Dan Barry (2:03 PM)
Actually trying to tell who they were and who they would become with that night as the spine.
Do you think you could find similar stories about the MLB record game between the White Sox and Brewers that went 25 innings in 1984?
Dan Barry (2:04 PM)
I think that the minor league game is more compelling, at least to me, because there is an added poinancy to a minor league game, a Shakespearean element where you are cognizant of the fact that most of these guys will not make it to the majors. A long MLB game lacks that underlying tension.
You obviously talked to the players involved in the game, but what was the most obscure job title that you talked to? groundskeeper? Team bookkeeper? receptionist? Anything like that?
Dan Barry (2:05 PM)
The most removed character from the game was a groundskeeper who was in charge of the faulty lights. He was the only guy who knew how to turn them on. His nickname was Killer and I tracked him down at the track.
Do you ever see the baseball game you wrote about compared to the famous tennis match ultimately won by John Isner?
Dan Barry (2:06 PM)
I have, actually. That's an amazing athletic feat to be playing tennis for that long. Much more physically grueling than playing right field in Pawtucket. Except I would have to say the catchers that night earned their Red Man chew.
Why this particular game? Is it just because it's the longest in history?
Dan Barry (2:07 PM)
Yes, exactly. It had the elements of being the longest in history and it was also played at the minor league level. It was also played in a struggling mill city in New England on Holy Saturday night. You just have to get out of the way of that and let the story unfold.
Did you have to sell a publishing company on the idea of this book or did someone come to you about it?
Dan Barry (2:09 PM)
No, it was my idea entirely and after spending a year researching the background of the game, I then was struck with the fear: what have I just done for the last year? Will any publisher buy this?
Dan Barry (2:09 PM)
But it turned out several publishers were interested.
Dan Barry (2:09 PM)
As we all know, there aren't enough baseball books.
Do you have a background in writing about sports? Is something like that necessary when writing a book like this?
Dan Barry (2:10 PM)
I'm not a sports writer, but I have written about sports over my checkered career. I've written about basketball and baseball and I don't think you need to have a background in sports to write about it. It's a human endeavor and it should be approached without a sense of it being special or hallowed or anything like that.
I read your Newtown piece and it was very well done....What were you thinking when you arrived there, in terms of how you would approach your storytelling and reporting?
Dan Barry (2:11 PM)
All I wanted to do was be as respectful as possible in everything I did and asked and wrote.
Boggs and Ripken are the best players to come from this game and their stories are well documented, but did you talk to them about their thoughts on this game? What did they hav eto say?
Dan Barry (2:13 PM)
I talked to both of them. What struck me was that in the 30 years since this game, they have obviously accumulated great memories of long careers in MLB. They've been in all star games and World Series and they're both in the Hall of Fame, but both of them had vivid memories of this game down to the pitch. Ripken recalled exactly how in the fifth inning he hit a ground ball to Boggs that he thought Boggs fielded to rob him of a hit. Think about that. A meaningless game in 1981 and he remembers that hit.
How much input do you have in what you write about/cover?
Dan Barry (2:15 PM)
Most of the time, I get to write about what I want to, mainly because no one at the Times wants to deal with me....not really. But at the same time, I am often assigned to news stories, like Newtown and the Trayvon Martin case and the tornado in Joplin, Mo.
How interesting is it that this Pawtucket game went 33 innings in 8:25, yet that Chicago-Milwaukee game went 25 innings and took 8:06?
Dan Barry (2:16 PM)
It's very interesting and they played it entirely in one night, as opposed to the minor league game which was split over two months.
What's the process like in trying to get a book published?
Dan Barry (2:17 PM)
Trying to figure out a way to have a forward narrative in the telling of that night while also trying to tell the pasts and the futures of the participants. How to tell that in a cohesive narrative way.
Dan, how were you able to separate your emotions from the scenes you saw in Newtown?
Dan Barry (2:19 PM)
I don't know if I did. But reporters will tell you that when they are covering events like 9/11 or Newtown, they go into a journalistic mode of bearing witness and then, after deadline, processing it in private.
A lot of the players from the longest game never became big MLB stars...overall, how did their lives turn out?
Dan Barry (2:20 PM)
The ones I talked to, a couple of dozen, and they attest to the fact that there is life after baseball. They may not have made it to the major leagues or they may have only had the proverbial cup of coffee, but there are other ways to live and enjoy life and almost all of them have.
Dan Barry (2:20 PM)
Thanks very much for the chat. How about a joyous and safe New Year.