Longest game is subject of baseball book

At the Sun-Gazette, staff members tend to read. A lot. So we thought we would share what we’re reading and let you know how they fare.

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Reader: Mike Reuther, political-business writer.

What I read: “Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game” by Dan Barry.

Synopsis: The longest professional baseball game ever played wasn’t so dramatic or exciting. The players and other personalities connected to it were the story.

Stats: HarperCollins Publishers, Copyright 2011.

What I thought: This is a book about the longest professional baseball game ever played. That in itself doesn’t seem like a very promising premise for a book.

But this story is much more than an inning-by-inning account of a game between two minor league teams – the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings.

The game was played on a cold April night in 1981 before an official crowd of more than 1,000 people.

By the time it was suspended many hours later in the pre-dawn of Easter, the players were spent, and the very few fans who hung around exhausted.

The players included the likes of future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr. and several others who would go on to Major League careers.

To his credit, the author writes not only about the stars, but other people that readers and baseball fans have likely never heard of.

We learn, for example, about Pawtucket Red Sox owner Ben Mondor and some of the other central figures of this baseball franchise. There’s background on the city of Pawtucket and its rich baseball history, including the building of the ball park.

The author includes biographical sketches about minor figures who were at the game – sportswriters and the radio team airing it back to the few bleery-eyed fans in Rochester who bothered listening to the broadcast.

Barry includes in the story some of the few fans who stuck around for eight hours of baseball on this chilly night.

One of the central figures in the book is Dave Koza, a hard-hitting Pawtucket first baseman, who like many players dreams of a Major League career. That Koza, who hails from a small town in Wyoming, turns up a hero in the game and subsequently gains some small degree of fame, turns out to be a high water mark for this young man.

Much of the rest of Koza’s life will be hard knocks – dead-end jobs, a broken marriage, alcoholism. For most of the players, it was a memorable game, eventually suspended in the wee hours of the morning before finally being settled two months later when the teams met up again in Pawtucket.

There’s nothing glamorous about the minor leagues.

Pawtucket and Rochester are a pair of Class AAA clubs- just one step below the Major Leagues. It’s far from “The Show”, and players are desperate to make that leap forward, to escape the world of long bus rides, second rate lodgings and games that basically don’t count for much.

Indeed, the Minor Leagues exist to groom future Major Leaguers. Most of these players will never play in the big leagues, and this single game seems to represent their long, mostly futile struggles to make it that far.

Angelo Cataldi, at the time a “Providence Journal” sportswriter, spent much of the long game bemoaning his fate.

As desperate as the players are to become Major Leaguers, Cataldi dreams of more glamorous assignments with bigger newspapers.

Later, Cataldi would make the leap to the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and eventually a gig in that city as part of a much-listened morning radio show.

But on that long, cold April night, he was still in the minor leagues, witnessing and later writing about yet another game that, save for its historic significance, would have otherwise been long forgotten.