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Duel Till Dusk

The pitchers didn't flinch, so darkness ended the 26-inning marathon in 1920

May 01, 2003|Howie Stalwick | Special to The Times

"I can beat that bum. If Oeschger wants to keep on pitching, I can do the same thing. I'm no sissy."

-- Pitcher Leon Cadore

There was no such thing as night baseball. Television had not yet been invented. Prohibition -- a ban on the legal consumption of alcohol in America -- had just begun.

If ever anyone needed a drink, though, Leon Cadore of the Brooklyn Robins, as the Dodgers were known at the time, and Joe Oeschger of the Boston Braves certainly qualified on May 1, 1920. That was the day they pitched all 26 innings of the longest major league game in history.

That's right -- 26 innings. Almost three regulation games. Cadore (KUH-door) and Oeschger (OHSCH-ker) pitched their guts out all afternoon and into the night ... and for nothing, ultimately. The game was ended by darkness with the score tied, 1-1.

"There was glory enough in it for both," the Boston Globe reported, "and after the 24th inning, it really would have been a pity to see either one to have been declared the loser."

Twenty-six innings, and Brooklyn came up with only nine hits, all singles, and four walks off Oeschger. The Braves got 15 hits, including two doubles and a triple, off Cadore.

There was no scoring after Boston produced its run in the sixth inning, one inning after Brooklyn had managed its run. Neither pitcher gave up a hit over the final six innings. Each man struck out seven.

"After the game had passed the 18th inning, each pitcher was impartially cheered when leaving the [mound] or coming to bat," the Globe reported.

Incredibly, the game lasted only 3 hours 50 minutes. Each team made only two substitutions. Only three baseballs were used on a dark, gusty, often drizzly day at cavernous Braves Field.

"It was one of the greatest games ever played, but on account of the weather, only about 4,000 of the faithful turned out to see the game," the Globe reported.

What those fans saw, according to the New York Times, "was a prolonged, heart-breaking struggle.... The oldest living man can remember nothing like it, nor can he find anything in his granddad's diary worthy of comparison."

Cadore and Oeschger later agreed that the darkness hindered batters -- the game ended at 6:30 p.m. Still, fans booed and players on both sides pleaded for at least one more inning when umpire Barry McCormick called the game.

"McCormick remembered that he had an appointment pretty soon with a succulent beefsteak," the Times reported. "He wondered if it wasn't getting dark.

"He held out one hand as a test and decided that, in the gloaming, it resembled a Virginia ham. He knew it wasn't a Virginia ham and became convinced that it was too dark to play ball.

"Thereupon he called the game, to the satisfaction of himself and Mr. Hart [the other umpire] and the chagrin of everyone else concerned."

Cadore, a curveball specialist, and the hard-throwing Oeschger always insisted they could have kept on pitching. However, Oeschger later told Cadore, "I was waiting for you to make some kind of move to call it quits, but I had to go on as long as you did."

Cadore acknowledged, "I was a bit tired. Naturally, my arm stiffened, and I couldn't raise it to comb my hair for three days."

Oeschger told Cadore a few days after the marathon contest, "You can stick a knife in my arm and I can't even feel it. I can't tie my laces or unbutton my clothes."

Oeschger concluded, "We've ruined ourselves."

Later, however, both men insisted the game had done no long-term harm to their arms. Oeschger shut out the New York Giants four days later, finished the year 15-13 and won a career-high 20 games in 1921.

Cadore won a career-high 15 games in 1920, then won 13 more in '21. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander posted a 68-72 record and 3.14 earned-run average in 10 major league seasons, ending in 1924.

Oeschger, a 6-foot, 190-pound right-hander, ended his 12-year major league career in 1925 with an 83-116 record and a 3.81 ERA.

Cadore worked as a stockbroker and liquor salesman after leaving baseball. He died of cancer in Spokane, Wash., at 66 in 1958. His 12 assists in the historic game remain a record for a major league pitcher.

Oeschger, a longtime junior high school physical education teacher in San Francisco, died in nearby Rohnert Park in 1986. He was 95. No one has ever topped the 21 2/3 consecutive shutout innings in one game that Oeschger recorded on that memorable day in 1920.

To the end, however, Cadore and Oeschger never seemed overly impressed by their epic feat.

As Oeschger once said, "A 1-1 contest that goes 26 innings must have been dull to watch."

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