On this date 103 years ago, a kind of Boston marathon happened.
It was your standard early May matchup between the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers — or, as they were known at the time, the Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Robins. Two future Hall of Famers would take the field that day — the Braves’ slick-fielding shortstop Rabbit Maranville, and the Robins’ slugging left fielder Zack Wheat, who would go on to hit a whopping nine home runs in 1920, good enough for sixth in the National League. Cy Williams would lead the NL with 15, while over in the American League, Babe Ruth, then in his first season with the New York Yankees, would hit … 54.
At its outset, this game seemed to be fairly straightforward. Pitchers Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore, both nurturing ERAs under 1.00 at the time, settled in for a duel. Brooklyn struck first in the fifth inning with Ivy Olson driving in Ernie Krueger with a single, but the Braves struck back in the sixth, with Walton Cruise tripling and then coming home on a Tony Boeckel single.
That was the last time either team would score that day.
The game went to extra innings with the score still tied. Then it kept going. And going. And still going. Runners grounded into double plays. They were caught stealing. They were stranded in scoring position. By the time the game was called, it was the longest, by innings, in MLB history.
Let’s take a look at it, by the numbers.
All in all, the game lasted an incredible 26 innings. The Braves would leave runners in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth and 15th innings, while the Robins would do so in the top of the 17th and 22nd, but other than that, neither team came close to scoring for the overwhelming majority of a seemingly endless parade of innings. The two teams must have had incredible bullpens, right?
Well, not exactly. Oeschger and Cadore both pitched the entire game. We’re not quite sure how many pitches they threw, but Cadore faced 96 batters, while Oeschger faced 90, for a combined total of 186. By comparison, Gerrit Cole, 2023’s leader in innings pitched, took four games to face as many batters as either of them did in one. Cole is averaging about 6⅔ innings pitched per game, by the way.
The reason the game ended is also worthy of comment: darkness. Fields didn’t have lights back then, and games were often called or postponed due to the players, umpires and fans no longer being able to see. The first actual night game in MLB history wouldn’t come until 1935. May 1 was the first day of 1920’s daylight saving time, meaning that, when the game was called at 6:50 p.m., there was still enough light to play, but can you really blame them?
3 hours and 50 minutes
That ending time is the other interesting aspect of this whole thing — the game started at 3 p.m., which means that all 26 innings came and went in under four hours — 3:50, to be exact, more than twice as long as the average 1920 game length of 1:51. It’s fascinating to see what was in essence three games fit into, say, a typical Boston Red Sox–New York Yankees contest from the past decade or so. Just by comparison, the average game length from 2021, which had the lengthiest average time on record, was 3:11. MLB’s pitch clock has reduced that to 2:38.
For what it’s worth, though the Braves had a terrible season, the Robins went on to lose to the then-Cleveland Indians in the World Series, five games to two. That’s not a typo, by the way, as the 1920 World Series was a best-of-nine affair. Though the basics are the same, in many ways, it’s almost as if the Braves and Robins were playing a different game entirely from the one we enjoy today.