Sometimes, a baseball book is a lot more than a baseball book. “The Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game” by New York Times writer Dan Barry will tell you all about the 33-inning game that began on April 18, 1981, and continued until 4 a.m. Easter Sunday the next day.

And you will learn a lot about the people who played in that game, from future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr. to players who had just a few games in the big leagues and those who never quite made it.

But you will also know what it was like to live in Pawtucket, R.I, 30 years ago, about the people who listened to the game in Rochester, N.Y., and about the few people who stayed in McCoy Stadium. This is a poignant and humorous piece about baseball and life in America, with quite a few heroes and no real villains. “Bottom of the 33rd” is published by Harper, listed at $26.99, and is 259 pages long. 

Q: It is amazing to me the number of coincidences that had to occur to make that game happen.

A: There were a lot of odd moments and a confluence of events. Considering it 30 years later, it seems remarkable in ways that no one realized at the time. How remarkable that the third baseman for both teams would both go to the Hall of Fame, especially considering that Wade Boggs was not considered much of a prospect in 1981.

It’s remarkable that it was Passover and Easter Sunday morning, and I’m the romantic looking back and seeing redemption and resurrection in a minor league field.

In order for this to happen, the cold night wind would have to be blowing so strongly that balls hit into left field would wind up in right field. The radio broadcast gives a historic eye witness to this. And then you needed that paragraph from the International League rules to go missing. Everyone knew that the game would end before 1 (a.m.) because there was a curfew, that no inning could begin after 12:45 a.m.

But in those days before computers, some clerk in Columbus, Ohio, would retype the rules every year because they made changes at the meetings and had to put them in, so that one paragraph fell out and rolled under the table, and no one ever noticed.

I asked the umpires how they knew about this, and they said, “Before the season, we would sit there and go over the rules and regulations, and noticed it.” So they studied this like Talmudic scholars.

So everyone is waiting until about the 15th inning and yawning and thinking they can go home soon, when the umpire says, “You ain’t going nowhere.”

And there were a number of pitchers who pitched the games of their lives. In the seventh inning, Luis Aponte comes in for four innings and strikes out nine, and when I find him living in Venezuela, he said it was the greatest pitching performance of his life. Bruce Hurst pitched really well that night, pitching five innings and striking out seven guys.

Jim Umbarger pitched 10 innings in the middle of the game, gave up no runs and four hits and striking out nine people, and in effect, no one sees it. He said, “I wish to God there was a scout there that Easter Sunday morning.” 

Q: Now minor league baseball is trendy, but back then, it seems like it was barely surviving. So the current baseball world owes a big debt to guys like Ben Mondor, owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

A: In the mid-’70s, minor league baseball was suffering except in places like Rochester and Columbus, where they had a following that is still there today. But they were struggling, and it was so bad that they used to recycle the popcorn. 

It’s hard to believe now that in January of 1977, the Boston Red Sox had no one to take over their Triple-A team. So now Ben Mondor steps in, and they make sure he was not responsible for all of the debts left over by the previous owner. But he stepped in and resurrected the ball club. Mondor died just as the book was being finished, and I gave him the manuscript. In his dying days he was reading it, and he understood that this was a tribute to him. But these ballparks were not places people wanted to go then, and they definitely were not trendy. 

Q: The city of Pawtucket is a major character in this book as a downtrodden place. Were there ever good times in Pawtucket?

A: Before the American Industrial Revolution through the 19th century and through World War II, Pawtucket really thrived, With the war effort, its machine shops made it a viable community, but it really suffered when all the textile mills went South. Now it is trying to find the next big thing. And they are not alone in this in America. I lived in Pawtucket from 1989 to 1993, and I was back just a couple of weeks ago, and the people are very giving and resilient. 

Q: One thing that comes across in this book is just how hard it is for a player to make the major leagues.

A: I have been a baseball fan all my life, and I didn’t really appreciate how hard it was until I did this book. I played all through childhood and on my high school teams, on travel teams and even on an over-30 team. I wasn’t good enough to make my college team.

Imagine now the guys who are good in college but not good enough to make the pros, or go from Single-A to Double-A, or Double-A to Triple-A. Now that I have done this book, I watch the major leagues differently. Fans can make fun of Carl Crawford or say J.D. Drew is a dog, that’s what they do as fans, but those players are there.

You have these guys who were the best in their counties and the best in their state, and they can’t make it. They are in Pawtucket, and they can’t make it that 46 miles north to Boston. In some cases, it is just a numbers game. They show just one slight defect in spring training. And this is before expansion. Dave Koza would have been playing somewhere in the major leagues if it were like it is now.

But at least they had this night and were in this book, and are happy that fate led them to this night to play baseball for eight hours. They were not happy young men then, but 30 years later, they are very proud to have played in that game. A game that is in the Hall of Fame, and they are proud of that. 

Q: How hard was it to contact all of these people? Not just the ballplayers, but the bat boys, the people in the stands and all of that?

A: Sometimes it wasn’t easy. First, the Pawtucket Red Sox kept great records, so they helped me out. The bat boy went to work for the Boston Red Sox, so that was easy.

With some of the locals, because I lived in Pawtucket I know a couple of guys, and I asked if they knew anyone who was involved. So I found a guy whose father worked in all the muck building McCoy Stadium.

Sometime during the game the radio announcers from Rochester asked any listeners to contact the station if they were listening, and hundreds of people wrote in and I got the names and addresses When I told them I was writing this book, as soon as I said “the longest game,” they were so excited and invited me right into their living rooms. 

Q: Joe Morgan is my favorite Red Sox manager, and his common-man touch comes through in this book. Could someone like him — who drove snowplows during the off-season — manage in baseball today?

A: I think he could. They say he is too much of an instinctive guy who goes by his gut, and some of his pitchers especially chafed under him because of that. But I think he would avail himself of all the Billy Beane numbers crunching — that plus the instinctual knowledge derived from a lifetime in baseball. I think Joe Morgan would survive quite well. He would avail himself of all the tools. 

Q: Should he replace Terry Francona?

A: Well, he’s only a little older than Jack McKeon.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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