PAWTUCKET — While this is not a book review of Dan Barry’s “Bottom of the 33rd,” the goal here is to lend depth behind the 255-page opus currently available.
This is about reenacting the journey Barry took in taking one particular subject and spinning it into a finished product. Reliving the process Barry undertook – from countless interviews to visiting the archives at The Pawtucket Times – is almost as fascinating as the final product itself because of the different angles he explores.
Any storyteller worth one’s weight in gold knows the proper steps needed to take in order to make something like this happen. Finding a subject worthy of denotation is obviously a good start, but so is stepping aside and letting the subjects-at-hand regale, sharing their thoughts and memories about what happened the April and June nights of 1981.
As Barry noted, without the cooperation and patience displayed by so many, there is no book about “The Longest Game,” the 33-inning ultra marathon of a baseball game that was as much biblical as it was historic.
“I wanted to do a dream-like book,” said Barry, currently a national columnist for the New York Times.
“It was a confluence of a few factors” Barry replied when asked where his inspiration came from. For five years, spanning the late 80s and early 90s, he lived on Maynard Street, locating directly across from St. Raphael Academy.
“I was close enough [to McCoy Stadium] to hear the crowds during the game,” Barry recalled.
Belonging to a 30-and-older baseball league in R.I. started to put ideas into Barry’s head regarding what was unfolding on April 18-19, 1981 at McCoy.
“I remember playing these long games that would never end,” he said. “They would go past midnight and I would be in the outfield, waiting for the game to end. The grass would be getting wet, the sky pitch black. There would be no one in the stands. It’s the seventh inning and I’m like ‘What am I doing here?’”
Thumbing through a picture-book account of “The Longest Game” at a friend’s beach house a few years back was the epiphany Barry needed to set the wheels in motion.
“What if you made ‘The Longest Game’” even longer?” Barry recalls a friend asking him. “What if you messed around with time that every time somebody got up, you paused the time clock there and said who this guy was and where he was going?”
The book’s prologue is the tone setter, laying the foundation that helps set up the anecdotes that accompany the reenactment of innings 1-33. It’s the result of nearly 12 months worth of research on Barry’s part, one that helped him realize that this could be good, that this is a captivating story worth telling.
“I found all of these interesting back-stories. For example [Rochester shortstop] Bobby Bonner had gone on to become an African missionary,” said Barry. “I gathered all that string and basically wrote the first chapter of the book, then compiled an outline on how the rest of the book would go.”
Part of Barry’s research led him to the offices of The Pawtucket Times last fall. Billy Broadbent, the PawSox batboy that faithful night, was at the heart of the visit, for Barry had heard that Broadbent had been ejected from a game the year prior.
“[Former Times sports editor] Julie Dalton had written an account about Broadbent being kicked out of the game. I needed to find it in order to better tell his story,” Barry explained. “[Pawtucket general manager] Lou Schwechheimer told me to ask for [Times secretary Jane Giovannucci]. She led me to archives on the fourth floor. We dug through them and found the article.”
Barry mentioned that he leaned heavily on the newspaper formerly known as The Pawtucket Evening Times. Not just the articles related to the game, but also the ones depicting what was going on in the city at that moment.
“I came across an editorial in June of 1981 where it talked about how you pronounce the name of the city,” said Barry about a tongue-in-cheek piece no doubt devoted to the herd of national media that descended upon Pawtucket to witness the conclusion.
If Barry needed an answer to anything that unfolded during all 33 innings, though, former Times sports writer Mike Scandura was his meticulous go-to source.
“He still had his scorebook, so I was able to recreate counts because Mike did a pitch-by-pitch account,” said Barry. “He would make notes like ‘To the wall’ or ‘Wind stopped ball.’”
Barry was asked if he thought he had collected too much information. He had Scandura’s scorebook as well as the one official scorer Bill George swore by. There was also a video snip-it and the radio broadcast from the 21st inning on that helped paint the broad strokes the author needed in his recreation efforts.
There was also the “dozens” of interviews Barry had cultivated, both in person and on the phone. Of course the most notable characters are chronicled, from future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs to colorful manager Joe Morgan to Dave Koza, the hero who earned a slice of baseball immortality when he singled in Marty Barrett with the winning run in the home half of the 33rd inning.
Barry and his inquisitive mind wished to delve deeper. In his eyes the police officer freezing in the stands was just as important as Boggs and Koza. The clubhouse attendants and umpires, too. They were there the night history unfurled; they too deserve to have their stories told.
“Sometimes I would think of the night as more than a baseball game,” said Barry. “A community formed that night, and by adding the perspectives of the batboys or the fans in the stands, you hope to create this almost cinematic sense of what the night felt and looked like from various angles. Everyone’s a player in someway.”
No reenactment would not be complete without the input from what Barry dubs “the holy trinity of Pawtucket” – Ben Mondor, Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer.
“I was struck by Ben and his generosity in helping me to get things done,” said Barry about Mondor, who the book is dedicated to. “He would help track down [Pawtucket pitcher] Luis Aponte in Venezuela. I would have had a hard time doing that, but Ben got it done. His storytelling … I could have listened to Ben Mondor forever.
“At the end of the day I had too much information that I had to leave things out,” Barry continued. “Sometimes you wish you could have kept it in, but I had to keep the narrative flowing without too much interruption. I’m asking a lot of the reader to stay with me when I’m messing around with time, going back and fourth.”
That said, Barry feels he was able to accomplish his goal of rendering the value that “The Longest Game” holds. The project itself encompassed 2½ years. In his eyes it was worth every second.
“I thought it was a great subject because first and foremost, it’s the longest game in baseball history,” Barry said. “Second, it takes place in a Depression Era-hulk of a stadium that in 1981 wasn’t anywhere near as wonderful as it is today. The game unfolded on Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday morning, which to me asks the question about resurrection and trying to find life in the night.
“It’s so rich in terms of its narrative strands that sometimes I had to get out of the way of the material, to let the story tell itself.”