It’s not often that you see a batter go 0-for-9 in a game, but that’s what two Tigers did on a warm Saturday in Philadelphia in July 1945. The game was historic – it’s still the longest game in American League history that ended in a tie.
That day – July 21, 1945 – after 24 innings, with neither team able to score more than one run, the game was called on account of darkness. Amazingly, the 24 innings were played in 4 hours and 48 minutes – about the time it takes the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to play one of their marathon contests nowadays.
Back then the game was played a little differently, that’s for sure. Tiger manager Steve O’Neill, himself a tough-nosed former catcher, took little mercy on his club. Detroit catcher Bob Swift was behind the plate for the entire 24 innings, and he was one of the Tigers hitters who was collared with an 0-for-9. The other was second baseman Eddie Mayo, who despite his performance that day, was in the midst of a fine season and would finish second in AL Most Valuable Player voting to teammate Hal Newhouser. Mayo at least got on base once in the 24 innings via a walk, Swift never got that far.
The Tigers starting pitcher was Les Mueller, in his first season after spending three years in the military during World War II. Mueller was unusual in that era for two reasons – he was tall (at 6’3 one of the tallest players in the game) and he wore eyeglasses. Prior to the 1950s, very few major league players wore glasses. Mueller put his spectacles to good use that afternoon – he pitched 19 2/3 innings! That’s right, he went into the 20th inning before O’Neill replaced him with a reliever. There were no such thing as pitch counts back then, but using a method devised by some statheads, we’re able to estimate that Mueller tossed roughly 264 that day. Phew!
In the 20th, O’Neill called on Dizzy Trout, a starting pitcher who had appeared in relief in the second game of the doubleheader the day before. Trout wiggled out of a jam and then tossed four shutout innings of his own. The A’s, managed by Connie Mack, the 82-year old owner/manager, utilized two pitchers that day, the starter going 13 and his reliever toiling for 11 more frames. Mack was so old that he’d been born during the Civil War, and now just a few weeks after the end of the Second World War in Europe, he perspired through this yawner in Shibe Park. One wonders how many scorecards he used during a 24-inning game?
Mack’s young third baseman was a 22-year old kid with promise, but he went 0-for-10 against the Tigers that day. His name was George Kell, and he became pretty well known in Detroit later on.
The Tigers did their best to give this one away: Mayo, first baseman Rudy York, and shortstop Skeeter Webb all committed errors. But the Tigers infield turned four double plays to erase Athletics’ runners. Not even Hank Greenberg could push across a winning run in this contest. Expecting a day off (Hank had only been back from service in the War for a few weeks), Greenberg was motioned into the game as a pinch-hitter in the 22nd inning. He drew a walk but was stranded on base. In total, the teams banged out 27 hits and left 33 runners on base. It was a day when no one could get that two-out clutch hit. But for 24 innings?
After the 24th, with the sky dimming and the sun retreating, home plate umpire Bill Summers called the game and told everyone to go home. Much of the original paying crowd of less than 4,600 fans had long since left the park. The final few innings were played without much cheering at all. Under the rules, the game was called a tie and would be replayed from the start at a later date. The stats from the game would be counted in the official record, however.
The next day the Tigers and A’s would play two games, the second game called after six innings due to darkness. It was a welcome relief for the pitching staffs and for Swift – who caught all 15 innings that day too!