The site of the longest professional baseball game ever played and the home of Boston's Triple A team since 1973, Pawtucket, R.I., is losing its minor league team.
The Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston's Triple A affiliate affectionately known as the PawSox, are reportedly moving to Providence. The move won't happen this season, but Pawtucket mayor Donald Grebien told the Associated Press that the team's new ownership group—headed by Red Sox president Larry Luchino and lawyer James K. Skeffington—intends to build a new "destination stadium" in another city rather than refurbishing Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium. Rhode Island television station NBC 10 reported that the new city will be neighboring Providence, which is just six miles south of Pawtucket on the other side of the Seekonk River.
That all might sound like a provincial concern, but there's a considerable amount of baseball history involved. To begin with, Pawtucket and the Red Sox have the second-longest uninterrupted association between a major league team and a Triple A league city in baseball today. Created in 1970, the PawSox began life in McCoy Stadium as Boston's Double A affiliate and were promoted to the Triple A International League in '73. Only the Royals have had the same Triple A city longer, with Omaha and Kansas City being the top two levels in their organization since its birth in '69. Only two other teams have retained the same Triple A city since before the '94 strike: the Cubs, who have been in Iowa since '81, and the Tigers, who have been in Toledo since '87.
To put that in context, while half of the teams in baseball have changed Triple A cities since 2008 (and six teams will open the '15 season with new Triple A affiliates), Pawtucket and McCoy Stadium have been the Triple A stop for every notable homegrown Red Sox player since Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, who were teammates on the '74 PawSox (or, if you prefer, Rice, Cecil Cooper and Rick Burleson, who played for Pawtucket during its first year in the International League the previous year).
Beyond that, Pawtucket and McCoy Stadium have long held a place in baseball history as the site of professional baseball's longest game, a 33-inning marathon that had an official time of game of eight hours and 25 minutes. Thirty-two of those 33 innings were played on April 18, 1981, between the PawSox and the visiting Rochester Red Wings, then the Orioles' Triple A affiliate. The third basemen in that game, both of whom played all 33 innings, were future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs, and the Pawtucket roster was littered with other notable players, many of whom would go on to be part of the '86 pennant-winning Red Sox.
Played on a brisk Saturday night with a stiff wind blowing in and temperatures dropping toward freezing, the game was a pitcher's duel throughout and came within two outs of being a 1-0 Rochester win. However, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Pawtucket's Chico Walker doubled off the centerfield wall, moved to third on a wild pitch by Rochester starter Larry Jones and scored on a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Russ Laribee. Tied 1-1 heading into extra-innings, the game would see 11 more frames elapse before another run was scored. Rochester catcher Dave Huppert singled in a run in the top of the 21st to make it 2-1 Red Wings, but Boggs, who had snared a would-be RBI double down the line in the 11th, doubled home first baseman Dave Koza in the bottom of the 21st to keep the game going tied 2-2.
Eleven more scoreless frames elapsed before Pawtucket general manager Mike Tamburro finally got a hold of International League president Harold Cooper, who ordered the game suspended at the end of the 32nd inning. The time on the clock when the final out of the 32nd was recorded was 4:09 a.m; the International League curfew was 1 a.m., but home plate umpire Dennis Cregg had been working with an out-of-date rule book, and Cooper had been at a wedding until 3 a.m.
When play resumed on June 23, Pawtucket was the center of the baseball universe, thanks to the major league players' strike. Filled to capacity, McCoy Stadium was packed with 5,746 fans (up from the official attendance of 1,740 on April 18 and the 19 fans remaining in the 32nd inning on Easter morning) and 140 members of the media from around the world. The lede by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Bob Minzeshiemer that morning read, "Not since the time they had to shoot the drunken camel at the city zoo has there been this much excitement in Pawtucket."
Bob Ojeda, who would later pitch against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series and who had been burning broken bats in a trash can for warmth on the morning of April 19, worked around a Ripken single for a scoreless top of the 33rd. Steve Grilli, father of current Braves reliever Jason, hit PawSox second baseman Marty Barrett with his first pitch in the bottom of the inning, then gave up a single to Walker that pushed Barrett to third. Grilli then intentionally walked Laribee and was replaced by Cliff Speck. With no outs and Boggs on deck, Koza worked the count to 2-2 on Speck, then hit a curveball into leftfield to drive in Barrett with the winning run.
The game broke the previous record of 29 innings set on June 14, 1966, and saw 882 pitches thrown with 156 different baseballs. Koza led the hitters with a 5-for-14 line, while Rochester centerfielder Dallas Williams went 0-for-13 with two sacrifice bunts, setting a record for single-game futility. The star of the game, however, may have been a pitcher for the losing team. Jim Umbarger came on in relief in the 23rd inning and pitched ten scoreless frames, allowing just four hits and striking out nine without walking a batter, only to have his outing ended by the belated curfew. Meanwhile, Pawtucket reliever Luis Aponte, who struck out nine men in four innings, spent Easter in the doghouse, figuratively speaking, because his wife didn't believe he had been at the ballpark until 4 a.m. and the reports of the game didn't make the papers until Monday.
The team's current lease on McCoy Stadium runs through 2021. That won't hold the team captive in Pawtucket, but the new stadium will have to be built before the team can move. The news of the sale of the team from Madelaine Mondor, widow of long-time owner Ben Mondor (who passed away just after the final game of the '10 season), to Lucchino's group was officially announced Monday morning.