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100th anniversary of the longest game in major league history

Twenty-six innings, just two pitchers, on this day in 1920

Baseball Hall of Fame Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

There are a few key moments I wanted to chronicle the season of the 1920 Dodgers, the second World Series entrant for the franchise. Chief among them was the longest game in major league history, played 100 years ago today.

It was May 1, 1920, with the Brooklyn Robins visiting the Boston Braves at Braves Field, located a little more than a mile from Fenway Park. Leon Cadore, the opening day starter for the Dodgers, was on the mound in this one, facing a fellow 28-year-old right-hander, Joe Oeschger.

Just 11 days prior in Brooklyn, these two pitchers locked horns in a scoreless duel until the 11th, with the Dodgers delivered the walk-off single. That would look like child’s play compared to this game.

It seemed like a relatively normal game at first, with second baseman Ivy Olson singling home a run for the Dodgers in the fifth, followed by Braves right fielder Walton Cruise tripling in the sixth then scoring on a single by third baseman Tony Boeckel. But then, there was a whole lot of nothing.

There were some scoring chances, like when the Braves loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with only one out, but Cadore got second baseman Charlie Pick to ground into a double play to send the game to extra innings. Pick was 0-for-11 in the game, the only major leaguer to ever go hitless in at least 11 at-bats in one game.

The Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the 17th inning, when the had two runners thrown out at the plate on the same play, but perhaps not as excruciating as 86 years later. Or maybe it was. From Warren Corbett at SABR:

The Dodgers got to Oeschger in the 17th, when they loaded the bases with one out. Rowdy Elliott grounded back to the mound and Oeschger threw home for the force out. Catcher Hank Gowdy fired to first, going for an easy double play, but his throw was wide and first baseman Walter Holke could only knock it down. The Dodger runner from second, the slow-moving Konetchy, saw Holke scrambling after the ball and lumbered around third, carrying the go-ahead run. Holke’s desperate throw pulled Gowdy off the plate, but he sprawled headlong in front of Konetchy’s spikes and put on the tag to complete a spectacular double play. Gowdy’s dive “saved my neck,” Oeschger said.

Cadore and Oeschger just kept putting up zeroes, with several games within this game. Some highlights:

  • Cadore threw 20 consecutive scoreless innings. Oeschger threw 21 straight.
  • Cadore retired 15 straight batters from the 15th to 19th innings, then retired 19 straight from the 20th to 26th innings. He retired 20 of his final 21 batters.
  • Oeschger’s last 9 innings in his game featured just one walk (Wally Hood in the 22nd inning), and no hits. He retired 28 of his final 29 batters (15 straight before the walk, 13 straight after).

In Cadore’s SABR bio, Corbett describes just how much of a pitching duel this game became:

Around the 20th inning, manager Robinson asked Cadore if he wanted relief. “If that fellow can go another inning, I can too,” the pitcher replied. Oeschger wasn’t about to beg off. “If a pitcher couldn’t go the distance, he soon found some other form of occupation,” he explained years later. As the game wore on, both men began limiting themselves to just one or two warmup tosses before each inning.

The game was called by darkness after 26 innings, with the score tied 1-1. The stats counted, but under the rules of the time the two teams would have to start anew rather than pick up from where they left off. The Braves and Dodgers played for three hours, 50 minutes, or a quick Red Sox-Yankees game these days.

Six Dodgers position players played the entire game. Only Cadore and shortstop Chuck Ward were without a hit, both 0-for-10. Seven Braves position players played the whole game.

The Dodgers had nine hits all game, all singles. The Braves had 15 hits, including three apiece by Boeckel and Rabbit Maranville.

Cadore and Oeschger get the pitching marathon record by two innings, surpassing Joe Harris and Jack Coombs 14 years earlier. Since this 1920 game, only 10 pitchers have lasted at least 18 innings in a game. The last one was Vern Law in 1955. It seems safe to say Cadore and Oeschger’s day won’t be repeated.

The most amazing pitching linescores you’ll ever see

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K Game score
Pitcher IP H R ER BB K Game score
Cadore 26 15 1 1 5 7 140
Oeschger 26 9 1 1 4 7 153

Nobody kept pitch counts back then. Using Tom Tango’s old pitch count estimator, Cadore is estimated at 338 pitches, and Oeschger 316. Per Corbett, when the two pitchers were asked over 30 years later, Oeschger estimated he threw 250 pitches and Cadore figured he was close to 300.

Oeschger would lead the NL in earned runs allowed (115) and home runs (with all of 10) in 1920, while posting an 87 ERA+. But after this game, he and Cadore were atop the pitching leaderboards.

MLB ERA leaders, after the end of play May 1:

  1. Oeschger: 0.49 (54⅔ IP, 5 R, 3 ER)
  2. Cadore: 0.87 (52 IP, 8 R, 5 ER)

They pitched more innings than any other pitcher in baseball, despite having one fewer start than their nearest competitors.

MLB innings leaders, after the end of play May 1:

  1. Oeschger, Braves: 54⅔ innings (4 starts)
  2. Cadore, Dodgers: 52 (4 starts)
  3. Dutch Ruether, Reds 46⅔ (5 starts)
  4. Stan Coveleski, Indians 43 (5 starts)
  5. Babe Adams, Pirates 41 (4 starts)

Oeschger didn’t pitch again until May 13, but those 11 days of rest didn’t help much. He allowed seven, seven, and six runs in his next three starts. Cadore had a week off before pitching again on May 9, getting knocked out in the fifth inning while allowing four runs. But Cadore recovered with a shutout his next time out, and had a solid season, finishing with a 122 ERA+.

As for the Dodgers, this 26-inning marathon came at the end of a week that saw them otherwise go 2-2. They took two of three from the New York Giants at home, before dropping the first game in Boston. The Dodgers dropped to second place behind the surging Reds, winners of six straight.

Week 3 summary

2-2-1 record
10 runs scored (2.00 per game)
11 runs allowed (2.20 per game)
.457 pythagorean record

Year to date

8-4 record
52 runs scored (4.00 per game)
35 runs allowed (2.69 per game)
.674 pythagorean record

NL standing: 2nd place, 1 game back of the Reds

Game results

Up next

The Dodgers run the Shad Berry gauntlet, playing the Phillies, Braves, and Giants. They go home for a day to play the Phillies, presumably a makeup of a rainout during the first series of the season. Then they return to Boston for a single-gamer against the Braves to finish off this series. 1920 scheduling is weird. It could also be grueling, especially since the Dodgers followed that 26-inning game with 13 innings, then 19 more the next day. More on those exploits next week.