I am a sucker for stories about the relationship between games and life. When I was a graduate student, a story in the Tallahassee Democrat about the life of Warrick Dunn, a star football player whose police officer mother was killed in the line of duty while he was in high school, brought me to tears. I love movies like Sea Biscuit and Brian’s Song. I have myself written blog entries ruminating about what we can learn about life from playing games.
So you would think a story that I heard on NPR this morning would be right up my alley. Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen interviewed Dan Barry, author of a new book called Bottom of the 33rd about the longest baseball game ever played in the history of US men’s professional baseball. This particular game was played in 1981, between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, farm teams of the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, respectively. The teams played 32 innings in 8.5 hours before the owner of the league called the umpires to tell them to halt the game. That was at 4 in the morning on Easter Sunday and there were 19 people left in the chilly stands in Pawtucket, RI. When the teams reunited 2 months later to finish the game, nearly 6000 fans showed up and over 140 reporters from all over the world came to cover it. Pawtucket won the game in the bottom of the 33rd inning, a mere 18 minutes after the game resumed.
The subtitle of Dan Barry’s book is Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game. I expected the interview on NPR to touch on hope and redemption and perhaps something about how this longest game can teach us something about perseverance. Instead, the interview focused on the facts of the game, including the fact that Cal Ripken, Jr., who went on to set the record for consecutive starts in the Major League, played all 33 innings and that Wade Boggs, future Hall of Famer, tied it up for Pawtucket in the twenty-first inning. Barry also told us that the original 19 fans who stuck it out for those 32 innings in April were annoyed that nearly 6000 people could now say they saw history being made when they really only had seen the last inning of that historic game.
But nothing in the interview touched on hope or redemption. Or perseverance. Or anything of importance. Which annoyed me. Not every sports story is a story about life, about issues larger than the game itself. A book about a particular game that is the longest in professional history is probably of interest to baseball fanatics. The fact that NPR picks the author of that book as someone deserving of an interview implies there is more to the story, something that we can all learn from. As far as I can tell, that is not the case with this particular game or this particular book, the hyperbole of its subtitle notwithstanding. Adding the words “hope” and “redemption” to the subtitle of a book will not make that book interesting for a general audience. I realize I’m judging the book by its interview. Maybe that’s not fair. But neither is it fair to promise us a discussion of what a game can tell us about hope and redemption and instead waste our time with the facts and statistics of a particular game. Come on, NPR. With all the real, inspiring sports stories out there, we deserve better. Did you choose to tell us about this book simply because the game went into the wee hours of Easter morning, 1981, which happens to be 30 years ago today? That coincidence also doesn’t make this story interesting for the general reader.