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Bottom Of The 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game [Hardcover]

Dan Barry
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 4 2011

Bottom of the 33rd is chaw-chewing, sunflower-spitting, pine tar proof that too much baseball is never enough.” —Jane Leavy, author of The Last Boy and Sandy Koufax 

“What a book—an exquisite exercise in story-telling, democracy and myth-making.” —Colum McCann, winner of the National Book Award for  Let The Great World Spin 

From Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Dan Barry comes the beautifully recounted story of the longest game in baseball history—a tale celebrating not only the robust intensity of baseball, but the aspirational ideal epitomized by the hard-fighting players of the minor leagues. In the tradition of Moneyball, The Last Hero, and Wicked Good Year, Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd is a reaffirming story of the American Dream finding its greatest expression in timeless contests of the Great American Pastime.


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Review

Winner of the 2012 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting ()

Dan Barry has crafted a loving and lyrical tribute to a time and a place when you stayed until the final out...because that’s what we did in America. Bottom of the 33rd is chaw-chewing, sunflower-spitting, pine tar proof that too much baseball is never enough. (–Jane Leavy)

“What a book -- an exquisite exercise in story-telling, democracy and myth-making that has, at its center, a great respect for the symphony of voices that make up America.” (–Colum McCann)

“Dan’s Barry’s meticulous reporting and literary talent are both evident in Bottom of the 33rd, a pitch-perfect and seamless meditation on baseball and the human condition.” (–Gay Talese)

“A fascinating, beautifully told story... In the hands of Barry, a national correspondent for the New York Times, this marathon of duty, loyalty, misery and folly becomes a riveting narrative...The book feels like ‘Our Town’ on the diamond.” (–Los Angeles Times)

“An astonishing tale that lyrically articulates baseball’s inexorable grip on its players and fans, Bottom of the 33rd belongs among the best baseball books ever written.” (–Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Meticulously researched and tremendously entertaining!” (–Columbus Dispatch)

“[Dan] Barry does more than simply recount the inning-by-inning-by-inning box score. He delves beneath the surface, like an archaeologist piecing together the shards and fragments of a forgotten society, to reconstruct a time and a night that have become part of baseball lore.” (–Associated Press)

“Whether you’re a baseball aficionado or a reader who just enjoys a good yarn, you’ll love this book.” (–Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“A worthy companion to Roger Kahn’s classic Boys of Summer ...[Dan Barry] exploits the power of memory and nostalgia with literary grace and journalistic exactitude. He blends a vivid, moment-by-moment re-creation of the game with what happens to its participants in the next 30 years.” (–Stefan Fatsis, New York Times)

“Brilliantly rendered...The book is both a fount of luxurious writing and a tour-de-force of reportage.” (–Washington Post)

“[An] heroic conjuring of the past.” (–New York Times Book Review)

“[A] masterpiece...destined for the Hall of Fame of baseball books.” (–Publisher's Weekly)

From the Back Cover

On April 18, 1981, a ball game sprang eternal. What began as a modestly attended minor-league game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings became not only the longest ever played in baseball history, but something else entirely. The first pitch was thrown after dusk on Holy Saturday, and for the next eight hours the night seemed to suspend its participants between their collective pasts and futures, between their collective sorrows and joys—the ballplayers; the umpires; Pawtucket's ejected manager, peering through a hole in the backstop; the sportswriters and broadcasters; a few stalwart fans shivering in the cold.

With Bottom of the 33rd, celebrated New York Times journalist Dan Barry has written a lyrical meditation on small-town lives, minor-league dreams, and the elements of time and community that conspired one fateful night to produce a baseball game seemingly without end. Bottom of the 33rd captures the sport's essence: the purity of purpose, the crazy adherence to rules, the commitment of both players and fans. This genre-bending book, a reportorial triumph, portrays the myriad lives held in the night's unrelenting grip. Consider, for instance, the team owner determined to revivify a decrepit stadium, built atop a swampy bog, or the batboy approaching manhood, nervous and earnest, or the umpire with a new family and a new home, or the wives watching or waiting up, listening to a radio broadcast slip into giddy exhaustion. Consider the small city of Pawtucket itself, its ghosts and relics, and the players, two destined for the Hall of Fame (Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs), a few to play only briefly or forgettably in the big leagues, and the many stuck in minor-league purgatory, duty bound and loyal to the game.

An unforgettable portrait of ambition and endurance, Bottom of the 33rd is the rare sports book that changes the way we perceive America's pastime, and America's past.


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
To be able to write this well about what really amounts to is futility created by tired muscles and minds is an amazing feat. After all for 32 innings not much happened in the actual baseball game being played out in some sort of surreal nightmarish marathon from another time.

What the game that lasted 33 innings all tolled (albeit the last inning was played almost two months after the fact when finally the winning run crossed the plate) became was a framework for author Dan Barry to talk about the players, coaches, general mangers, owners, fans, annoucers, ballpark employees, police officers, families of such and the cities of Pawtucket (pronounced P'tucket in case you're wondering), Rhode Island, and Rochester, New York.

I found the stories behind the protagonists and even the fans such a joy because they were all about real life warts and all. Also, for anyone who has either sat through a lengthy extra-inning ballgame or even wondered what it's like, this is a must-read. There's also plenty of future Major League ballplayers, coaches and managers including two Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken, Jr., and Wade Boggs in this game that make it all the more appealing.

Yet despite all the wonderful words written about this strangest of ballgames, the agony of an endless game played on a bitterly cold April night was best summed up by the Rochester Red Wings' centerfielder Dallas Williams as he stood at his position and muttered the following to keep awake:
"F--- this, f--- the cold, what the f--- are we doing out here, f---, f---, f---."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  120 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book About the Sweet Romance and Bitter Reality of Baseball March 15 2011
By scesq - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The opening of this book sets the stage perfectly for what is to come. It begins by stating that a baseball game that started on Holy Saturday, which is the "pause between joy and sorrow", has surrendered to the first hour of Easter. The rest of the book talks about this amazing game and the joy and sorrow faced by those at the game.

As a baseball fan who never made it past little league I envy those who get paid to play professional ball at any level. Yet for many at the game playing Triple A ball is bittersweet because the players are so close to their dream and for most they will always be one stop short of playing major league ball. For many Triple A is the place where "sweet romance meets bitter reality."

While Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken went on to greatness and a number of other players like Bobby Ojeda, Bruce Hurst and Rich Gedman had good careers, most of the players in this game never made it to the majors. Some were on the rise and hit their peak and others were on the way down and just trying to stay in the game. It is their stories that make this book so successful.

Yet, Dan Barry also talks about the game itself. This is another great thing about this book. Baseball is the amazing game that it is because it has no time limits. There are no clocks. Three outs are the only limits to an inning. A scheduled nine inning game will last until the bottom of the 33rd if that is what it takes to have a winner, even if the game has to be started again on another day.

Dan Barry does a good job of talking about the lives of these players, as well as the lives of the coaches, bat boys and team owners, in the context of the 33 inning game. He manages to talk about those involved in the game while at the same time talking about baseball itself.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet American drama Feb. 12 2011
By Malvin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"Bottom of the 33rd" by Dan Barry is a terrific account of baseball's longest game. More than a sports book, Mr. Barry expertly contextualizes the event and profiles its participants to bring an uniquely American drama to life. Written by an award-winning journalist at the top of his game, this captivating book is certain to be appreciated by a wide audience.

This is not a mere pitch-by-pitch recount of the game. Mr. Barry has the ability to see outside the chalk lines to bring our attention to certain themes that add character and dimension to the story. Mr. Barry writes about the players, managers and families who struggle mightily to achieve their dreams, documenting their sacrifices as they achieve fleeting moments of success or, in a few rare cases, major league immortality. Among the dozens of character sketches, the bittersweet profile of the game's hero, Dave Koza is particularly praiseworthy for its profound insight and sensitivity.

Importantly, Mr. Barry draws interest from elements of the story that might be easily overlooked. Mr. Barry paints a portrait of the hardscrabble industrial town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island whose elders took great pride in building the minor league ballpark whose peculiarities would contribute to the game's drama. Mr. Barry finds spiritual meaning as the players struggle for their baseball lives in the early hours of Easter morning. The author also has a penchant for unearthing the kind of detail that adds enormously to the story's appeal: the shivering radio broadcasters who wouldn't quit; the ejected manager who kept his eye on the game through a secret peephole in the fence; the angry wife who couldn't believe her husband was still playing ball; and much, much more.

I highly recommend this outstanding book to everyone.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Thin Line Between Fame and Obscurity Feb. 9 2011
By The Ginger Man - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
We all know that an inning cannot begin in baseball after 12:50 a.m. However, the rule prohibiting this was unintentionally dropped from the 1981 International League Instructions for Umpires, Managers and Players. That fact, combined with an absurdly strict constructionist interpretation by Chief Umpire Jack Lietz, set the stage for the longest game ever played in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on the night before and the morning of Easter 1981.

Author and New York Times columnist Dan Barry uses this game to analyze life in the minor leagues. He shows a good eye for the rituals of the game telling the story of how the mud used to rub baseballs was first found by Slats Blackburne on the shore of a South Jersey Creek. Barry describes the sometimes jury-rigged style that characterizes the game played at this level. The ball park for the Pawtucket Red Sox is owned and maintained by the city and is used to store sand and salt in the winter, a practice that is not employed at Fenway. He also probes the history of this Rhode Island city which includes a strong dose of machine politics, a ballpark into which cement trucks disappeared during its construction and a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

But above all, the book is about the thin line that separates the near poverty and virtual anonymity of minor league life from the exalted status of the 12,000 men who have played in the Show. We see Cal Ripken Jr destined for greatness from his first day and Wade Boggs who seemed to be consigned to Triple A status for life until Carney Lansford was injured late in the year and there was no one else available to bring up. This is contrasted with Dave Koza, one of the best athletes ever to come out of Wyoming, who spends the long drives home from the East wondering why he was not one of the lucky few to receive a September 1 call up from the parent club. We share the thoughts of 26 year old former FSU star Larry Jones who is realizing that the dream may be ending: "He thinks the manager is more interested in internal politics than in player development. He thinks that one Baltimore executive in particular is the worst man he has ever met. He thinks - no, he knows - that the meter is running; that athletes don't get better with age."

It is fascinating to watch this moment frozen in time (all 33 innings of it) as the eternally obscure Russ Laribee plays next to Lee Graham, who got a cup of coffee with the big club, as well as Bruce Hurst and Bob Ojeda, destined to square off against each other on a very different stage in the 86 World Series, and Wade Boggs, at this point no different than Graham and Laribee, but destined for 3000 hits and the Hall of Fame.

My only complaint is that the author tries a bit too hard in the early sections of the book. We get some overwritten passages such as: "The backstop netting behind home plate sways in and out of focus to lay blurry crosshatches across the unfolding scene, as if to underscore the impenetrable separation between past and future." I wonder if catcher Rich Gedman saw it that way? Fortunately, there are far fewer of these passages as the book and the innings progress.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome tale that transcends baseball and illuminates humanity March 2 2011
By 35-year Technology Consumer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As I write this, baseball's spring training is underway, the days are longer as winter yields to spring, and the rosters of minor league teams are waiting for the hot prospects entering the game from high school or college, or for those not quite ready for the rarefied heights of major league ball.

Dan Barry hits a home run with this book, which rapidly outgrows an examination of a 33-inning minor game as the quirky statistical data point of "longest professional game ever". He does this by focusing on the convergence of people that intersected at the game; fans, team employees, players, coaches, umpires. Taking place in 1981, before mobile phones and constant connectivity, the sheer length of the game took those in its orbit out of commission into the early hours of an Easter Sunday in early April.

There's plenty here for the baseball junkie:
Who knew that two iconic baseball players --Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr.-- shared the field that night? Who knew that only 3% of those entering professional baseball would ever rise to the majors, and that only 12000 players have ascended to that level of ball. Barry put this all in wonderful perspective, and gets the details right. The Delaware River mud used to take the sheen off of new balls. The mechanics of the official scorer, the visiting team's AM broadcast team, the dramas of players whose careers are on the rise, whose careers are in descent, and those who have simply peaked, and need to decide whether to keep trying or make plans for what's next.

Barry provides an excellent historical glimpse of the stadium where the game was played, the role of the man for whom it was named and the influence of baseball on a minor league mill town.

This game took place in 1981, before minor league baseball enjoyed an upswing in popularity under the influence of works like Bull Durham. While some rickety stadiums still exist, many have been gentrified and upgraded. McCoy Stadium in 1981 Pawtucket had none of that charm, and Bond captures it elegantly.

Baseball fans are sure to enjoy this book, but so will fans of nonfiction that illuminates the state of humanity. A spectrum of hopes and dreams, failed and realized are encapsulated in the 33 innings of baseball and the people in its shadow that April night, and Barry's writing is a prism that brings that spectrum to life.

The early pages of this book may be too slow for some readers. Barry trots out the baseball as church metaphor (or temple, since this was both the Easter and Passover season), which is a little tired. It's completely forgivable, as he leaves this behind in favor of a superb emphasis on the people who fell under the spell of a special night in the game.

Baseball fan or not, read this book: you'll be glad you did.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading this book is a gift Aug. 7 2011
By Sue - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
By the time I finished reading the prologue, I knew this book was special. It is beautiful, brilliant writing combined with a great story. If you're a baseball fan, you'll appreciate the story of the game as well as the history of the players on the teams, and the story of life and love in the minor leagues. Some of these players went on to become household names, but others -- well, you probably never encountered a baseball player anything like Win Remmerswaal, the pitcher from the Netherlands. There's human interest on every page, and there's the history of the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and the building of McCoy Stadium. All this is seamed together as it were a beautiful patchwork quilt. Every page is a gift.
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