Tuesday, April 25, 2023

A Pitchers’ Duel That Will Never Be Equaled


Just for a change of pace from politics and religion, I want to reminisce in today’s post about what was probably the sports highlight of my life. It happened almost 53 years ago, in August 1970. I was a gangly 14-year-old, playing Little League baseball during the summer between 8th and 9th grade. This was in the days when baseball was the summer sport of choice (there was no such thing as youth soccer or lacrosse), and it was pretty competitive. My mom’s dad, Karl Storey, was the coach of my team, the North Ogden Dodgers, and had been for a few years. When your grandpa is your coach, you can play short stop, and you can bat third. Our pitcher for the previous years had been Brent Gray. But Brent got his growth spurt late, and by 1970 the hitters had outgrown him. I was just the opposite. I reached my peak height during 9th grade. So that summer I tried my hand at pitching, and it apparently went okay. I had an adequate fastball and a wicked curve.

I don’t remember much about the regular season, but we had a good team, so we ended up in the county playoffs at the end of the summer. Our first game was against the South Ogden Yankees. And what a game it was. I remember only vaguely how the game unfolded, but last week I rummaged around my basement and found the old scorebooks that I had inherited when Grandpa Storey died way back in 1991. I had looked at them a time or two over the years, but last week I wanted to reconstruct, as well as I could, the inning-by-inning battle.

I’ll spare you the boring details, but here’s a quick summary. The South Ogden pitcher, Mark Taylor, and I pitched our teams to a 0-0 tie after 14 innings, when the police came at 1 a.m. and told us to go home because the neighbors were complaining about the noise. This was a Monday evening that stretched into early Tuesday morning. We finished the game on another field on Tuesday afternoon. I still have the newspaper clipping from the Ogden Standard-Examiner, which my dad affectionately referred to as the Ogden Substandard-Exaggerator. He may have been onto something, because that newspaper clipping claims that I hit a home run in the 15th inning to win the game 1-0. But what actually happened is that my good friend Bruce Stone walked, stole second and third, and then came home on a wild pitch. We then held the Yankees scoreless in the bottom of the 15th. The newspaper also reported that I gave up only 1 hit and struck out 27, while Taylor gave up two hits and struck out 19. 

The scorebook is an imperfect record. I don’t know which player’s mom kept score, but she often wrote faintly, and she was less than thorough or accurate in her scorekeeping. She didn’t record balls and strikes, and sometimes she would circle 1B (the notation for a single) when the runner reached first base either by virtue of a walk or perhaps an error. I know this because sometimes 1B would be circled, but a large W would be written in the box (instead of circling BB for base on balls) to signify a walk. But as far as I with my magnifying glass could decipher her scorekeeping, this is what I concluded. I did indeed strike out 27 batters. The large K in the box is evident that many times. A handful of outs are a mystery, though. No evidence for how they happened. Taylor, on the other hand, was short-changed. It appears he fanned us 21 times, not 19. But I also walked 10 batters. Taylor had better control. He gave up 3 or 4 walks, including Bruce Stone in the top of the 15th inning. I definitely gave up 1 hit, but it could have been 2. The scorekeeper faintly crossed out 1B for another batter, but, as mentioned, that could have signified a walk or an error. Taylor, by the same accounting, might have given up as many as 5 hits, but maybe only 2.

My reason for wanting to reconstruct the game, though, was primarily to estimate how many pitches I threw. Since the scorekeeper did not track balls and strikes, I took a conservative approach and assumed I threw an average of 4 pitches for every strikeout (three strikes, one ball, and no foul balls after two strikes) and 5 pitches for each walk (four balls and a strike). The count was likely substantially higher than that. When the ball was put in play, resulting in either a hit, an error, or an out, I assumed I threw only 2 pitches to those batters. This very conservative counting of pitches yields a still mind-boggling total of 197 in those 15 innings.

The reason my title claims that this pitchers’ duel will never be equaled is that sometime between 1970 and now, Little League imposed pitch limits on young pitchers, for obvious reasons (and I’m Exhibit A in proving them right, but I’ll get to that shortly). Today, pitchers 13-16 years old are limited to 95 pitches per day. But if a pitcher throws over 66 pitches in a game, he must then have 4 days of rest. So I threw at least double the number of pitches a pitcher today would be allowed. And I did not have 4 days of rest. On Thursday of that week, I pitched another game, in the semifinals, against Washington Terrace. Regulation games were 5 innings, but the two teams were tied 4-4 at the end of the 5th inning. We finally prevailed in 7 innings, 7-4. I wasn’t nearly as sharp in that game, but neither was the other pitcher. Using my conservative assumptions, I calculated that I threw at least 84 pitches in that game (but probably many more).

And that’s not all. Two days later, on Saturday, we played a team from Roy for the county championship. It was close, but if memory serves, sometime in the third inning, I threw a pitch, and I was done. Based on later experience, I believe I partially tore my rotator cuff. Back then, we just said I “threw my arm out.” Whatever the diagnosis, I couldn’t lift my arm. Something tore. It eventually healed, and I went on to play a little high school baseball, even pitching some as a sophomore. The shoulder is okay now, but off and on it has given me some trouble. In that third game, I’m guessing I tossed about 30 more pitches before the arm gave out. As I recall, Grandpa stuck me out on second base, where I could underhand any throws to first base, and Brent Gray came in to pitch. We ended up losing 2-1. And it wasn’t Brent’s fault. I believe we were behind when I threw my arm out. But in a span of six days, I threw, at a minimum, somewhere in the neighborhood of 310 pitches (and that doesn’t count all the warmup tosses before each inning. In today’s world, that many pitches would be crazy. Back then, there were no limits, and I don’t blame Grandpa for letting me pitch that many innings. I felt fineuntil I didn’t. So, was it worth it? From my vantage point, almost 53 years later, I’d have to say, “Of course it was.”

That 15-inning game with perhaps 3 total hits, 1 fluke run, and 48 strikeouts was a pitchers’ duel to beat all pitchers’ duels, and nobody will ever equal it. It’s against the rules.