30 minutes? Story of the fastest game ever

That's barely enough time to finish your beer

March 17th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

There's been a lot of talk over the past few years about trying to shorten the time of baseball games. The average duration of a nine-inning contest has crept up to around three hours. Pitch clocks, limited pick-off attempts and other pace-of-play rules will be tried out in different levels of the Minor Leagues this season.

More than a century ago, some teams went to extremes to get through games as fast as possible. Pitchers took no breaks in between throws or innings. Every plate appearance took just 30 seconds. Everyone took the Jared Hughes approach – in all facets of the game.

It happened during two Minor League games in the early 1900s, once in 1910 and another time in 1916. According to the all-knowing Google, the 1910 matchup between the Atlanta Crackers and Mobile Sea Gulls is the first choice that pops up when you search fastest baseball game ever. It was 32 minutes long. But the 1916 contest, featuring the Asheville Tourists vs. the Winston-Salem Twins, apparently ran a minute shorter at a blistering 31 minutes.

Let's first look at the 1910 game, Google's primary option. It took place at Ponce De Leon Park in Georgia -- an already bizarre-looking stadium with a giant magnolia tree in center field. Both teams were out of contention in the waning days of the season and, although it's hard to know what they were thinking, many believe they were trying to break the record for the previous fastest game ever (a 44-minute affair in 1904).

According to SABR and various newspaper accounts, teams ran on and off the field and took no warmups. A New York Times article stated that hitters even came up to "bat on the run" and mostly swung at the first pitch. They hit almost all grounders, allowing fielders to compile 35 assists.

The dueling hurlers Bill Chappelle and Hank Griffin "pitched excellent games" and looked "like demented steam engines," via the Atlanta Journal. They recorded just one walk and one strikeout between the two of them. This illustration may or may not have not been drawn of Chappelle during the game. He kind of looks like a demented steam engine, right?

The Sea Gulls turned a rare 9-3-2 triple play to help put a quick end to an inning -- catching a fly ball in right, doubling off a man at first and then tagging out a man trying to tag from third to home. Mobile won the game, 2-1, thanks to an RBI single and a triple and run on a wild pitch.

Wynn Montgomery, doing the in-depth research SABR is known for, figured out through old box scores that the game had a total of 62 plate appearances, rounding out to an insane 31 seconds per at-bat. So no, there was no Nomar Garciaparra'ing on that day.

And then there's the 1916 game between the Tourists and Twins. There's not a ton of information out there about it -- no box scores or national newspaper game writeups. But, like the 1910 affair, it was one of the last days of the season so nobody really cared who won (the Twins ended up taking it, 2-1). The two teams had also decided to start more than a half hour early because the Twins had a train to catch out of town. The game went so quickly that some fans who thought they were arriving early barely got there for the end.

The pitchers lobbed throws in so batters could hit and get their at-bats over with. And if they did hit the ball, they just kept running until they were either tagged out or reached home. Fielders also started to creep off the field before there were three outs to get things moving. It was like a bunch of five-year-olds playing tee-ball in their backyard.

But one of the best anecdotes from the game was found by CBS' Dayn Perry in the book "A History of Professional Baseball in Asheville."

"The most unusual play of the game took place in the top half of the third inning. Asheville pitcher Doc Lowe delivered the ball before his catcher was behind the plate. The Winston-Salem batter singled to center field and tried to advance to second base when the outfielder's throw headed to the visitors' dugout. Frank Nesser, the Twins' on-deck hitter, snagged the ball and threw out his teammate with a perfect peg to the keystone sack."

Now, THAT is dedication to pace of play.