6 Epic At-Bats

Major League batters see, on average, about four pitches per at-bat. So something like an 8-pitch at-bat is considered pretty long. If nothing else, these types of at-bats help to run the pitch-count up, and getting the starting pitcher out of the game is always on the opposing team's mind.

But what about the endless at-bat—the ones that stop the game in its track? While detailed baseball stats have been kept practically since the game was born, the number of pitches a batter faces per at-bat were never considered important enough until fairly recently (mid "˜80s), when pitch-counts became all the rage. So in some cases, we are dealing with legends here. But still, these six epic plate appearances are worth considering:

1. Alex Cora's 18-Pitch At-Bat

On May 12, 2004, the Dodgers' Alex Cora won the duel against Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Matt Clement after an epic,18-pitch at-bat. Clement, who had thrown 86 pitches before Cora stepped in, emptied his tank on Cora, who got the pitch-count up to 104. But that's not all Cora did. Facing a 2"“1 count, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches before finally hitting"¦. a home run, of all things. I say "of all things" because in 13 seasons of Major League ball, the guy has only knocked 35 homers, period. Cora's AB is the third longest documented at-bat since baseball statisticians began keeping track of pitch counts in the mid-1980s.

2. Luke Appling's Two 1940 ABs

What makes Hall-of-Famer Luke Appling's 1940 at-bat so epic is that with two outs in the 9th, as Bob Feller was trying to close out the first (and only) opening day no-hitter, Appling fought through a whopping 15-pitches (11, according to some accounts), fouling off four with two strikes on him before finally walking, which put the tying run on base. The walk did not, however, break up a perfect game for Feller, as he'd allowed another walk already in the 3rd. But you can imagine the tension in the stadium as the game was winding down. This wasn't Appling's only epic at-bat, either. According to Baseball Digest, in another game during the 1940 season, the White Sox great fouled off 24 pitches in one trip to the plate, befuddling the Yankees Red Ruffing. Though there is no hard proof for this that I could find, there is this quote from the Baseball Digest story: "So I started fouling off his pitches," Appling said"¦ "I took a pitch every now and then. Pretty soon, after 24 fouls, old Red could hardly lift his arm and I walked. That's when they took him out of the game and he cussed me all the way to the dugout."

3. Richie Ashburn's 17 Foul Balls

Another Hall-of-Famer, Richie Ashburn, the great center fielder for the Phillies from 1948-59, and one of the game's best leadoff hitters, once said he fouled off 17 straight pitches in one at-bat before hitting a single. Again, there's no written proof of this that I could find. Unlike that amazing Ashburn story dating back to the '57 season when old Whitey hit a spectator with a foul ball in the stands. The spectator, named Alice Roth, broke her nose and was carted off on a stretcher. As she was being taken away, Whitey hit her again with another foul ball!

4. Brett Myers' 9-Pitch At-Bat Against CC Sabathia

While on the Phillies, who can forget pitcher Bretty Myers drawing a walk in the 2008 NL Division Series against the Brewers' CC Sabathia?! Myers, who only had 3 hits all season, came to the plate with two outs. After two quick strikes, Sabathia looked to be on his way to an easy K. But Myers took a ball, fouled one off, and took another ball. At this point, the capacity crowd at Citizen Bank Park in Philly got into CC's head and after a few more fouls, he wound up walking Myers, which put the crowd over the edge. CC was clearly rattled. He then walked Rollins and finally gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino, helping the Phillies win the game and go up in the 5-game series 2-0.

5. Kevin Bass' 19-Pitch At-Bat

Here's another one involving the Phillies, only this time they were pitching. The year was 1988 and Kevin Bass from the Astros was at the plate facing Steve Bedrosian. The game was knotted at six with two outs in the eighth. At one point during the AB, Bass fouled off 11 straight before flying out to left. But that's more consecutive pitches fouled off than 99.8881% of batters see in their entire plate appearance. (Bedrosian faced just 10 batters and threw just 52 pitches total in this relief appearance, 19 of them to Bass!)

6. Ricky Gutierrez Sets Modern-Day Record

And while talking about the Stros, ahead of Cora and Bass, at least since the stats have been kept, we find Ricky Gutierrez's remarkable 20-pitch affair with Bartolo Colon of the Indians back in June 1998. The Indians were beating the Astros 4-2 in the eighth inning with none out in Cleveland when Gutierrez stepped to the plate. He quickly fell behind in the count 0-2. But it would take a staggering 18 more pitches for Colon to strike Gutierrez out. It took 13 pitches just to make it to a full count! This single plate appearance represents 18% of all the pitches Colon threw that day. For those really interested, below you can see the AB, pitch by pitch.

Strike 0-1
Strike 0-2
Foul 0-2
Ball 1-2
Foul 1-2
Ball 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Ball 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Strike Strikeout

I'm sure I left some epic plate appearances off the list. So why don't you hit me up with your favorites that belong in this Epic category by leaving a comment below.

If you liked this post, keep on top of all my writing via my Twitter account, @resila.

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Shout! Factory
Original GLOW Wrestling Series Hits Twitch
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

When it premiered in June 2017, GLOW was a bit of a sleeper offering for Netflix. With the amount of original programming ordered by the streaming service, a show based on an obscure women’s pro wrestling league from the 1980s seemed destined to get lost in the shuffle.

Instead, the series was a critical and commercial success. Ahead of its second season, which drops on June 29, you'll have a chance to see the mat work of the original women who inspired it.

Shout! Factory has announced they will be live-streaming clips from the first four seasons of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), which first premiered in 1986, beginning at 9 p.m. ET on June 28. The stream, which will be available on shoutfactorytv.com and Twitch, will feature original footage framed by new interviews with personalities including Godiva, host Johnny C, and Hollywood. The show will air live from the Santino Brothers Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles.

Godiva, who was portrayed by Dawn Maestas, inspired the character Rhonda (a.k.a. Brittanica) on the Netflix series; Hollywood was the alter ego of Jeanne Basone, who inspired the character Cherry in the fictionalized version of the league. Basone later posed for Playboy and takes bookings for one-on-one wrestling matches with fans.

Shout! Factory's site also features a full-length compilation of footage, Brawlin’ Beauties: GLOW, hosted by onetime WWE interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

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Alamy
On Top of the World: Remembering the Lost Trend of Flagpole Sitting
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alamy

Flappers and bootleggers might be the most memorable aspects of the 1920s, but there's a lesser-known, yet no less colorful, trend from that decade: flagpole sitting. From the glamorous hills of Hollywood to the blue-collar dwellings of Union City, New Jersey, this unusual pastime turned eccentric showmen and ordinary people into overnight celebrities, before the crushing reality of the Great Depression grounded their climb to stardom.

Flagpole sitting is exactly what it sounds like: a person climbing on top of a towering pole, usually in the middle of a city, and testing their endurance by sitting atop it for as long as their body holds up. It began in Hollywood in January 1924, when a former sailor, boxer, steelworker, and stuntman named Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly was hired by a local theater to sit on a pole outside of the building for as long as possible to drum up publicity for a new movie. Kelly, a New York City native—whose nickname was supposedly inspired by his dubious claims as a Titanic survivor—wowed crowds by perching himself on the pole for an astonishing 13 hours and 13 minutes. The stunt worked, and once it got picked up by the papers, offers started pouring in from more businesses to perform pole-sittings. Kelly was eager to oblige.

News of Kelly's exploits spread, and before long, men, women, and children were climbing poles of their own. There was the three-week feat of Bobbie Mack, a young woman from Los Angeles; Joe “Hold ‘em” Powers, who sat for 16 days in Chicago in 1927 and climbed back down with six fewer teeth than he started with after a storm smacked him face-first into his pole; and Bill Penfield, who braved a pole for 51 days in Strawberry Point, Iowa before a storm forced him down. In 1928, a 15-year-old named Avon Foreman of Baltimore even established a juvenile sitting record of 10 days, 10 hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds (he practiced on an 18-foot hickory tree in his backyard). Foreman’s accomplishment was so inspiring to Baltimore mayor William F. Broening that he publicly declared that the youngster exhibited “the pioneer spirit of early America.”

Still, Kelly was the one making a big business out of pole sitting. Even when he wasn’t holding the record, he was the ambassador of the bizarre sport. He toured 28 cities, attracting massive crowds that jammed streets and lined rooftops just to get a glimpse of the daredevil poking out among the apartment buildings and businesses of Downtown, USA.

Kelly's notable feats included an 80-hour sit in New Orleans and the 146 hours he spent high above Kansas City's Old Westgate Hotel. But even those were overshadowed by his largest-scale stunts: 312 hours on top of Newark’s St. Francis Hotel in 1927, 22 days on a pole above a dance marathon (another endurance fad of the time) in Madison Square Garden, and 23 days in 1929 in Baltimore’s Carlin’s Park on a pole that was 60 feet high. By Kelly’s own calculation, he’d spend around 20,613 hours pole-sitting during a career that lasted over a decade.

His peak came in 1930 when he lasted 49 days and one hour on a 225-foot pole on Atlantic City’s steel pier. The feat was witnessed by as many as 20,000 onlookers during the weeks he spent up top, becoming one of the first of many spectacles that would grace the pier in the 1930s. (He’d eventually be followed by acts like Rex, the water-skiing “wonder dog”; JoJo, the boxing kangaroo; and the city’s infamous diving horse routine.)

Estimates of Kelly’s fees range from $100-$500 a day throughout his career, paid by whatever outlet needed the publicity and sometimes by crowds who spent a quarter to get a view of his act from nearby hotel rooftops. And what did those onlookers see, exactly? A man on a circular padded seat high above the rabble, sometimes reading the paper, other times enjoying a shave. For food, he’d stick mainly to a liquid diet of broth and water, along with cigarettes, all of which were lifted up to him in a bucket. When he needed to sleep, he’d stay seated by wrapping his ankles around the pole and securing his thumbs into holes in his seat before nodding off. That's if he rested at all—he was also known to deprive himself of sleep on the pole for as long as four days.

The big money would dry up soon after his Atlantic City stunt, and the realities of the Great Depression put an end to flagpole sitting as a career. With up to a quarter of the population unemployed, people were apparently less interested in opening their papers to stories of men and women testing endurance at the top of a pole for more money than the readers would likely see all year.

"As Shipwreck Kelly analyzed it, it was the Stock Market crash that killed pole-sitting as the golden egg that paid the goose," a writer for The Evening Sun in Baltimore put it in 1944. "People couldn't stand to see anything higher than their busted securities."

Kelly’s personal story ends on a similarly somber note. Penniless and stripped of his daredevil veneer, he died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 59, his body found not far from the room he rented on West 51st Street in New York City. Underneath his arm at the time of his death was a scrapbook of newspaper clippings detailing his accomplishments as a once-champion flagpole sitter.

Though flagpole sitting has fallen out of the public eye since the Depression, it has occasionally shown faint signs of life. In 1963, 17-year-old Alabama native Peggy Townsend cruised past all of Kelly's highest marks by spending 217 days on a pole for a radio contest. That time was later beaten by Kenneth Gidge, who topped her at 248 days in 1971 before becoming an artist, inventor, and New Hampshire state representative later in life.

Today, the occasional pole-sitter still pops up in the news, though they're now most likely perched for protests or as living art installations. Regardless of the purpose behind it, it's unlikely that a person atop a flagpole will ever attract a sea of thousands of onlookers again—and the days when a man like Kelly could become a household name and dub himself the "Luckiest Fool on Earth" seem long gone.

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