Sunday, June 22, 1952, was such a nice day in Spokane that Ernie Banks, months away from launching his Hall of Fame baseball career with the Chicago Cubs, would have wanted to play two.
Burkhart Motors, made up of boys from West Valley High School, and Silver Loaf Bakery, representing North Central, fully intended to play two. The American Legion teams, contenders for the county championship, barely played one. And it remains, 58 years later, among the longest games, by innings, ever played. Burkhart won, 5-4, in 24 innings.
And – get this – winning pitcher Ed Luedtke worked all 24 innings and loved almost every minute, even though the 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander faced 96 batters, walked 15, struck out 23, threw five wild pitches, hit a batter and allowed seven hits. Pitch count? Surely, you jest.
Burkhart and Silver Loaf had been scheduled to play their doubleheader on Saturday night. But summer was off to a poor start. Although spring had ended in a flurry of 80-degree days, by Saturday, half an inch of rain fell, and it was only 63 degrees. The lighted field at Underhill Park, also home to the semipro Twilight League, was too wet for play. Nonetheless, it was warm and sunny on Sunday when Luedtke took the hill at 2 p.m.
Silver Loaf, the defending champion, was second in the standings behind Gonzaga Prep’s Empire Furniture. The Bakers made the most of their first two hits, building a 4-1 lead by scoring once in the top half of the seventh inning on a walk, a sacrifice bunt and an error. Burkhart tied the score in the bottom half. Luedtke drove in the first two runs with a single.
After Silver Loaf coach Bill Diedrick replaced his big left-hander, Tom Orth, with right-hander Earl Stoner, scoreless innings began to mount up.
Luedtke did not allow any hits in seven consecutive innings, the sixth through the 12th. After he was touched for singles in the 13th and the 16th, he pitched six more hitless innings until Silver Loaf picked up its other three hits over the final two innings. Stoner, who had full vision in only one eye, was nearly as impressive. Although he gave up 18 hits, he allowed no runs for 16 consecutive innings, walking only one and striking out 14.
After the Bakers missed a scoring opportunity in the 23rd inning, Burkhart scored the winning run in the home half of the 24th, with the help of a fouled-up pickoff play.
For the record, 191 batters had come to the plate. Burkhart had 20 hits, five of them by Gail Strait. Silver Loaf stole 11 bases, including five by second baseman Dick Fosness, who had three of the seven hits. There were 11 errors. Thirty-eight runners were left on base. And, although three-and-a-half-hour major-league games seem to have become the norm, Burkhart and Silver Loaf played the equivalent of nearly three regulation games in 4 hours and 51 minutes. When Game 2 was postponed, everyone was home in time for dinner.
“I felt great. My arm felt good. I had everything working pretty darn good,” Luedtke, 75, said recently from his home in Hayden, Idaho. “My main pitch was my fastball, and my curve was good. It seemed like a nine-inning game, although, when you got to thinking about it, it was getting up there in innings.”
It’s probably not surprising that, nearly six decades later, surviving players remember only some of the details. But the next morning’s editions of The Spokesman-Review carried a fairly explicit account.
Silver Loaf’s 23rd-inning threat developed after Strait’s two-out error in right field allowed a runner to reach third base. But Strait ended the inning with a spectacular catch.
“As I remember – it’s been a long time – it was a deep fly ball,” the former Washington State University football captain said. “I turned my back to the batter and caught up with it over the shoulder.”
Strait earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WSU. He went on to med school at the University of Washington and became a Tacoma-area cardiologist.
Here’s how the game ended.
Strait’s fifth hit, a single, started things. By the time there were two outs, he was on third base with a teammate at second. Diedrick called for a pickoff. After receiving the sign, Stoner, who had an exceptional move, whirled and fired. But third baseman George Weishaar was creeping onto the infield grass. The ball sailed over his head, over the bag and up against the screen beyond foul territory. Strait raced home.
“Coach Bill Diedrick gave the signal to Earl, who gave it to me, and I missed it, apparently,” said Weishaar, who’s retired from a long career in education. “Bill had hollered at me ‘Be awake, George.’ I thought he meant ‘Look out for a squeeze play.’ So Earl made the move to third, and I’m patting my glove, waiting for the bunt.”
Now, about the pitch count.
Assume all 23 strikeout victims were retired on only three pitches. That’s 69. If the 15 batters who walked did so on four pitches, that’s 60. Deducting strikeouts from the total of 72 outs, leaves 49. If each of those and the seven hits required just a single pitch, that would be another 56. Add in the five wild pitches and the hit batter, and the total is 191.
If each of the 96 batters had required just one extra pitch, the total escalates to 287. And it’s not unreasonable, considering Luedtke’s shaky control, that each might have required two additional pitches. Those would run the total to a mind-boggling 383.
Luedtke, however, will hear no criticism of coach John Little, who managed a Millwood five-and-dime store.
“I just remember that, after every inning, John kept asking, ‘Are you OK, Ed?’ I was throwing good,” Luedtke said. “He asked after nine innings and then, after every inning. I came in, and he’d ask. And I’d say ‘Don’t take me out.’ ”
So how many pitches did he throw?
“I’ve never thought about that,” Luedtke said. “Back then, it wasn’t that way.”
For Luedtke, this game was far from his only athletic accomplishment.
The following winter, the St. Ignatius, Mont., native was an all-state basketball player for future Hall of Fame coach Jud Heathcote. And, when West Valley opened its 1953 baseball season at Coeur d’Alene, he nearly pitched a perfect game, giving up neither a hit nor a walk and striking out 12. The only base runner, hit by a pitch, was caught stealing. The Eagles crushed the Vikings, 24-0. Luedtke even hit a two-run homer.
Then, after a season in the Twilight League and a year at the University of Oregon, Luedtke pitched professionally, spending two seasons with the Spokane Indians and one with the Lewiston Broncos in the Northwest League.
None of that, however, compared to the summer day in 1952.“When it was over with, we celebrated a lot,” Luedtke said. “We congratulated the other guys, too. It was a great game. It could have gone either way. We all had a good time.”
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