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Dedicated umpire stayed at the plate for 32 innings.

Byline: Ed Patenaude

COLUMN: So I've Heard

Dennis P. Cregg of Webster was a national supervisor of minor league umpires when he retired at the end of 2009, ending a 34-year career in organized baseball, but he will be remembered forever as the home plate umpire in the longest game ever played in baseball history.

Saturday, April 18, 1981, was quite a day in the life of Triple A International League umpire Cregg's life. Assigned home plate duty that evening at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket for a game between the home Pawtucket Red Sox and the visiting Rochester Red Wings, Mr. Cregg had some personal matters to attend to. He spent the better part of the daylight hours moving his family household from a third-floor apartment on Myrtle Avenue in Webster to a cottage in another part of town.

Then, with evening approaching, he picked up a nephew, David Cregg of Dudley, brother Francis' son, who was about 12 at the time, and drove to Pawtucket, R.I., arriving well before report time for umpires. After seating David in an area where he'd be visible at a turn from home plate, umpire Cregg took care of pre-game duties. "Play ball" was called at 8:25 p.m.

The first six innings were scoreless. Rochester, a Baltimore Orioles affiliate, plated a run in the top of the seventh, and Pawtucket tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, sending play into extra innings. Joe Morgan, subsequently manager of the "big club" in Boston, was the Pawtucket manager in 1981. Morgan argued a bunt attempt by one of his players, umpire Cregg remembers. "I let him out early," he added, meaning expulsion from the game.

The contest continued. Ten scoreless innings followed. Both sides managed single runs in the 21st inning, and play continued on and on. The league had a curfew rule, but no one bothered to inform the umpires. Their rules cards didn't provide authority to suspend a game. "We continued to play," Mr. Cregg says.

The league president was finally reached in the wee hours of the morning. It was Easter Sunday by then, and the game was called at 4:07 a.m., tied after 32 innings. Nineteen fans were still in the park, but Mr. Cregg sees this as 20, counting young David, who fell asleep during the early morning hours.

Meanwhile, brother Francis, at home in Dudley, became concerned, says umpire Dennis. He called Kathy, Dennis' wife, but she had little to report. He followed with a call to Webster police, wondering if there had been any accident reports. None, he learned. Then, the answer was in a call to Pawtucket police. "The desk sergeant told him the game was still going on," says Dennis Cregg. "It was the 28th inning."

Umpire Cregg had an actual count of his positional changes at one time, movements to observe every pitch, but now, after nearly 30 years, simply says he adjusted to plate duty more than 900 times during the long game.

"Talk about a tough day," said Mr. Cregg. To make it worse, Pawtucket had a 1 p.m. game the next day, actually just hours from the marathon session, so it was a short night.

The Pawtucket management awarded life passes to the 19 fans who remained through the 32 innings. Young David Cregg didn't qualify, but it didn't matter. "I don't think he's ever been to a baseball game since, not anywhere," says uncle Dennis.

All kinds of records were set during the game, and the long contest brought headlines across sports pages around the country, remembers umpire Cregg.

Play resumed Tuesday, June 23, on Rochester's next visit to Pawtucket. A sell-out crowd was on hand, and there was news coverage from around the world. The Paw Sox ended things quickly, scoring in the 33rd inning. Worcester's Rich Gedman was the Pawtucket catcher.

"I still think that game made Pawtucket (a baseball town)," says Mr. Cregg. A lifelong area resident, the just-retired umpire and supervisor attended a professional umpiring camp in 1974. The best call of his life followed: He married the former Kathy Spitz in 1975 and subsequently got a job in the Carolina League, working in that deep South circuit for two years before going on to the Eastern League for another two years.

His career subsequently took a turn from the International League. Mr. Cregg was appointed a national umpiring supervisor for minor league baseball in 1986, observing umpires under game conditions, providing instruction to improve their chances for advancement, and alerting officials to prospective umpiring talent. The job took him into baseball parks throughout the country, including a long stint between diamonds from Maine to Florida.

Working as an umpire, even as a minor league umpiring supervisor, required winter employment for a family man like Mr. Cregg. He worked for McKay Roofing Co. before getting into umpiring, and for Guenther & Sabaj, building contractors, during most off seasons.

Mr. Cregg expects to hear more about The Longest Game. A New York Times editor is compiling information for a book. Dennis Cregg and others recently met with the author in Pawtucket. One of the things that makes the longest game in his life interesting is that two of the players in the long-ago Pawtucket tilt went on to Baseball's Hall of Fame. Wade Boggs, who played for the Red Sox and Yankees, was inducted at Cooperstown in 2005, and Carl Ripkin Jr., who played major league baseball for the Baltimore Orioles, was inducted in 2007.

There are stories and stories about the longest game, says Mr. Cregg, mentioning the one about a pitcher whose wife doubted he spent the night playing baseball. The Sunday newspapers confirmed his claim.

Never one to abide with down time, Dennis P. Cregg works these days as a bartender at the Dudley Hill Golf Course, and at Cheers 2 in Webster. The next big date on his calendar is this coming Sept. 21. "That will be our 35th wedding anniversary," he says. Dennis and Kathy have two grown sons, Denny of East Providence and Danny of Dudley.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 25, 2010
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