The longest scoreless professional baseball game took place in North Dakota in 1891
After 25 innings, with the score tied 0 to 0, the umpire called an end to the game between the Fargo Red Stockings and the Grand Forks Black Stockings.
FARGO — When it comes to sports rivalries between two communities, few towns in the U.S. can compare with the rivalry that has existed for well over 100 years between sports teams from Fargo and Grand Forks. Whether at the high school or college level or the amateur or professional level, an added element of excitement appears to exist when teams from these two cities compete in sporting events.
Of the hundreds of games between sporting teams from these two cities, one baseball game that was played on July 18, 1891, is in the national record books. It was a game between the Fargo Red Stockings and the Grand Forks Black Stockings, and both were professional teams of the Red River Valley League. After 25 innings, with the score tied 0 to 0, the umpire called an end to the game.
There have been longer games in professional baseball, but never have two teams played that number of innings without either team scoring a run. If that record is ever broken, there will remain a record that will never be broken. The opposing pitchers for both teams pitched the entire game, and both pitchers tossed 25 innings of shutout baseball. Cack Henley’s 24-inning complete game for the San Francisco Seals in 1909 remains the longest individual shutout in professional baseball history.
In the North Dakota game, William Gibbs was the pitcher for the Grand Forks Black Stockings, and George Raymer was the hurler for the Fargo Red Stockings, and each man pitched 25 scoreless innings. What makes it even more remarkable was that this game was the second contest of a double-header.
Prior to 1891, the Red River Valley League had been in existence for several years and was made up of semi-pro teams. In 1887, it became a minor league of professional players, but after only one year, it folded as an organized league. In 1891, the Red River Valley League reorganized as a professional league, including the teams from Fargo and Grand Forks. Corliss “Con” Walker was the owner-manager of the Fargo team, and his counterpart in Grand Forks was Tom Hill.
Both owners retained the nucleus of their 1890 teams, which they supplemented with key imports. Walker brought back Jim Banning, who had played with Fargo in 1887 and then spent parts of the 1888 and ‘89 seasons in the major leagues with the Washington Senators. Hill added “Willie” Gibbs from Minneapolis.
The 1891 season was to begin on June 16, with Fargo hosting Grand Forks for a four-game series. It made an inauspicious start because the first game was postponed when the Grand Forks players missed the train to Fargo.
The Red Stockings won on the 17th, Grand Forks on the 18th, and, the next day, the teams had a double-header to make up for the missed game on the 16th. What happened on June 19 portended little of what would occur one month later. In the doubleheader, the teams combined to score 39 runs, with Fargo winning 10-6 in the first game and Grand Forks taking game two by a score of 12-11.
Grand Forks had difficulty attracting fans even though Hill had an excellent team. The situation was less dire in Fargo because Walker, the team’s owner, was foreman of the Fargo Argus printing office and could inexpensively flood the city with fliers about upcoming home games.
Since fan support was poor in Grand Forks, Hill made the choice to move the four-game series of July 17 and 18 from his city to the military encampment at Devils Lake. Each team carried only 11 players.
Before the series, Grand Forks had won six of the 11 games held between the two teams. On the 17th, Hill’s team took the first game, and Walker’s team won the second. Grand Forks also won the opener on the 18th, and both teams prepared to use their ace pitchers, Gibbs and Raymer, in the second game.
According to records, the fielding was excellent, but it was the pitching that was truly remarkable. Gibbs gave up only six bases on balls and Raymer did better, allowing only four walks. Gibbs surrendered 16 hits and Raymer allowed 10. During the game, Gibbs struck out 20 batters and Raymer whiffed 17.
How can I be certain that Gibbs and Raymer hold the record for the most shutout innings in a game? Let's examine what is known. Records show that the longest professional scoreless game was the 1891 meeting between Fargo and Grand Forks. Records also show that the longest shutout by a pitcher occurred in 1909 when Henley of the San Francisco Seals outdueled Jimmy Wiggs of the Oakland Oaks for a 1-0 victory in 24 innings.
Unless I am missing something, the 1891 pitching heroics of Gibbs and Raymer has to be a record. Many managers use the “rule of 100.” Once a pitcher reaches 100 pitches, he is automatically relieved before the start of the next inning. The average number of innings for a starting pitcher is 5.98.
In conclusion, some other interesting facts about the 25-inning game between Fargo and Grand Forks are: the umpire for the game was Fargo’s manager Con Walker; Walker turned over the reins of managing to his captain, probably Jim Banning; and, the 18 players who started the game were still there at the conclusion — the only roster change occurred when the Fargo first baseman committed an error, and the captain then had him and the right fielder change positions.
Another unique note is that only three baseballs were used in the game. It is also noteworthy that Grand Forks only played one more game that season. Hill then disbanded his team. In order to pay his debts and the remaining salary to his players, Hill tore down his ballpark and sold the lumber. The Red River Valley League did not return to professional status until 1897.
Most of the players in that game appear to have disappeared into obscurity. The one person who was the most active throughout the game later became a giant in the theater industry. As the only umpire in the game, Con Walker not only called all the balls and strikes, but his decisions stood on all of the action that took place on the field.
Walker came to Fargo in 1881 and was hired as the foreman of the Fargo Argus newspaper printing office. He, and his brother Fred, later established their own printing company. In 1894, Con Walker rebuilt the Fargo Opera House that had been burned down a year earlier.
In the early 1900s Walker was busy buying theaters and opera houses in towns in the Red River Valley. Along with the Fargo Opera House he purchased opera houses in Grand Forks and Grafton in North Dakota, Crookston and Brainerd in Minnesota, and Winnipeg in Manitoba. He named his chain of theaters the Red River Valley Circuit, but it was popularly referred to as “The Breadbasket Circuit.” By running a chain of theaters, Walker was able, for the first time, to bring high-end entertainment to the citizens of these smaller communities. This included major theatrical acting troupes, Italian opera companies, and symphony orchestras. With the advent of talking motion pictures in the early 1930s, attendance at his theaters began to decline and Walker closed down his theaters.