If it happened today — 24 innings thrown in one 346-pitch game by a high school junior — the coach likely would be fired or maybe even worse.
But this was April 23, 1970.
Miami High beat Hialeah 1-0 in 24 innings that day, setting a record that still stands as the longest high school baseball game in Florida history.
The craziest part of this district playoff game full of wild happenings was the performance by Miami High’s Alberto “Chi Chi” Zamora, who went the distance for a 10-hit shutout, striking out 11.
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Even more amazing, Zamora was pitching on one day’s rest. He had thrown seven innings two days prior. Yet coach Ralph Davis, who passed away in 2007, had no problem sending Zamora back out there, inning after inning.
Zamora, meanwhile, has no bitterness toward Davis.
“He was a great man and an awesome coach,” Zamora said of Davis, who won more than 400 games in a 25-year career. “I don’t regret pitching. It was an awesome experience.”
That “awesome experience” and the entire 1970 Miami High baseball team were recently recognized by the school’s Hall of Fame committee. Eleven of the players from that team, now in their early 60s, were at Miami High on April 16 as part of the school’s annual Hall of Fame sports induction ceremony.
Also as part of the ceremony, seven former Miami High athletes were inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, including ex-football standout Mario Rubio. His brother, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who on March 15 suspended his GOP campaign for president, attended Saturday’s event with no entourage or fanfare — wearing a hand-written name tag, “Marco.”
Meanwhile, Zamora wasn’t the only hero that day at Miami Beach’s Flamingo Park. Shortstop Julio Hernandez and catcher Carlos Perez also had phenomenal days.
Hernandez hit what should have been the walk-off, game-winning, two-out single to left field in the bottom of the ninth inning. After he hit it, he started celebrating, as did his teammates and many of the 2,000 fans in attendance.
There was just one problem: He never stepped on first base.
The umpires made note of that and called Hernandez out, taking the run off the scoreboard and continuing the game, setting it on its historic path.
“I was 17 years old — I was excited,” Hernandez said. “In all the commotion and the happiness, I don’t remember if I got near the bag or went over it.”
Hernandez nearly won the game in the 16th inning, when he was thrown out at the plate on a hit by Zamora. But to Hernandez’s credit, he kept playing at a high level.
“Julio was insane that game,” said Alfonso Rodriguez, who played right field for Miami High. “He had like 20 chances at shortstop and didn’t make an error.”
Hernandez said he actually made 27 plays at shortstop before his biggest moment in the 24th inning, when he redeemed himself by getting a two-out, game-winning hit on a single to left field.
This time, Hernandez did much more than step on the bag.
“I grabbed it and took it home with me,” Hernandez said. “I had it for years until it fell apart and broke.”
The memory, though, is unbreakable.
It’s been a highlight for Hernandez, who was drafted in the 10th round that year by the New York Yankees. He never made the majors, reaching as high as Double A, but the 63-year-old said he was recently named the No. 1 Chevrolet salesman in the country.
Nationally, there have been only two high school baseball games that lasted longer. Two Hawaii teams played 25 innings in 1967, and that record was tied by a pair of California schools in 1975.
But it’s a safe bet that none of those teams played doubleheaders on those days, which is what Miami High did. Perez caught 30 innings that day, squatting behind the plate, pitch after pitch.
Perez, who went on to become the athletic director at two local high schools, Miami Springs and Reagan, said his feat of endurance wasn’t all that tough for him.
“Once the adrenaline flows, you go on instinct,” said the 63-year-old Perez, who now works part-time at Doral Academy. “You just put the gear on and go back out. The tired feelings came the next day.”
Perez said he remember how he felt when Hernandez’s original game-winning RBI was wiped out by the umpire.
“It was like we were in a hot-air balloon, 5,000 feet up, and they deflate the balloon,” he said. “The Hialeah players were making fun of us because we hadn’t really won.”
Perez said he remembers Zamora starting that day with a sore arm.
“But he was a bulldog like always,” Perez said. “He had a great curve ball, moving it in and out. And you didn’t dare tell Coach Davis you were tired. He didn’t like to substitute many guys.”
Despite the 31 innings Zamora pitched over a three-day span, including his marathon 24-inning game, Zamora said he never had arm surgery.
But he did say that his fastball, which was clocked at 92 mph at its peak, lost velocity in the years subsequent to 1970.
Zamora, who was drafted in the 10th round in 1971 by the Washington Senators, said he lost about four mph on his fastball and lasted just two full years in the minor leagues.
In the third year, 1974, Zamora was invited to major-league camp but was cut. And that was it — his baseball career was over.
But rather than be bitter, Zamora rebounded by becoming a record executive. For the past 40 years, he has developed marketing strategies for artists while working for companies such as Sony and Time Warner.
Zamora said he is proud of his marathon game in which he outlasted the Hialeah starter by nine innings.
“It’s a record that I don’t think will ever be broken,” he said. “These days, it’s rare for a pitcher to go past nine innings or 150 pitches.”
Davis, meanwhile, was quoted in a 1971 Miami Herald article as saying he went to the mound three different times that day to see about removing Zamora.
“But he wanted to stay in and finish the game,” Davis said.
Zamora, who had a 19-3 record in his final two years at Miami High, said he doesn’t remember Davis coming to the mound.
“I was never in trouble in that game,” Zamora said. “I don’t know why he would have come out. I got stronger as that game went on, and there was never a doubt I would continue.”
Zamora said that before his marathon game he had heard rumors he would get drafted in the first two rounds. He believes that game hurt his draft status, but he accepts what happened with no malice.
“We were winners — we didn’t think about consequences,” he said. “We didn’t think about getting hurt.”
After their exhausting and euphoric win over Hialeah, Miami High had to complete a doubleheader in a district semifinal playoff game against Coral Park. Davis wanted that game postponed for another day and was livid when that didn’t happen.
Ironically, the Coral Park coach was Steve Hertz, who had played for Davis at Miami High. This was Hertz’s first season as a head coach, and Davis “lit him up”, letting him know that the second game should not be played.
Hertz said the district chairman, who was the Miami High principal that year, had made the decision that if the first game was over by 8 p.m., the second game would go on as scheduled.
The first game finished at 7:50 — a five-hour, 20-minute marathon.
“Coach Davis went into a tirade when he was told about the decision,” Hertz said. “I told him, ‘I don’t make the rules.’”
Coral Park went on to eliminate Miami High in that game, 9-0. The score was 1-0 until the seventh inning, when the tired Stings finally faltered. Prior to that, they had allowed one run in 30 innings.
Davis sent Zamora to pinch hit in that second game, but he was so exhausted he struck out without even taking a swing.
“Coach Davis got all over my butt,” Zamora said. “I was so tired — my mind was somewhere else.”
And even though Miami High had five of its nine starters drafted by pro baseball, the Stings never got out of district play.
The following year, when Zamora was a senior, Miami High also failed to advance.
Another irony: The last game of Zamora’s high school career came against Hialeah, and he beat the T-Breds again, by the same 1-0 score as he had in the 24-inning classic.
This time, though, Zamora pitched a no-hitter, and Miami High needed just seven innings to win the game.