Today, general consensus considers the 51-minute, September 28, 1919 contest between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Giants to be the quickest in major league history, with the Giants winning 6-1. Just how impressive is that figure? The game averaged an out every minute and each at bat (69 total) averaged less than 45 seconds apiece, including the time it took to swap places in between innings. By any measure, the game flew. And perhaps most surprisingly, it wasn’t entirely devoid of offense either, making it all the more extraordinary a feat.
In a New York Times recap the next day, a sportswriter remarked on the game’s fever pace but acknowledged little effort actually went into speeding things along:
There was no unusual effort yesterday to make a speed record until the Phils’ half of the ninth. At that time it became apparent to the players that they could do something unusual, and for a half inning they hustled. Even with two out in this closing inning Luderus poked a hit to centre field, and he did not attempt to walk into any putout. Dave Bancroft did. He took a swing at a ball, which rolled to Doyle, and the game was over. Bancroft’s effort with two down in the ninth was the only part of the game in which real effort was lacking.
When compared to the frequently 3 hour plus affairs of modern day, 51 minutes seems near impossible. A look at the game’s box score (below) helps us to make better sense of how it happened. Perhaps most notable: only 3 strikeouts and 3 walks combined between the two teams. In 2016, MLB teams averaged 3.1 BBs and 8.1 Ks per game; multiply that by two to get an idea of how many at bats fail to put the ball in play. In this 1919 game, only 6 of 69 batters failed to do so.
Note: I realize labeling anything the definitive this or that only invites debate; on this matter, however, I would happily be proven wrong if presented with evidence to the contrary!