NOTE -- This is a story that appeared in the Des Moines Sunday Register on July 20, 2008.
By MIKE MALLOY • Des Moines Register • July 20, 2008
Sunnyside Park in Atlantic features tennis courts, a softball field and a pool, but no marker to commemorate perhaps the most bizarre high school baseball game ever played.
It was there on April 25, 1928, that Atlantic beat Griswold 109-0, setting a still-standing national record for the most runs scored by one and two teams in a high school game. The host team had 92 hits in the eight-inning game, 15 of them by starting pitcher Don King, who also threw a no-hitter. One Atlantic player - identified only by last name, Rapp - hit five of his team's 16 home runs. Atlantic scored 30 runs in the second inning, 27 in the seventh and 18 in the eighth.
John Gustin pitched the entire game for Griswold, which committed 22 errors.
"It wasn't much of a ball game," said Loren King, who was in attendance. "The crowd was pretty thin when it was over."
Loren, 95, is Don King's brother, and recalled dusk starting to settle in late in the game, shortening it from nine to eight innings.
"They started at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and I think they were still playing at 7," King said. "It was a massacre."
The story of how the game came about may be even more amazing.
Griswold, then as now much smaller than Atlantic, hadn't originally scheduled the game, but its team became quite an attraction because of a speedy, red-headed outfielder named Alice Buckman. Eight years after women earned the right to vote, Buckman was breaking another barrier.
"Alice was quite a tomboy, and a pretty good athlete," said Gilbert Mueller, 92, who sometimes played catch with Buckman as children. "She could go after the ball and get it."
Crews from Fox Films and the International News Service came to Griswold to shoot photos and film Buckman in action, according to a story in the Atlantic News Telegraph.
Seeking to capitalize on her popularity, Atlantic and Griswold agreed to play and split the proceeds.
"They'd even made arrangements for a special train to run from Griswold to Atlantic because they were anticipating that big of a crowd," said Steve Baier, who has done research about the game.
Buckman, however, injured a finger catching a ball two days earlier, and Griswold had a game the next night against Adair - one Griswold coach Jim Morrison deemed more important than its de facto exhibition in Atlantic. Morrison had previously asked to get out of the contract because rainouts had begun filling up off days in Griswold's schedule, but given all the advanced publicity and preparations, Atlantic refused. Morrison appealed to the Iowa High School Athletic Association, but the organization sided with Atlantic.
Unable to get out of the contract, Morrison kept Buckman and the other starters at home, and played with his freshman team.
"He sent what they called the 'Yanigans.' That's just an expression back in those days for people that weren't quite broke in," Baier said.
Gustin was normally a catcher, but was pressed into pitching duty that long afternoon.
"He basically stuck to catching after that," said Jim Gustin, John's son. "After a couple innings, he decided it wasn't worth his effort to try to pitch to them. He just kept throwing them up there and they kept waylaying it."
Jim Gustin, who works at an auto parts store in Griswold, said his father, who died in 1997, didn't like talking about his most notable game until later in his life. Gustin probably threw 400-500 pitches.
"That would be some form of abuse under the current rules," Baier said.
Phil Chinitz, a longtime sports reporter at the Atlantic News Telegraph, encountered similar reticence while doing research for a story he wrote on the game's 50th anniversary.
"We were always getting calls about that game," Chinitz said. "I talked to one of the men on the Griswold team, but he didn't want to talk about it."
Baier, 57, is a high school umpire and lives on a farm between the towns. He coached Griswold in the 1980s, and that job rekindled memories of hearing what may have seemed like a tall tale.
"When I was a kid, you'd hear the old-timers talking about that game," Baier said. "It wasn't as unbelievable to me then as it is now."
Baier said talk of that game has faded over the years, but strike up a conversation with the right person and you'll hear quite a story.
"It was a fluke of a ballgame, but they played it anyway," Loren King said. "They should have had that 10-run rule."