Remembering the Rick Camp Game
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Rick Camp died on Thursday at the age of 59. Camp played parts of nine years in the major leagues, all for the Braves, playing a significant role for Atlanta in eight of them as a utility pitcher who did everything from start (65 games including 58 from 1982 to 1984) to close (39 saves in 1980 and 1981, two seasons in which he posted a combined 1.86 ERA, picking up a down-ballot MVP vote in the latter year).
What he’ll be most remembered for, however, was the one home run he hit in his 197 major league plate appearances, a home run that came in his final season, at roughly 3:30 a.m., in one of the wildest games in major league history.
On Thursday, July 4, 1985, the Braves welcomed the Mets to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to open up a four-game, holiday weekend series, but rain pushed back the first pitch, made the outfield almost unplayable and caused additional delays during the game. Ugly from the outset, the game saw both teams score once in the first inning, after which the Braves went up 3-1 in the third. The Mets scored four in the fourth, ultimately taking a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth. With the clock striking midnight, the Braves rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth to hand a 8-7 lead to Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter, only to have Sutter blow the save, sending the game into extra innings tied at 8-8.
After three scoreless frames, during which New York’s Keith Hernandez picked up a single to complete the cycle, the Mets’ Howard Johnson hit a two-run home run off Terry Forster in the top of the 13th, promising an end to a long, wet night in Atlanta. The Braves, though, answered back via a two-run home run off the foul pole by Terry Harper off Tom Gorman. And so the game continued, knotted at 10-10 through the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th innings. Camp entered in relief the top of the 17th during which Mets manager Davey Johnson and rightfielder Darryl Strawberry were ejected for arguing balls and strikes (said home plate umpire Terry Tata after the game “there aren’t any bad calls at 3 a.m.”). In the 18th, a leadoff single by Johnson, Camp’s error on a subsequent bunt by Danny Heep and a Lenny Dykstra sac fly gave New York the lead, again.
Gorman, who entered the game in the 13th and was now in his sixth inning of work, opened the bottom of the 18th by getting Gerald Perry and Harper to ground out. With the Braves long since out of position players, Camp, a career .060 hitter who was 0-for-5 on the season, had to hit for himself. John Sterling, who has since become famous as the radio voice of the Yankees, described what happened next:
The rest of that video shows a reduced version of what followed Camp’s two-out, two-strike game-tying homer. The Mets jumped all over Camp in the top of the 19th, pushing across four runs to take a 16-11 lead. Then, of course, Atlanta staged another rally of their own against Ron Darling, scoring twice and bringing Camp to the plate once again as the tying run. Lightning didn’t strike twice, however, as Camp, taking another go-for-broke swing, struck out to end the game just shy of 4 a.m. in what remains the latest ending to a game in major league history. Despite the time, the Braves still put on the fireworks display scheduled for after the game.
Camp lived a checkered life after his baseball career came to an end after the Braves released him prior to the 1986 season. He returned to his family farm in Trion, Ga., spent some time as a lobbyist, then later spent two years in federal prison for his role in a scheme to steal more than $2 million from an Augusta, Ga., mental health facility. Nonetheless, he was regularly welcomed back to Old Timers’ festivities by the Braves, even after his release from prison in 2007, and will always be remembered for what is now known as “the Rick Camp game.”