David Wayne Koza (born September 16, 1954) is a former first baseman and outfielder in Minor League Baseball who played his entire professional career in the Boston Red Sox organization. Listed at 6' 2" , 195 lb. , he batted right-handed and threw left-handed.
Koza was part of the Red Sox farm system for 10 years, but he never appeared in a Major League Baseball game, was not even invited by Boston to join its spring training roster, perhaps because his raw power was offset by a lack of consistency, a lethany of injuries, and a high strikeout rate.
Nevertheless, Koza is regarded as the batter that drove in the winning run in the longest game ever recorded in professional baseball history; a 33-inning affair played in 1981 at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Koza was born in Norfolk, Virginia and grew up in Torrington, Wyoming, where he attended Torrington High School. Koza was a standout in every sport young men could play at Torrington. While there, he led the football team to an undefeated season as a quarterback, and eventually appeared as a defensive back and kicker. In addition, he played basketball and starred at track and field, being a triple winner in inter-school competition in discus throw, triple jump and long jump. Nevertheless, he never played high school baseball because it was not offered at the school. This posed a problem for the young Dave, as he struggled to understand a community that did not offered organized baseball. He always loved baseball and dreamed about becoming a major leaguer someday.
As a result, his understanding father, Gene, sought and found a vacant lot, planted four wooden poles, joined together with chicken wire, and laid out a regulation-size Little League ballfield. In this way, organized baseball for young boys finally came to Torrington, allowing Dave and other kids to demonstrate their baseball skills in as competitive an environment as possible. Afterwards, Dave attended a three-week baseball training camp in Chandler, Arizona, after receiving economic help from several merchants of Torrington, whom were appreciative of Gene Koza's efforts to found a local Little League program. After his training camp ended, the young Koza would return to Torrington to star as a pitcher and outfielder in tournaments sponsored by the Babe Ruth League and American Legion Baseball. Then, when the football season arrived, he had another field on which to excel.
Following high school graduation, Koza attended Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington and later enrolled at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, OK. He decided to attend EOSC, mostly because the baseball coach at the two-year school was also his instructor at the Chandler Baseball Camp.
After the 1974 spring semester, Koza moved to Colorado Springs, where he played semiprofessional baseball in exchange for a construction job and a place to live. After a game, he caught the attention of Danny Doyle, a former Red Sox catcher before gaining some renown within the organization as a gifted scout. Doyle scouted for the Sox for almost 50 years. He had signed the Red Sox future Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg, and later would sign Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner and two-time Triple Crown champ. But his attention at the moment was locked on Koza, and signed him for $15,000.
In 1974, Koza debuted as a 19-year rookie with the Class A- Elmira Pioneers. He hit .298 with five home runs and 25 RBI in just 35 games, gaining a promotion to Class A Winter Haven Red Sox in 1975, where he saw more action. In 110 games, he batted .258 with five homers and 36 RBI, facing pitchers with more experience and refinement that will force him to be more choosy at the plate.
His breakthrough season came in 1976, when he hit a slash line of .281/.330/.436 in 137 games for Winter Haven, while leading the Florida State League with 18 home runs and 83 RBI.
Koza opened 1977 at Double A Bristol Red Sox and was promoted to Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox late in the season, batting a combined .268 average with 16 home runs and 76 RBI. Once more, he divided his playing time between Bristol and Pawtucket the next year, being limited to 98 games after suffering an injury. In his two stints, he hit .279 with 10 homers and 43 RBI.
In 1979, Koza returned to Pawtucket and shared duties at first base with Dave Stapleton. Even though he appeared in 101 games, Koza batted a career-high 27 home runs in 360 at-bats (13.33 AB/HR), one behind teammate and International League leader Sam Bowen. Nevertheless, a .239 average and 90 strikeouts (four AB/SO) hurt Koza's chances for an eventual call-up to Boston. He then appeared in just 106 games for the PawSox in 1980, hitting a paltry .235, but led the team with 57 RBI and smashed 13 home runs, one less than Bowen.
The most memorable moment in the career of Koza came during the 1981 season, when he became a decisive factor in the aforementioned longest game in baseball history. It lasted for 33 innings spread over two months, with eight hours and 25 minutes of playing time. The game started on Saturday, April 18, 1981, and was suspended eight hours later around 4:00 a.m. in the 32rd inning on Easter Sunday, with the score tied at 2–2. The relentless duel, which faced the hometown PawSox against the Rochester Red Wings, ended mercifully on June 23 when Rochester returned to McCoy Stadium.
At this time, a growed interest in the game was truly worldwide. More than 150 media journalists applied for credentials, including crews from as far away as Japan. Unfortunately, the old McCoy Stadium was not up to International League standards. The old ballpark had only 6,000 seats and was barely handicapped accessible. As a result, MLB officials tried to move the game to Fenway Park in Boston, obviously a larger ballpark in a larger city, but players from both teams voted to end things where it all began. On that evening, it took just one inning and 18 minutes to finish the game, with Koza driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 33rd inning. For the record, Koza had 5 hits in 14 at bats, including a pair of doubles, one scoring run, and his game-winning RBI. Besides, Koza had the most hits of any player in the game and tied with teammates Lee Graham and Chico Walker for the most at bats.
The Rochester team featured Cal Ripken, Jr. at third base, who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame and also holds the baseball record of 2632 consecutive games played. The PawSox featured Wade Boggs, also a Hall of Famer, and future American League All-Stars Marty Barrett, Rich Gedman and Bruce Hurst. Overall, 12 future major leaguers with Boston played for Pawtucket in the game. Koza would play two more seasons in Pawtucket, the second as a back-up first baseman and fourth outfielder. Then, Boston unceremoniously released him at the end of 1983. He was a lifetime .263 hitter and belted 144 home runs, 90 of them with the PawSox.
After finishing his baseball career at age 29, Koza remained living in Pawtucket. He worked in a freight depot, then driving trucks. In between, he also had knee and hip surgeries. The story of his life on and off the baseball diamond and his exploits in the longest game in professional baseball history, are chronicled in the book Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game, authored by Pulitzer Prize winner Dan Barry.
On April 18, 2011, Koza was invited to McCoy Stadium to throw out the ceremonial first pitch during the 30th anniversary celebration of the marathonic game. This time the game lasted 2 hours and 50 minutes, with a 5–1 victory of the Pawtucket Red Sox over the Syracuse Chiefs.
Koza had a modest minor league career, easily forgotten. But he will forever be remembered as the hero of the longest game in professional baseball history.