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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Allentown's Greatest Baseball Game

My grandson spent his first year of grade school at St. Paul's in south Allentown. I've asked him whether he's ever had a strange urge to take a great swing or throw a heater while going to school and church there. He just looks at me like I'm nuts. But the place is magic. It's the scene of the greatest baseball game ever played in Allentown.

The year was 1923. It's the year that Yankee stadium was first built. Babe Ruth hit 42 homers that season, with an astonishing .393 batting average. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series that year in six games against the NY Giants.

But before that would happen, the Yankees would play a game in Peanutville, as Allentown was called. In those days, major league teams often played exhibition games on their off days so players could add a few bucks to their pockets. The baseball gods had already smiled on Allentown once in 1894, sending Mike "King" Kelly to wreak havoc against the menace from Easton. Nearly thirty years later, they would smile again, sending the American League champions for a game against a little known team called the Allentown "Dukes."

The game was played before 4,000 screaming fans in what has been called Edgemont or Allentown Park. Mayor Gross posed for a picture with the Babe, who is holding his 36 inch, 37 ounce war club like a gentleman's walking cane. During batting practice before the game, the sultan of swat wowed the crowds several times by "lifting the apple over the fence."

Once the game got underway, the Yankees dominated, and were leading 7 to 1 at the beginning of the seventh. Then the Dukes exploded, and the game was suddenly 7 to 6.

Babe Ruth trotted out to face George "Scrap Iron" Papsin, who was now hurling for the Dukes. Here's how the Bambino himself describes that encounter to an Allentown Morning Call reporter. "'That boy has something on the ball, he crossed me up all around,' said Ruth as he reached for the water dipper. 'I wanted to knock that first ball a mile, and when I missed that fast one I figured that he was going to throw me a slow one. Instead it was a fast hook inside. The third one looked good, and I bit for it. I missed it though.'"

When the dust had settled after nine innings, the Dukes were victorious, 8 to 7. The major part of the Yankee starting line-up had played all nine innings, fighting for the win. But the baseball gods smiled on Allentown that day. Their Dukes beat the World Series champions on a field that no longer exists in a game that is all but forgotten.


Anonymous said...

you have children?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yep. Fortunately, they take after their mom.

Glenn said...

another "home run" bernie

Glenn said...

i just noticed you posted this at 1 AM. that's a little scary.

Chris said...

I love stories like this. There's so much hidden history in the Lehigh Valley. I was hoping you'd go more in depth on this after mentioning The Babe in your previous baseball post.

I have an off topic question for you. Is it true Kurt Vonnegut was a frequent visitor to Hellertown and often visited the Cellar Bar?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, the biz about Vonnegut is truie. my dad and he were quite close and he visited my dad in Hellertown from time to time. They would also hoist a few at various taverns in Hellertown, Springtown and bethlehem.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"i just noticed you posted this at 1 AM. that's a little scary."

That's why this one is a little shorter. Thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, about Vonnegut, I bet you could probably post some interesting diaries about your father and Kurt "hoisting a few" in the Lehigh Valley. so it goes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

My brother and I have provided Vonnegut's official biographer w/ some stories that he may or may not use. I'm looking forward to the book.

Anonymous said...


I hope to see an article on Rendell's proposed tax increase and how our senators/reps. feel about it.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, That is perhaps the best tribute you have ever given to the Lehigh Valley and Allentown. Especially in these turbulent times. Makes me proud to be and Allentownian
The Old Allentown Curmudgeon

Anonymous said...

Great story Bernie! I love reading about Allentown's history - there's a lot of good to remember.

How's Dat doing this year in his baseball league?

The Banker

Anonymous said...

Love the baseball posts and love Babe Ruth stories. Before "foul poles" and the rule change that credited home runs on balls that left the playing field in fair territory, rather than a determination based on where the ball eventually landed, many Ruth colleagues estimated he hit another 80 - 100 balls that would later be considered homers. His average and slugging percentage were as great as his power.

I'm curious to know if there's any Negro League history in this area. A recent visit to the Negro League museum in Kansas City (it's terrific BTW) raised my interest.

Anonymous said...

Love the historical stuff. Keep it coming

Bernie O'Hare said...


He's really been busy bc he's playing both baseball and basketball.

His little league playoffs start tomorrow. But he is also on a tournament team and we'll be heading out to Reading this weekend for a tournament. Plus, he has the Coplay tournament and another in July.

He also plays for 2 basketbal teams. One of them plays twice per week at Cedar beach. The other travels.

Let me give you his schedule from Saturday.


2 PM: Basketball game in Forks.

5 PM: Baseball game at NW. Game canceled bc of rain, but not until we were there.


2 PM. Basketball game in Forks

3 PM: Basketball game in Forks.

4-8 PM: Pick up baseball game in nazareth w/ wooden bats.


6:30 PM: basketball game at Cedar Beach.


4:30 - 6:00 PM: Baseball practice.

7:00 - 8:00 PM: Basketball practice.

He's a busy boy. Once football starts, he gives up basketball and baseball until that season is over. A few coaches want him to play fall baseball, too, but one sport at a time is plenty for me.

I go to the games and baseball practices, but not basketball practice. I'm beat just watching him.

Anonymous said...

Jeez that's incredible! And football is just around the corner with its 5 night/week practices (and some Saturdays no doubt).

Kudos to him and the BOH Limousine Company!

The Banker

Bernie O'Hare said...

His mom does most of the driving. He is just into sports nonstop. I've never seen anything like it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Peanutville had nothing to do with peanuts, but was some kind of nickname for Allentown from people like the major league-ers who came from the big cities to play for a little extra dough. When I lived in Allentown, my roommate ( a female) once had to hire a taxi to drive her from NYC to Allentown when she missed a bus and the taxi driver mistook her for a hooker (who often hired taxis to hit Hamilton Blvd. on the weekends). In the taxi, she learned from the driver that the prostitutes and the taxi drivers in NY had a nickname for Allentown too that was simliar to Peanutville. I forget what it was but it had something to do with being in the country, being a small town, being a "suburb" of NY as they saw it. I wonder if the ballplayers christened it that.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Great theory. Hope your lady friend was not too put off at being considered a lady of the evening.

lighthouse said...

You've already heard this above, but I too have enjoyed reading the local baseball history/stories.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great - he'll learn an awful lot about things being that active, and in a good way. It's so important for parents (and grandparents) to support their kids when they're this interested, and it gives the kid a good basis for growing up.

The Banker