For $7 reserved or $5 general admission, local football fans could see the NY Jets take on the Buffalo Bills in Kingston, Pa. The game was sponsored by the West Side Knights of Columbus. At the time, both teams competed in the American Football Leaue. This exhibition game was played before the Super Bowl (AFL vs. NFL) and before the NFL/AFL merger. The Bills were a solid team. Jack Kemp was the starting QB for the Bills. The Jets had been known as the Titans prior to the 1964 season. 1964 was the first for the Jets with coach Weeb Ewbank. The Bills were coached by legendary coach Lou Saban.
Only about 6,000 fans attended the exhibition played at Kingston Stadium. Kingston’s own, Ed Rutkowski was the starting Half-back for the Bills. He received a nice ovation from the local fans. Rutkowski had earned all state honors at QB while starring for Kingston High School and attended Notre Dame. He was the Most Valuable back in Pennsylvania’s 18 to 0 victory in the Big 33 game in 1959.
The game itself was a typical football exhibition. The back-ups got plenty of playing time. Ed Rutkowski had 6 catches for 156 yards and one TD. His TD came from his former Notre Dame teammate ,QB Daryle Lamonica, who came off the bench to replace Jack Kemp. The Jets won the game 19 to 17.
The Bills would win the AFL Championship in 1964. The Jets finished 3rd in the East Division with a record of 5-8-1.
The University of Scranton had a long history of Sports and football.The football team first started play in 1892 and played most years until 1960. Football continued as a club sport for some years after the school stop sponsoring it. In 1944, the University of Scranton football Tommies traveled to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans. Pete Carlesimo was the head coach of Scranton. Michigan State was coached by Charley Bachman and were coming back from a brief hiatus from football during World War II. Scranton also had not played football in 1943 but had already played 2 games in 1944 prior to playing MSU. Scranton had beaten Franklin and Marshall and lost to Villanova.
The Tommies ran the T formation offense and had approximately 29 players on their roster. (University of Scranton website). In 1944, the University of Scranton also had possibly the first African American football player in the school’s history, Tommy Flanagan.
Scranton’s game against Michigan State was played in front of about 7,000 fans at Macklin Field on September 30, 1944. Michigan State took control right from the start. The Spartans ran a Z formation and scored 13 points in the opening period and twenty in the first half for a commandng 20 to 0 lead. The Detroit Free Press called Flanagan “Scranton’s outstanding player”. Flanagan helped set up both Scranton scores late in the game. Michigan State won 6 games and lost only once in 1944. Scranton won 3 games and lost 5 games in 1944.
A video of some of the game highlights is on Michigan State’s website. The game was filmed on 16mm film and provides some interesting viewing of the purple and white. See below.
Baseball returned to Northeast PA in 1989 as the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons took the field. The Red Barons’ name was a combination of the former Scranton Red Sox and Wilkes-Barre Barons names. The Red Barons were the result of hard work, cooperation between state and county government and one man’s dream and persistence, John McGee. The Red Barons were the AAA team of the Philadelphia Phillies. They were managed by Bill Dancy.
The 1989 Philadelphia Phillies were a team in transition. They had aging veterans in 3B Mike Schmidt and 2B Juan Samuel, a potential star in Von Hayes and some young players with potential.
On May 18, 1989 The Phillies traveled to the new Lackawanna County Multi-purpose Stadium to play the Red Barons. The Phillies promised to play an exhibition every other season with the Red Barons at Lackawanna Stadium. Lackawanna County Stadium was a mini Veterans Stadium. It had the same dimensions and the same artificial turf. The capacity was about 1/6 of The Vet, around 10000 fans.” This is a major league ballpark”, Von Hayes said. ” They have a big league crowd as well.” Over 10,000 fans attended the Phillies game.
The Phillies beat up on their AAA affiliate 6 to 0. A 2 run homer by Juan Samuel and a solo home run by Dwayne Murphy paced the Phillies. Steve Ontiveras pitched 5 innings of one hit ball. Dillard and Harris finished the game for the Phillies. The Red Barons only had 4 hits in the loss.
This would be one of the last games Mike Schmidt would play. Eleven days later on May 29, 1989 during a road trip to San Diego, Schmidt announced his retirement. He felt that he couldn’t compete at the level he wanted and simply walked away from the game he loved.
In 1932, Babe Ruth and the Yankees came to Scranton, Pa. to play the local minor league team, the Miners. The Yankees were a strong team in 1932. Lou Gehrig was now the leader of the team. Babe Ruth still hit 41 Hrs and drove in 137 runs with a .341 batting average. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series in 1932.
The 1932 Scranton Miners were managed by Bob Shawkey, who had previously pitched for the Yankees. The Miners would finish 4th in the New York Penn League. Shawkey was a very good pitcher for the Yankees. He was a member of the 1923 World Series champion Yankees with Babe Ruth, Scranton’s Hinkey Haines and many others. Shawkey won 16 games for the Yankees in 1923.
The game was played at Brooks Field in Scranton on August 12th. 6500 fans came out to watch the game. Walter Brown did the pitching for the Yankees. Walter was known as Jumbo. He was an imposing man. He was 6 feet 4 inches and tipped the scales at 240 pounds. Former Yankee and football star Hinkey Haines played CF for the Miners. He led off the game with a double. He moved over to third on a Butch Meyers fly ball to Left field. Lou Gehrig played Left for the Yankees against the Miners. Haines scored on Ben Chapman’s fly ball for an early 1 to 0 lead. Shawkey had held the Yankees in check in the first. Chapman held the Miners in check the rest of the game. Shawkey did the same against the Yankees through 5 innings and Jud McGlaughlin finished the game for Scranton.
Babe Ruth was known for his affection for children. He would often visit children in hospitals or orphanages. Babe Ruth took the time to meet with the baseball team from Saint Nicholas orphanage located in nearby Elmhurst, Pa. A picture of the meeting was published in the SCRANTON Times.
On October 4, 1922 , the Scranton baseball team took on the Brooklyn Dodgers at Athletic Park in Scranton, Pa. Brooklyn was managed by Wilbur Robinson. During his playing days Robinson was a member of the famous Baltimore Orioles with Scranton’s Hughie Jennings and the New York Giants manager John Mcgraw. Robinson was the catcher for the Orioles. The Robins had finished their season on October 1st with a loss to the Phillies to finish with a 76-78 record and 6th place in the National League. The Scranton team were champions of Inter-county league. Festus Higgins did the pitching for Scranton.
Scranton’s team had many former minor league players and a few former major league players. The Dodgers had a few regulars playing in Scranton. Pitcher Vance played left field for Brooklyn. Utility man Neis played third base.
Scranton made 5 errors in the game. They outhit the Dodgers 15 to 7. The paper said poor base running by Festus Higgins led to Scranton’s rally falling short in the 9th inning of tying the score. Higgins was thrown out at the plate because another runner was coming towards third base. Higgins had to vacate the base or be called out. Scranton was losing 5 to 3 when Higgins was thrown out at the plate.
The New York Yankees came to Scranton on September 29, 1915 to play a team of Scranton professional players. The Yankees were managed by “Wild” Bill Donovan . They played their home games at the Polo Grounds. Wally Pipp, who played for Scranton in 1913, was New York’s First Base man, Roger Peckinpaugh, future Hall of Famer, was the Yankees Shortstop. Festus Higgins was set to pitch for Scranton. Nativity Place’s Johnny Murphy was to play Third base for Scranton and Doc Whalen was set to man an Outfield spot. Only 2500 fans came out to watch the game. Jimmy O’Neil played short and Avoca’s Jimmy Mullen played Second base for Scranton. Marty Connors played Center field for Scranton.
The Yankees scored 2 runs off Higgins in the first but he shut them down for the next 8 innings. Scranton scored 2 runs in the 7th, Marty Connors hit a single to drive in 2 runs. The game was tied after 9 innings and went into the 10th before it was decided. New York won 3 to 2. Ensign Cottrell, former Scranton pitcher, pitched the last 2 innings for New York and did not allow a run.
One of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport defended his Pennsylvania Middleweight Championship in the summer of 1950 in Scranton, PA. Sugar Ray Robinson fought Jose Basora at Scranton’s Memorial Stadium. Sugar Ray had lost only one fight in his career coming into the fight with Basora. The Basora /Robinson fight was the main event of 5 fights in Scranton.
4,145 fans witnessed the exciting but short boxing event. Ray Robinson attacked from the start. He bounded across the ring and landed a left to Basora’s ear. Robinson landed most of his punches. Basora was knocked down without a 8 count and the fight continued. Two more lefts to his head brought Basora down and he was counted out by referree John Kelly. Boos came out from the crowd who thought the fight was fixed. Basora was a very solid boxer and had fought Robinson to a draw five years earlier in Philadelphia.This fight lasted 52 seconds. The boos turned to concern when it became obvious Basora was hurt.
This would be the last championship fight in the city for decades.
The Headline read , ” Bush Leaguers beat Chicago Nationals” . On September 25, 1922 the Chicago Cubs took on the Scranton team of the Inter-county League. Scranton did not have a minor league team in 1922 but played competitively against other teams within Lackawanna County. In 1922, Scranton’s team won the Inter-county championship. The Cubs had just played in Boston and stopped to play in Scranton before traveling to Pittsburgh.
Over 2,000 fans came to Athletic Park to see the Big Leaguers take on the Scranton team. Festus Higgins did the pitching for the Scranton team and ” was never better.” He gave up 8 hits to the Cubs and 5 runs. Festy struck out 4 batters. Festus also had 2 hits and scored twice. Festus had been a member and main pitcher for the Minooka Blues. George Steuland did the pitching for the Cubs. Most of the Cubs regulars played in the game. Grimes, the Cub’s second baseman was Injured when he was spiked by Festus Higgins. Jim O’Neil played 2nd base for Scranton. He was one of four brothers who played major league baseball. Jim played parts of 2 seasons with the Washington Senators. Ted Walsh played First base for Scranton. He would play for the Scranton Miners in 1923 in the New York/ Pennsylvania League.
The Cubs had a solid team in 1922. They had been to the World Series as recently as 1918. The Cubs were managed by Bill Killefer and had a record of 80-74. Hack Miller was a slugging outfielder for the Cubs who hit.352 in 1922. The pitching staff was also a strength with Hall of Fame pitcher Pete . George Streuland also won 9 games in 1922.
Scranton would have a minor league team in the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1923. This would be the first minor league team in the city since 1917.
Chuck Wepner was born on February 26, 1939 in New York City but grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. He was raised by his mom and grandma. He was a basketball player during his youth. and high school days. He entered the Marines upon graduation from high school and he boxed while he served. Chuck became a pro heavyweight boxer in 1964 and won his first fight. He was mainly a club fighter but would fight anyone, anywhere at anytime. Chuck was a large man standing 6 feet 5 inches and had a solid record of 36-14-2. He had fought and lost to George Foreman and Sonny Liston. Chuck fought a bear twice, a Giant wrestler ( Andre the Gaint) and any boxer he could find.
He got his nickname, the Bayonne Bleeder, because of the damage he received when boxing , even when he was doing well. Chuck’s hometown is Bayonne, New Jersey. His most famous fight was in 1975 when he fought Muhammad Ali in Cleveland. Don King and Ali gave Chuck the chance to fight for the title. Chuck even was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in March of 1975.
Wepner was not given much of a chance against Ali, but he did knock the champ down ( while stepping on his foot) and lasted until the 15th round when the fight was stopped. There were only 19 seconds left when the fight was called and Ali won by TKO. Ali was complimentary of Wepner, saying he was tougher than the press gave him credit. He also complained that Wepner hit him with rabbit punches in the back of his head. Wepner said Ali was fast and hard to hit.
Wepner fought once in Scranton, Pa. Chuck’s fight was the co-headliner along with local boxer, “Irish” Billy Dolphin. On August 3, 1966 Chuck Wepner fought Johnny Deutsch at the Scranton Memorial Stadium. The fight was scheduled for 6 rounds, Deutsch suffered a cut over his left eye in the 5th round. Wepner continued to attack the cut and Deutsch was unable to continue during the 6th and Wepner won the fight.
Chuck also fought Jerry Tomasetti who was born in Scranton, Pa. Wepner and Tomasetti fought a total of 4 times. Wepner won 3 times to Tomasetti one victory. The last Wepner victory was the last fight of Tomasetti’s career. Wepner said of Tomasetti, ” that was one tough guy.”
Wepner’s fight with Ali was the inspiration for the first Rocky movie. Wepner was rumored to have worked for the mob much like Rocky. Another interesting coincidence was the fight Chuck Wepner had with Andre the Giant at Shea Stadium.Chuck was thrown out of the ring by Andre the Giant much like the Rocky was thrown out by Thunder Lips in Rocky III. Chuck lost his fight against Andre the Giant and Rocky’s fight with Thunderlips, in Rocky III, was a draw.
Chuck Wepner sued Slyvester Stallone for $15 million dollars claiming The Rocky character was stolen and was based on Chuck’s life. Stallone counter sued claiming Chuck did profit from the movie making appearances as the Real Rocky. Stallone eventually settled with Chuck for an undisiclosed amount.
The Brooklyn Royal Giants came to Scranton to play the Miners on April 28, 1908. The Royal Giants were one of the best baseball teams in the country in 1908. The Giants came together in 1905 and were organized by John Connors owner of the Brooklyn Royal Cafe. Connors was also the business manager and vice president of the Royal Giants. The 1908 Royal Giants were led by Grant “Homerun” Johnson ( who belongs in the Hall of Fame) who played SS and also managed the club. Johnson hit .312 . He was a pioneer of the Negro baseball leagues having formed the Paige Fence Giants with Bud Fowler. Other top hitters was 3B Bill Monroe who hit .337. Monroe was described as a natural comedian who speedily made friends. ” He is a fast fielder and a heavy batsman.”
Scranton was a very good team in 1908, the Miners were managed by Malachi Kittridge. The Miners were the top team in the New York State League in 1908. They were also the Champions of the NY State in 1906 and 1907. Archbald “Moonlight” Graham was a top hitter for the Miners during their championship run. He did not play against the Royal Giants. Hippo Vaughn was aslo on the roster of the 1908 Scranton Miners. He would go on to be a great pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. He had already played for the New York Highlanders in 1908 before he played for Scranton.
Scranton’s starting pitcher, Arthur Welch, lost his speed and was hit hard. The Royal Giants scored 4 runs in the first 2 innings. He was replaced after 2 innings by Bills. (Welch would be cut by the Miners before ever registering any “official” stats.) The Miners scored a run in the third and 3 in the 6th to tie the score but the Royal Giants scored one more time in the 6th to go ahead and stay ahead for the 5 to 4 victory.
The Royal Gianta were the top team in the National Association, a negro league, in 1908. The Giants compiled a 21-12-1 record/ ( Seamheads.com) They played their home games at Meyerrose Park in Queens, NY.