Record: 74-91 - .448 (6)
Mgr. - Billy Clymer, Jim Cooney
"Night baseball is a passing attraction which will not last long."
New York Yankees (1939)
On June 20, after an acrimonious session with President Frank Offermann, Billy Clymer took off his Buffalo uniform for the last time. He had worn it as player and manager for 11½ seasons. He was replaced by shortstop Jim Cooney.
On July 3, 11,262 awed fans watched Montreal defeat Buffalo, 5-4, in the first night game in the East and the first in the high minors. Night games had been played earlier in the year at Independence, Kansas (Western Association) and at Des Moines (Western League).
The Bisons finished a discouraging sixth, but their fans were rewarded with some exciting moments in addition to the novelty of night baseball. First of all, nobody could tell the players without a scorecard. Fifty players, a new record, wore the red and white. One of the 50, Cowboy Ed Tomlin, on Aug. 18, played one inning at each of the nine positions (score: Buffalo 24, Reading 2). On Aug. 27 and 28 Russ Wrightstone, gray-thatched ex-major leaguer, had nine straight hits. He finished the year with an average of .386 in 107 games.
Pitching history was made on Sept. 20, when lefty Dave Danforth, a 40-year-old Baltimore dentist who had been in baseball for 20 years, set an International League record by striking out 20 Rochester Red Wings under the lights. His record was to stand for 32 years.
Al Moore continued his great play, hitting .346 and leading the league in RBIs (107). In three seasons he had batted .327, .342 and .346; hit 46 home runs, and driven in 329 runs.
At the end of the year, the club's depleted exchequer was given a boost by the sale of catcher Frank Grube to the White Sox for $15,000. He had batted .348 in 104 games.
Record: 61-105 - .367 (8)
Mgr. - Jim Cooney
NICE GUYS FINISH LAST AND A STAR IS BORN
Jim Cooney has the distinction of being the only major leaguer involved in two unassisted triple plays. One he perpetrated himself (Chicago vs. Pittsburgh, May 30, 1927); in the other, by Glenn Wright of Pittsburgh on May 7, 1925, he was a base-runner. He also has the dubious distinction of managing the 1931 Bisons, who not only finished last for the first time since 1901, but who also lost more games (105) than any other Buffalo team in history.
George Stallings or Billy Clymer probably could not have done any better with this melange of rookies, not ready, and veterans, over the hill. Best of the Bisons was quiet and popular Ollie Tucker (.321 and 27 home runs). Al Moore was now at Rochester, on option from the Cardinals. Local boy Frank Pytlak, in his third try with the Bisons, batted .306 and earned a trip to Cleveland, where he was not only to become Bob Feller's regular catcher, but also to become one of two men to catch a ball dropped 708 feet from the Cleveland Terminal Tower (Hank Helf, also an ex-Bison, was the other).
A hint of better things to come was the arrival of catcher Buck Crouse from the White Sox. He was 33, looked 53 and played like 23. But even more important was the late season acquisition of Ollie Carnegie from Hazleton, Pa. This 30-year-old rookie, forced into baseball when he lost his railroad job, batted .345 in 15 games.
Johnny Wilson, a righthander in the second of his eight seasons with the Bisons, lost a tough late-season game on a home run by Dixie Walker, inspiring this alliterative gem in the next day's Courier-Express: "When Wilson Wilts, Walker Wallops One on Woodlawn."
Record: 91-75 - .548 (3)
Mgr. - Ray Schalk
Just as in '26 when Clymer succeeded Webb, a managerial change worked wonders. Replacing embattled "Nice Guy," Jim Cooney, was Ray (Cracker) Schalk, the notable White Sox catcher of 17 seasons who had survived the Black Sox scandal of 1919 without a shadow of suspicion.
Except for Ollie Carnegie, Buck Crouse, Ollie Tucker and a few others, Schalk had a new team - one which hit well (.299 as a team) and fielded superbly (.974 with 156 double plays). With a little more pitching, the Bisons would have given Newark a run for its money. As it was, the Bears won by 15½ games and the Bisons finished third.
The Bisons' 192 home runs set a record that was to last until 1979. Seven players hit 15 or more. Carnegie, in his first full season, had 36, plus 140 RBIs; third baseman George Detore hit 24 and Tucker had 21. Tucker also hit 52 doubles, still the Buffalo record. Never was the potency of the Bison bats more in evidence than on Memorial Day when Buffalo defeated Toronto 18-1 and 26-2. In the second game Detore hit three home runs and three singles, one of which hit high off the wall in left. A few inches more and he would have tied Billy Bottenus' record of four, hit May 12, 1895.
Home runs made the headlines, but often overlooked was the spectacular infield play of Jack Smith at first, Otie Miller at second, Billy Werber and Blondy Ryan at short and Detore at third. It was shortstop Ryan who was to gain national fame in 1933 when he was with the Giants. Out with an injury and not with the club, he wired Manager John McGraw: "Am on my way! They can't beat us!"
Attendance zoomed from 120,637 to 238,010. A slugging, hustling, sharp-fielding team and a peppery manager were mainly responsible; but contributing as well was play-by-play broadcaster Roger Baker, who sold baseball and Wheaties, and did both jobs well.
1933 (Int. )
Record: 83-85 - .494 (4)
Mgr. - Ray Schalk
Never before had a team finished below .500 and in fourth place, then won a championship - but the 1933 Bisons did so.
It was the first year or the Shaughnessy Play-offs (borrowed from hockey), and the Bisons just sneaked in on the final day, defeating Rochester while Toronto lost. They then defeated Baltimore in the first round, 3-0. The final series with Rochester for the title came down to the evening of Sept. 22, with the Bisons leading, three games to two. This game, won by Buffalo, 8-1, brought out the largest and most enthusiastic crowd in the history of the franchise. Paid attendance was announced as 23,386, but league records show this was padded by about 5,000. Actually, there were probably 23,000 fans in the park, because many sneaked in and many came in over the fences and were never counted. For the thousands who saw the final game and the thousands more who heard Roger Baker's broadcast, it was an unforgettable experience - the night the Great Depression stood still. (See: Part Two for detailed story or this game.)
Again, as in '27, the Bisons failed in the Little World Series, losing this time to a strong Columbus team, led by pitchers Paul Dean and Bill Lee, five games to three.
This was the year of the Home Run Twins - Ollie Tucker and Ollie Carnegie. Carnegie hit 29 home runs, batted .317 and drove in 123 runs. Tucker almost matched him, hitting 27 home runs, batting .323 and driving in 115 runs. The leading hitter on the Bisons, however, was shortstop Greg Mulleavy at .337. He was in the first of what would be nine Buffalo seasons. Poison Joe Brown (real name: Majchrzak), International League veteran and Buffalo native, contributed greatly at bat and at third base. Len Koenecke, later to be tragically killed in a fight in an airplane, was spectacular in center field and batted .334. John Wilson not only led the pitchers (15-6), but on Sept. 5 pitched a crucial doubleheader win over Toronto. He was strongly assisted by Charley Perkins, who had come over from Jersey City with Joe Brown.
This was also the year of the immortal "Three Bs" - Joe Bloomer (3-9), Joe Bartulis (4-13) and Slim Brewer (2-7).
Record: 76-77 - .497 (5)
Mgr. - Ray Schalk
FIVE IN ONE INNING
On May 15 at home against Albany, the Bisons hit five home runs in one inning, four of them in succession, thus setting two International League records. Surprisingly, the "Home Run Twins," Carnegie and Tucker, were not involved. Heinie Mueller started the second inning with a walk. Butch Meyers then hit home run number one. After Link Wasem and Johnny Wilson were retired, Greg Mulleavy, Les Mallon, Jack Smith and Bill Regan hit successive home runs. The record had a sad postscript. The next batter, big Jake Plummer, a promising young outfielder just called up from the New York-Pennsylvania League, was beaned by Albany pitcher Art Jones. Plummer was never the same player again.
The 1934 season clearly demonstrated the value of the play-off system. The Bisons were a sub-.500 club, but still were in contention for a play-off spot right to the end and fan interest was thus sustained. The attendance of 249,439 was actually higher than it had been in the miracle year, 1933.
The Buffalo roster presented quite an ethnic mix. Joe Brown did not return, but Polish fans were thrilled by the emergence of pitcher Fabian Kowalik (18-14). When he was honored at a special night late in the season, one of the largest crowds of the year turned out. The Italian Connection, Ollie Carnegie, was hurt part of the year, but still hit 31 home runs, had 136 RBIs and batted .335. The Irish Connection of Greg Mulleavy and Ray Fitzgerald batted .310 and .316, respectively.
Veteran pitcher George (Sarge) Connally, who joined the Bisons in July, demonstrated a deft defensive maneuver on a few occasions. On balls hit through the box he would stick out his foot, knock down the ball and throw the batter out. Courageous? Not really, considering the Sarge was a Marine Corps veteran. According to Who's Who in Major League Baseball, written by Harold (Speed) Johnson in 1933, Connally had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for extreme valor. It would have been a nice story for this book, except that a thorough check of Buffalo and Washington sources revealed no such honor had ever been given him.
Record: 86-67 - .562 (3)
Mgr. - Ray Schalk
END OF OFFERMANN ERA
On Jan. 30, 1935, Frank J. Offermann, principal investor when the Buffalo club was purchased from Joseph J. Lannin in 1920 and its president since 1928, died at age 59. The first act of the team's board after his death was to re-name the stadium in his memory. Succeeding Offermann as president was his old crony, meat-dealer John Gehm. Leo T. Miller, who had been business manager, continued in that capacity.
Better pitching spelled a better year. For the first time since '27, the Bisons had three dependable starters and a good relief pitcher. Ken Ash won 18 games, Bill Harris 19 and Bob Kline 17. All were righthanders. The relief specialist was lefty Art Jacobs (9-2).
Ollie Carnegie dropped below .300 for the first time, but still hit 37 home runs and drove in 153 runs. Ray Fitzgerald led the team in hitting (.328), hit 17 home runs and had 115 RBIs. At first base was popular Dick Siebert (.296 and 13 home runs), who was to go on to a 10-year major league career and then to become the well-respected baseball coach at the University of Minnesota.
The pennant race was hard fought. Play-off positions were not determined until the final day when Syracuse took over second place from Buffalo by one-half game. The Bisons had a chance for a tie, but lost it when the second game of their doubleheader was rained out.
The Bisons fell to Montreal in the first round of the play-offs, four games to two. In this mid-depression year, attendance fell off to 212,543.
Record: 94-60 - .610 (1)
Mgr. - Ray Schalk
THE JACKPOT - ALMOST
A pennant, a play-off championship; but again a Little World Series defeat - that was the sweet-bitter story of 1936.
The Bisons won 14 straight in May, slumped in mid-year, then staged one of their famous August rallies to win the flag by four and one-half games over Rochester. They defeated Montreal and Baltimore in the play-offs, but lost to the Milwaukee Brewers of Alan Sothoron, four games to one, in the minor league classic.
Oddly, all-time Bison hero Ollie Carnegie had little to do with the year's success. He hurt his ankle early in the year and was replaced by Pittsburgh farmhand John Dickshot. Ollie played only 74 games and batted an unlikely .244, with but four home runs. Dickshot, on the other hand, batted .359, hit 17 home runs, had 112 RBIs and stole 33 bases, best in the league.
Centerfielder Frank (Beauty) McGowan, one of the most highly regarded Bisons ever, had his best year (.356 with 23 home runs and 111 RBIs), and became the first Bison to win a Most Valuable Player award. Elbie Fletcher, who succeeded Dick Siebert at first, was star-stuff, batting .344 with 17 home runs and 85 RBIs. He, too, was to go on to a 10-year major league career.
Righthander Johnny Wilson, as he had in '33, led the pitchers, this time with a 14-7 record. Actually, lefty Carl Fischer, from nearby Medina, had better statistics (13-2), but he appeared in only 20 games. On June 3, 36-year-righthander Bill Harris pitched a perfect seven inning game against Toronto. Twenty-seven days later he pitched a nine inning no-hit, no-run game against Newark. Harris wound up the season at 15-10. Despite his two no-hitters, he had an ERA of 5.76, highest not only on the Buffalo team, but among all regular pitchers in the entire league.
The attendance of 280,586 was the best since 1903.
Record: 74-79 - .484 (5)
Mgr. - Ray Schalk
THE -BEARS GROWL
The 1937 season was the Newark Bears - possibly the greatest minor league team ever assembled. Managed by Oscar Vitt, who needed no more than a push-button, the Bears won the pennant by 25½ games, took eight in a row in the play-offs, and won the Little World Series by winning four straight at Columbus after losing the first three games at home.
The Bisons, out of character, did precious little hitting in their hitters' park. Ollie Carnegie, written off by many, was back in left and led the team in hitting (.308). He also had 21 home runs and 97 RBIs. (The Bisons actually had secured ex-Rochester player Ray Pepper to play in left, but he came down with an eye ailment and was dropped after batting .165 in 26 games.)
Truett (Rip) Sewell, who was to be Buffalo's most illustrious pitching contribution to the majors since Herb Pennock (1916), finished at 16-12. Bill Harris, who had pitched the two no-hitters in '36, also won 16, but lost the same number. His ERA, however, improved to 3.50.
Catcher Bucky Crouse, a Bison since 1931, was dealt to Baltimore in May. There, he became manager, led the Orioles to a play-off spot and was voted the league's Most Valuable Player.
Late in the year disturbing rumors circulated about the Syracuse and Baltimore clubs. It was said they were "jockeying" for play-off positions, in order to avoid meeting Newark. Syracuse "lost" and then dropped four in a row to the Bears.
With a dull team and no pennant race, fan interest in Buffalo lagged. Attendance fell to 189,356, lowest since Schalk's arrival in '32. When the Buffalo management procrastinated in re-signing Schalk after the end of the season, he quit to become manager at Indianapolis and took Business Manager Leo T. Miller with him. Schalk's Buffalo salary had been $8,000, according to newspaper reports.
Record: 79-74 - .516 (4)
Mgr. - Steve O'Neill
VIVA LE CARNEGIE!
At 39 and thought to be over-the-hill, Ollie Carnegie enjoyed the greatest year of his late-blooming career. He batted .330, drove in 136 runs and hit 45 home runs, breaking Billy Kelly's record of 44, hit in 1926 when the left field wall was just 12 feet high. (It had been extended since Kelly's days). Not only did Carnegie lead the league in home runs and RBIs, but he also won the league's Most Valuable Player Award, the second Bison to do so.
Taking over the jobs held by Ray Schalk and Leo T. Miller, was easy-going Steve O'Neill, long-time major league catcher with the map of Ireland on his face. ("If we didn't get O'Neill, we were going after Babe Ruth," said John Stiglmeier of the Buffalo directorate.) O'Neill's first Buffalo team was hard-hitting, slow-running and poor-fielding (first baseman Jim Oglesby made five errors in one game). Except for Ken Ash (15-8) and Fabian Kowalik, back from the Cubs (15-13), the pitching was so-so.
Sluggers like Carnegie, Smoky Joe Martin and Eddie Boland helped to counteract the team's lack of speed and fielding deficiencies. While team fielding was dropping from 1937's .964 to .958, team home runs improved from 91 to 145 and team batting jumped from .259 to .284.
The Bisons finished fourth, a whisker behind Rochester, defeated Syracuse in the first round of the play-offs, then lost to Newark in the final series. Attendance continued to drift lower (183,050, 6,000 below '37).
On May 6 and 7 at Offermann Stadium, Carnegie, Buffalo's Home Run King, had to abdicate in favor of Bob Seeds of Newark. On May 6th Seeds singled, hit home runs in the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th innings, and then completed his day's work with a single in the 8th with the bases full. The next day he hit three more home runs, was walked, then was called out in the 9th on a 3-2 pitch delivered by Bison rookie Don Ferris. In the two days he had 9 hits in 10 at-bats, 7 home runs and 17 RBIs. Shortly thereafter, he was sold to the New York Giants, for whom he hit nine home runs and batted .291.
Record: 82-72 - .532 (3)
Mgr. - Steve O'Neill
After the death of her husband, Frank J. Offermann, Isabelle Offermann had retained his stock in the Buffalo Baseball Club and in the Ferry-Woodlawn Realty Corp. There had been rumors of its sale over the years. At one time Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, had come close to acquiring it. His super-scout Joe Cambria had been in town with a $50,000 check in hand to complete the deal, but some snags had developed and it had never closed. Meanwhile, Marvin and Lou Jacobs of Jacobs Brothers had been negotiating. On April 18, 1939, it was announced that the Offermann stock had been sold by Mrs. Offermann to a group headed by Marvin Jacobs. The consideration was $225,000 to be paid over a period of years. In Jacobs' group were local businessmen Frank Fiorella, Horace Jameson and Adrian Keogh. Marvin Jacobs (for the Jacobs brothers) now had controlling interest in the baseball club and in the holding company that owned the real estate.
Cleveland Indians farmhands, shortstop Lou Boudreau and second baseman Ray Mack, spelled excitement. True, they made a lot of errors - 77 between them - but they made plays rarely equaled in the Buffalo park and negotiated double plays with such dexterity and precision as to draw unbelieving gasps from Buffalo fans. What is more, they could hit. Boudreau batted .331 and hit 17 home runs; Mack was at .293 with 15 home runs. Late in the season, with the Bisons in contention for the pennant, the Indians (going no place in the American League race) recalled Boudreau and Mack and sent in their place light-hitting infielder Jimmy Webb. End of pennant hopes. The Bisons finished third and then did a quick fadeout in the play-offs. The bitter taste in the mouths of Bison fans was not to go away in a hurry.
Not to be overlooked in this Boudreau-Mack year was the pitching of the Smith Boys, Al and Clay. Al, a lefty, who was later to gain fame by helping to stop Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak at 56 games, won 16, lost 2 and had a string of 15 wins in a row - a Buffalo record. Clay, who threw from the other side, was 13-11, with a fine 2.94 ERA.
Carnegie, at age 40, was still hitting. His 29 home runs and 112 RBIs led the league. Helping Ollie were Smoky Joe Martin (.321, 23 home runs and 93 RBIs) and Jim Oglesby (.327, 16 home runs and 91 RBIs). Jimmy Webb, who had replaced Boudreau and Mack, batted .238 in 39 games.
Attendance, largely because of the play of Boudreau and Mack early in the year, improved to 210,424.