Bison's History: The 1880's
Record: 24-58 -
TWIRLING THE SPHERE WITH GRAND DECEPTION
Buffalo's sophomore year in the National League proved to be one of discontent. First, Galvin held out and went to California to play. Though persuaded to come back, he never did pitch to his usual standard. His 20-37 record was the worst of his Hall of Fame career. In addition, young second baseman Charles (Hoss) Radbourn, expected to be a strong addition to the club, failed to hit, developed a sore arm and was released in June. This same sore-armed second baseman went on to pitch 308 National League victories, including a record-breaking 60 for Providence in 1884. The '80 season also saw Buffalo's first intra-season managerial change. Bill McGunnigle was relieved after 17 games, and 26-year-old infielder Sam Crane took his place.
One of Galvin's 20 wins was an Aug. 20 no-hit, no-run game against Worcester. It was late in the year, the team had been losing and the crowd was small - mostly stockholders, said one account. According to the Buffalo Express, Galvin was aided by the mushy condition of the ball and by the heavy grass, made soggy by recent rains. Said the same paper, "Gentle Jeems twirled the sphere with grand deception and but six balls were hit outside the diamond."
At the end of the season, in which the Bisons finished seventh, it was reported the club was in a precarious financial condition. Following the infusion of new capital, however, it was decided to carry on.
Record: 45-38 - .542 (3)
THE ORATOR AND THE BIG FOUR
Putting the new capital to immediate use, Buffalo signed Jim (Orator) O'Rourke to manage and play center field. Many fans grumbled upon learning he was to be paid $2,000, "just for playing ball." The Buffalo Express defended the "huge" salary, saying further, "It should have been at least $400 higher."
When massive first baseman Dan Brouthers became a Bison on May 30, he became a teammate of Jim (Deacon) White, Jack Rowe and Hardy Richardson, a trio who rate high among the players of the game's early years. By dint of powerful hitting, this quartet soon came to be known as Buffalo's "Big Four."
Decked out in uniforms of brown and white (home) and lavender-blue (road), the Bisons were not only colorful, but also showed they could play a strong brand of baseball. For the second time in three years they finished third, as Chicago won the flag and Providence finished second. Galvin won 29 games, while splitting pitching duties with John Lynch (10-9). Brouthers batted .319 and hit eight home runs, including three in successive games against Detroit. White hit .310, Rowe .333 and Richardson .291, to round out the "Big Four." Manager O'Rourke hit over .300 as well. As late as Sept. 8, the Bisons were second, but faded somewhat in the final weeks.
Colorful as were the Bisons, they were downstaged on at least one occasion. When the champion White Stockings played at Buffalo on July 17, each player wore a boutonniere, said to be the gifts of lady friends.
When did platooning start? Possibly at Buffalo, May 22, 1881, when Manager O'Rourke "laid off" left-handed hitter Deacon White because J. Lee Richmond, a lefty, was pitching for Worcester. There is no known record of an earlier use of this strategy. Another unusual record went into the books on Sept. 15 at Worcester, when Buffalo second baseman Dave Force had 12 putouts, seven assists and just one error in a 12-inning game. In the game he made two unassisted double plays and participated in a triple play. Quite a performance for those gloveless days!
Record: 45-39 - .536 (3,
ONE-ARM DAILY AND THE FIRST CYCLE
Sharing '82 pitching duties with Jim Galvin was Hugh Ignatius Daily, the first of two one-armed players to reach the majors. (The second was outfielder Pete Gray, St. Louis Browns, 1945.) Showing remarkable dexterity in fielding, pitching and hitting, Daily won 15 games and contributed 18 base hits.
On May 25 against Cleveland, Ireland-born Charles Foley hit a grand-slam home run in the first inning, then followed with a triple, a double and a single, to become the first major leaguer to hit for the cycle. Dan Brouthers (.368) became Buffalo's first batting champion. He also hit six home runs. Galvin (28-23) continued to work hard, but had not yet reached his peak.
Buffalo, despite finishing in a tie for third, was plagued by poor attendance. When the Bisons transferred their last three home games to Chicago, the Providence club, still in the pennant race, howled in protest. As it turned out, Buffalo lost the first two games, enabling Chicago to win the pennant. Buffalo was not the only city in trouble. Said the Cleveland Herald: "The enormous salaries demanded by league players are going to force several teams to go broke. They are asking for $1,500 to $2,800. Some will get it, but after that there will be scratching among ballplayers for situations in civilian life."
It was revealed late in the year that several players were on a league blacklist for "insubordination and dissipation." Among those slated for "rehabilitation" was John Clapp, manager and catcher of the 1879 Bisons.
Record: 52-45 - .536 (5)
THE LITTLE STEAM ENGINE THAT COULD
The '83 Bisons were patriotically garbed in blue shirts and pants, and scarlet hats trimmed in white. "The Little Steam Engine," bulky Jim Galvin, objected strenuously to the blue pants, saying they made his rear view "resemble the back end of a hack." Blue pants notwithstanding, Galvin had a year to remember. He won 46 and lost 29; pitched 72 complete games and 656 innings; had five shutouts; struck out 279, and allowed .69 walks per game. He also hit one of THE memorable home runs. It came off Grasshopper Jim Whitney of Boston and was whimsically described in the Buffalo Courier as follows: "The ball not only had hair on it, but it also had ear muffs, a fur collar and chinchilla whiskers, and resembled the tail end of a Minnesota cyclone. It struck the road outside the park, took a 14-foot bounce over a squatter's shanty, glanced off a passing coal car and finally landed in a tributary of the Niagara River."
Two of the other seven home runs the Bisons hit came on July 20, when both Hardy Richardson and Jack Rowe hit balls into the southeast corner of the field and raced around the bases while Connie Doyle of Philadelphia fished around vainly in the deep grass. On this same day (Buffalo 25, Philadelphia 5), Dan Brouthers hit 6 for 6 and was well on his way to a second straight batting crown. He batted .374 and also led the league in slugging percentage (.572), total bases (243), hits (159) and triples (17).
On July 3, 1883, at Chicago, the Bisons played one of the un-memorable games of their National League years, losing to Chicago, 31-7, and it would have been worse had not the Bisons rallied for five runs in the ninth. Pitcher George Derby went the route for the Bisons and set a lot of negative records:
1. Most batters faced in a nine-inning game - 67.
2. Allowed most at bats by a player in a nine-inning game - eight, by Dalrymple, Gore and Kelly of Chicago (since tied by several others).
3. Allowed most doubles by a team in a nine-inning game - 14.
4. Allowed most doubles by a player in a nine-inning game - four, by Dalrymple and Anson of Chicago (since tied by several other players).
The next day Derby was released and never appeared in another major league game.
Despite the heroics of Galvin and Brouthers, the Bisons could do no better than fifth in what was their last season at the Fargo-Rhode Island grounds.
Record: 64-47 - .577 (3)
Baseball historian, the late Lee Allen, called '84 the most remarkable season in the history of the game. Ex-Bison Hoss Radbourn won 60 games for Providence and another ex-Bison, One-Arm Daily, struck out 583. There were seven no-hit games in the three major leagues (National, American Association and Union Association). Charles Sweeney of Providence struck out 19 in one game, a number matched by Daily. Ed Williamson of Chicago hit 27 home runs, 25 of them over the short leftfield wall of his home grounds, where previously such hits had been only doubles. Two players, Williamson and Cap Anson, also of Chicago, hit three home runs in one game. Another unusual feat was credited to Dan Brouthers of Buffalo, who hit triples in four consecutive games. He also hit 14 home runs, a Buffalo record.
Jim Galvin won 46 games for the second year in a row and compiled a super 1.99 ERA. His history making feat at Detroit, August 2 to 8, is described elsewhere in this book.
Off the diamond, things happened, as well. The Toledo club (American Association) issued rain checks for the first time; two Buffalo players, Jim O'Rourke and Deacon White, experimented successfully with a rubber chest and abdomen protector for catchers, and Chris Von der Ahe, eccentric owner of the St. Louis Browns, bought a tarpaulin to cover the diamond in the event of rain.
The Bisons, now playing in Olympic Park at the corner of Richmond Ave. and Summer St., enjoyed their best National League season; but their 64-47 record was good only for third, behind Providence and Boston.
Record: 38-74 - .339 (7,
"The Glory has
O'Rourke was off to New York, but Galvin was back along with Brouthers, White, Rowe and Richardson, and the team was coming off its best National League season. It was hardly a scenario suggesting disaster.
Galvin, after 92 wins in two seasons, was ineffective, especially after he collided with Cap Anson of Chicago on June 19. In mid-July, with his record at 13-19, he was sold to Pittsburgh for a reported $1,500. Galvin, whose Buffalo salary was $2,500, was understandably bitter. "They sold me for $2,000 (sic) because they can't pay my salary, but they don't remember what I did for them the last seven years. I had a hard time since I was hurt in Chicago, but nobody tried any harder than I did." He then denied he had been fined $50 for being drunk.
The team floundered, as Galvin's replacements, Pete Conway (10-17), Bill Serad (7-21) and Pete Wood (8-15), could not stem the tide. Hitting was not a problem. The Big Four had one of its best years, with Brouthers at .359, Richardson .319, White .292 and Rowe .290.
As game after game was lost, crowds dwindled and were sparse even on days when free tickets to the comic opera, The Mascot, were offered with each grandstand ducat. On Sept. 17 Buffalo President Josiah Jewett shocked the baseball world by selling the franchise and all the players to the Detroit club for $7,000. Actually, Detroit wanted only The Big Four, but Jewett, fed up with baseball, told them to take the whole kit and caboodle, or nothing. Thus was consummated the first mass player sale in the history of the game.
The Bisons finished the schedule, using local amateurs and players Detroit did not want, but the glory days of Jim Galvin, Dan Brouthers, Deacon White and the rest were over for Buffalo fans. In one late season game with Providence the gate receipts were $3.00.
Record: 50-45 - .526 (5)
NEW LEAGUE AND A BLACK PLAYER
From the ashes of the disastrous '85 season a new Buffalo team in a new league took root. With Cassius Candee, deputy Collector of the Port of Buffalo, as president, and John C. Chapman as manager, Buffalo joined the two-year-old International League, an amalgamation of what had been the Eastern, the New York State and the Ontario Leagues. (Buffalo would be an integral part of this league from 1886 to 1970, with but two interruptions.) Among other Buffalonians involved were Attorney Moses Shire and butcher-politician Jim Franklin.
Olympic Park, at Richmond and Summer, was leased for $2,000 a year. To augment income, a bicycle track was built around the park. In addition to baseball and cycling, the park was used for cricket, lacrosse, football and tobogganing. Admission prices for baseball were reduced to 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.
Most impressive of the new crop of players was versatile John Fields. He not only played several positions skillfully but also batted .316 and hit eight home runs. Righthander Mike Walsh pitched in over half the Buffalo games, while winning 27 and losing 21. But the real sensation was second baseman Frank Grant, secured from Meriden, Conn. in midseason. John Holway, noted chronicler of Negro baseball, has called Grant the greatest black player of the last century. His strong hitting (.344) and acrobatic fielding helped Buffalo to a plus-.500 season and a fifth-place finish.
On July 5, following a disputed decision, shortstop Nat Kellogg of Hamilton punched umpire John Harrington in the jaw and sent him sprawling. When one of the Buffalo directors yelled, "Arrest that man!" police rushed out on the field, collared Kellogg and escorted him to the police station. Reflecting the swift justice of those days, he was tried by Judge Dayton in evening court and promptly released. Shortly thereafter, and perhaps not by coincidence, it was announced that umpires' salaries were to be increased to $200 a month.
Record: 65-40 - .619 (2)
A GOLD WATCH FOR MR. CHAPMAN
The 1887 season was the high-water mark for Negro players in the International League. Buffalo had its nonpareil second baseman, Frank Grant. There were several other Negro players in the league, but the two who stood out, in addition to Grant, were pitchers George Stovey of Newark (34-15) and Robert Higgins of Syracuse (19-8), both lefthanders.
Grant batted .366 and led the league in home runs (8). In a wild game against Toronto on Aug. 27 at Olympic Park, he hit a triple with two men on and two home runs - one with the bases full and the other with one man on. Surprisingly, Buffalo did not even win. Toronto rallied for 10 runs in the ninth and a 26-19 victory. After the game, "500 ruffians" surrounded umpire Billy McLean and peppered him with cushions and other objects not so soft. Police from Station #10 finally rescued him; whereupon he went to the dressing quarters, changed his clothes and walked unescorted to a street car, defying the mob which had not yet dispersed.
Inflated batting averages were the rule in '87. With walks counting as hits for the only time in baseball history, the Bisons, as a team, batted .335. First baseman Mickey LeHane batted .392, the highest ever by a regular Buffalo player. (The honor rightfully belongs to Jim Walsh, who batted .388 in 1926.)
Pitcher Mike Walsh, who had won 27 games in '86, duplicated this number in '87, while losing only 9. His mound partner, John Fanning, was 28-21 in 50 appearances.
The heavy hitting, plus a second place finish, spelled success at the box office and a profit of $4,000 for the owners, who showed their appreciation by presenting "a fine gold watch" to Manager Chapman.
1888 (Int. Assoc.)
Record: 47-59 - .443 (6)
THE COLOR LINE
The 1887 season had been marked by frequent evidences of antagonism (by players) against the Negroes in the league. Anti-Black sentiment increased in '88 and there was a strong movement to bar all Negro players. The Buffalo club, possibly because of Grant, strongly opposed such a move and offered a compromise (never acted on) which would permit each team to carry two Negro players.
This was Grant's last year with Buffalo and his last in organized baseball. Even though he had a good year, his play no doubt felt the effects of the rampant racial pressure. He batted .331 and hit 11 home runs; but his fielding deteriorated badly (possibly because opposing players slid into him at second base with spikes high at every opportunity), and he finished the season in right field.
Mike Walsh, pitching star of '86 and '87, was of little use because of a sore arm. He claimed it was from overwork; Manager Chapman said it resulted from a brawl with another player. John Fanning carried most of the pitching load and wound up 20-18. Mickey LeHane, with walks no longer counting as hits, saw his average drop to .317; but he did hit 13 home runs to lead the league. Outfielder Charles Hamburg, who had hit .345 in '87, had another good year (.315 and 8 home runs). It was an up and down season. In August the Bisons won 15 of 16 games, then dropped 15 of 17 and fell to 6th place, where they finished.
The wide disparity in salaries caused much discontent among the players. According to one local paper, pitcher Bill Hart, a former National Leaguer, was getting $375 a month, while slugger Mickey LeHane was at $275. Grant had signed for $250, but was cut to $200 after he suffered an injury. The same paper, commenting on Grant, asked: "Will someone please give Grant a watermelon? It is his favorite fruit." Today, this would be a blatant racial slur. Possibly, it was not meant that way in 1888.
1889 (Int. Assoc.)
Record: 41-66 - .383 (7)
Despite the color line now drawn, the Bisons (now owned by Jack Rowe and Deacon White, who had purchased the club for 50 cents on the dollar) still tried to sign Grant. Said the Express, "If Grant would only come out of his hiding place, a spot would be found for him." He never responded and later in the year he surfaced with the Cuban Giants, for whom he was to play, off and on, for many years. (A recently discovered death certificate tells of his death in New York City, May 27, 1937. His occupation was given as "waiter," and he was 72 when he died.)
The lease on Olympic Park, at Richmond and Summer, had run out. In its place a new Olympic Park was erected on Michigan Ave. at Ferry St. On May 4, the day the Bisons were to open, one Robert F. Hankin planted himself at the gate and refused to allow anyone to enter. Few doubted he meant business, seeing the shotgun cradled in his left arm. He was the sub-contractor who had hauled the lumber from the old site for use on the new, and he had not been paid. Eventually, the matter was settled and the season began. It was hardly an auspicious beginning for the marriage of Buffalo baseball to the Michigan Ave. diamond. It did, however, turn out to be a long and generally happy union that lasted until the end of the 1960 season.
Rowe and White, although still under contract to Pittsburgh, had every intention of playing for the team they owned. They never played an inning because Pittsburgh refused to release them and threatened to have the Buffalo club blacklisted if they played. Rowe and White fought hard and had the strong support of the press, local and nationwide; but Pittsburgh would not budge ("They will play for Pittsburgh, or they will play for nobody," said President Nimick). By mid-July, with the team playing poorly and cash running low, the Buffalo pair succumbed and reported to Pittsburgh.
After Rowe and White left, Will White, the Deacon's younger brother and baseball's first bespectacled player, became playing-manager. (When Will's playing days were over, he studied optics at Corning, N.Y., and then in 1893 founded the Buffalo Optical Company. He died tragically in 1911 at his summer home, Port Carling, Ont., when he, a non-swimmer, was teaching a niece to swim.)
The '89 Bisons struggled all year. By June 23 they were in the cellar. They did move up one notch, but attendance, poor from the beginning, never did improve. A Sept. 4 game with Toronto had to be called off when only 19 people showed up.