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The 1940s

Untitled Document
Bisons History: The 1940s

1940 (Int.)

Record: 76-83 - .478 (6)
Mgr. - Steve O'Neill

PITCHERS' YEAR

Soured by the Boudreau-Mack fiasco, the Bisons broke off with Cleveland and entered into a non-exclusive working agreement with the Detroit Tigers. Among pitchers sent to Buffalo under the pact, none impressed more than Fred Hutchinson, who won seven of 10 decisions with an ERA of 2.49 in 15 games. Floyd Giebell, another Detroit farmhand, 15-17 with the Herd, was called up late in the year and pitched the Tigers to the critical win over Cleveland and Bob Feller to clinch the pennant. He was never to win another major league game.

Two Buffalo-owned pitchers, blond Canadian Earl Cook and Hal White from Utica, N.Y., were outstanding. On Aug. 15, 1940, Cook became the fourth in International League history to pitch a double shutout when he beat Jersey City, 2-0 and 2-0. Four days later, he pitched a two-hit shutout against Syracuse. Young White almost matched Al Smith's 1939 record by finishing at 16-4, with an ERA of 2.43. A pitching disappointment was the righthander from Niagara Falls, Sal Maglie. In his third try with the Bisons, he could not get off square one and wound up at 0-7.

Catcher Clyde McCullough, farmed to Buffalo by the Cubs, must he ranked high on the long list of great Bison backstops. He caught 145 games, led the team in hitting (.324), home runs (27) and RBIs (89); fielded .984 and threw out 40 base runners. Third baseman Jimmy Outlaw at .309 was the only other regular over .300. Carnegie was hanging on (.281 with 15 home runs).

In this last year of the Steve O'Neill regime, the Bisons' second division finish and bitterness over the 1939 Boudreau-Mack recall caused attendance to plunge alarmingly to 111,982, the lowest since World War I days.

1941 (Int.)

Record: 88-65 - .575 (3)
Mgr. - Al Vincent

SUPER BEAR

With Steve O'Neill off to a coaching job at Detroit, Al Vincent, one of the bright young managers in the Tiger farm system, took over. With him came Fred (Bear) Hutchinson and Virgil (Fire) Trucks, two righthanders of rare promise. The Bear featured control, tenacity and an extraordinary competitive spirit. (Later, when he was managing Cincinnati, catcher Ed Bailey said of him: "He doesn't throw stools: he throws clubhouses.") As for Trucks, to borrow one of Bugs Baer's most famous quips, "He could throw a lamb chop past a wolf."

With the possible exceptions of Bissonette in '27 and Carnegie in '38, no player in Buffalo minor league history ever enjoyed a better year than Hutchinson in 1941. He won 26 games and lost only 7, while compiling an ERA of 2.44. He fanned 171, walked only 47 and pitched 31 complete games. In addition, he put himself in the same class with Baltimore's Jack Bentley (12-1 and .412, in 1921) by hitting .392 and driving in 23 runs.

Overshadowed was Virgil Trucks' feat of striking out 204, a Buffalo minor league record. (In major league play, Jim Galvin struck out 279 in '83 and 369 in '84.) Hal White was outstanding as well, winning 16, losing 12 and posting an ERA of 2.74, At the end of the year he was sold to Detroit for $35,000.

With a little more muscle at the plate, the Bisons might have won the flag. They finished third, then lost to Montreal in the first round of the play-offs. Attendance rose to 219,542, almost double the previous year.

1942 (Int.)

Record: 73-80 - .477 (7)
Mgr. - Al Vincent

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, OLLIE CARNEGIE?

General Manager John Stiglmeier said it was the hardest thing he ever had to do in baseball - telling a legend he was through. On Jan. 22, 1942, Ollie Carnegie was given his outright release. Was he the greatest of all Buffalo's minor league players? On the basis of longevity, plus home run hitting, the answer has to be, yes. The previous year he had rapped his 1,300th hit, driven in his 1,000th run and hit his 254th home run, and there were to be a few more to come. Without Carnegie, the Bisons were like a cake without frosting - edible, all right, but not very exciting.

Ed (Shovels) Kobesky was Carnegie's replacement in left. He was short, stocky, bow-legged and righthanded, just like Ollie, but 20 pounds heavier. He did hit 19 home runs and had 75 RBIs, but in mid-season (and this never would have happened to Carnegie) he was suspended by Manager Al Vincent for insubordination. Another promising home run hitter was first baseman Mickey Rocco, who hit 23 home runs and would have had more, had he not suffered a broken wrist that kept him out of 50 games. The Bisons' best all-around player was centerfielder John Welaj (.309 with 30 stolen bases). On July 3, he singled, stole second, third and home. No one could remember when another Bison had done that. Andy Sierra, a strongly-built lefthander, was the team's best pitcher at 17-11. Rufus Gentry, a young righthander from Daisy Station, N.C., showed promise with 10 wins.

The seventh place finish meant curtains for Al Vincent. A drop in attendance to 130,071 did not help his cause.

1943 (Int.)

Record: 66-87 - .431 (7)
Mgr. - Greg Mulleavy

WAR-TIME BASEBALL

After seeing the '43 Bisons in spring training, Manager Jewel Ens of Syracuse said it was the worst looking ball club he had ever seen. The Bisons tried manfully to prove him wrong, but never quite succeeded. It was the misfortune of Greg Mulleavy, one of the best-liked of all Bisons, to be named manager of this motley crew. Actually, he surprised Jewel Ens and other critics by keeping the team in play-off contention until mid-August.

Pitcher Rufe Gentry fulfilled his promise of '42. Not only did he win 20 games, but on April 25 he pitched an 11-inning no-hit, no-run game against Newark. In the long history of the International League, only two pitchers have matched it - Urban Shocker of Toronto on July 22, 1916 and Al Cicotte, also of Toronto, on Sept. 13, 1960. Not surprisingly, the Scores of all three games were 1-0.

Balancing Gentry's 20 wins was the same number of losses charged to veteran Jack Tising, pitching between shifts at Bell Aircraft. He was the first Bison to lose 20 or more since 1901 when Cy Hooker and Doc Amole each lost 25.

The lively ball, like Lucky Strike Green, had gone to war. Shovels Kobesky hit 18 home runs, and it was good enough to lead the league. No Bison hit over .290. One regular, Gerald McNair, batted .186, and centerfielder Mayo Smith once suffered through an 0 for 34 dry spell.

Once again, the team finished seventh. Surprisingly, attendance improved to 135,651.

1944 (Int.)

Record: 78-76 - .506 (4)
Mgr. - Bucky Harris

THE BUCK STOPS HERE

A Bison hero of World War I days, Stanley (Bucky) Harris, returned to manage in World War II days. Between wars, he had enjoyed a long and fruitful major league career as player and manager - good enough to take him to the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Had the dead ball of '43 been souped up, or was it the energy-building chocolate the Bisons consumed while training at Hershey, Pa.? Whatever the reason, hitting for average and for distance made a comeback at Offermann Stadium. Mayo Smith, center fielder supreme but rarely much of a hitter, batted .340 and led the league. Shovels Kobesky hit 26 home runs, had 129 RBIs and batted .328. He was second in the league to Howie Moss of Baltimore in home runs and RBIs. Versatile Otto Denning, who caught, played first base and the outfield, hit 21 home runs and missed 100 RBIs by one.

Solid hitting, plus dependable pitching by Mike Roscoe (16-10), Walter Wilson (18-14) and Henry (Prince) Oana (13-13), spelled a fourth place finish. Then, in a tough 4-3 series the Bisons bowed to Baltimore in the first round of the play-offs.

Overall, it was a good season and attendance perked up to 198,907.

1945 (Int.)

Record: 64-89 - .418 (6)
Mgr. - Bucky Harris

EITHER TOO GRAY OR TOO GRASSY-GREEN

Throwing arms were creaky, legs reluctant and eyes dulled; but three strikes still were out, over the fence was a home run and four balls got you to first base. It wasn't good baseball; but it was baseball.

Manager Harris used 40 players, ranging from teen-agers like Art Houtteman, Billy Pierce and Emery Hresko, to hoary veterans like Lloyd Brown (41), Ab Wright (39) and Henry Oana (37). He tried 4-Fs and Cubans as well. Even the venerable Ollie Carnegie came back for a final bow. At 46, remarkably, he batted .301 and hit four home runs. He now had hit 296 home runs (all leagues) and 258 as a Bison.

The '45 Bisons had to be one of the worst fielding teams ever. Third baseman Herschel Held (.887) and shortstop Pedro Gomez (.919) heard the boo-birds all year long.

On the hitting side, things were brighter. Eddie Boland, on leave from a city job in New York, batted .301, hit 23 home runs and had 111 RBIs. First baseman John McHale, now president of the Montreal Expos but then a Detroit farmhand, batted .313 and showed power with 22 home runs. Centerfielder Eddie Mierkowicz also hit well - .303 with 21 home runs.

The only pitchers in double figures were Brown (12-9) and Oana (15-14).

With the drop to sixth came a corresponding fall in attendance - to 129,436.

1946 (Int.)

Record: 78-75 - .510 (5)
Mgr. - Gabby Hartnett

COLOR LINE BROKEN

With Gabby Hartnett as manager and Bucky Harris as general manager, the first post-war Buffalo club was being run by a pair of future Hall of Famers. The results were a financial if not an artistic success. The team finished fifth, but was over .500 and missed second place by only three games, so tight was the pennant race.

Attendance in Buffalo and throughout the league was stimulated by the appearance of Jackie Robinson in a Montreal uniform. He was the first Negro to play in the International League since the late 1880s. Robinson played his pioneer role well. He led the league in batting (.349), stole 40 bases and led the league's second baseman in fielding (.985). Many felt he should have been voted the MVP; instead, the honor went to another Robinson, Eddie, the Baltimore first baseman.

Hartnett never had a fixed lineup. It was almost like the Clymer days, with 42 players coming and going. John McHale, back at first base, hit 24 home runs and had 94 RBIs. Tiger farmhand Vic Wertz, playing right field, impressed with a .301 average, 19 home runs and 91 RBIs. Most successful of a brigade of 16 pitchers was Art Houtteman (16-13).

Thanks to Jackie Robinson and to the end of the war, attendance in Buffalo zoomed to 293,813, the highest it had been in 43 years.

1947 (Int.)

Record: 77-75 - .507 (4)
Mgr. - Paul Richards

THE RAPIER

Thc middle name of Paul Richards, Gabby Hartnett's replacement as Buffalo manager, is Rapier. It fits him well. The contrast between the two men was as between day and night. Hartnett had been a major league star; he was rotund, genial, and talkative. Richards had never been an outstanding player; he was gaunt, serious, almost taciturn. He was most articulate when talking about pitching and when arguing with umpires. When doing the latter, his tongue took on all the cutting powers of the small sword that is his middle name. By July 15,1947, he had been ejected by umpires 12 times. Ejection #13 came in the first half of the first inning of the first game after his return from a five-game suspension.

Richards was a perfectionist and a master of the pitching craft. He was a disciplinarian and wanted to be boss in every sense of the word. (He was general manager of the Bisons, as well as manager.) The Bisons performed well, finishing fourth and surviving the first round of the play-offs. They lost the final series to Syracuse, 4-3. Buffalo fans responded and attendance was a healthy 267,012.

Although each batted below .300, outfielders Chet Laabs and Anse Moore provided a strong one-two punch. Each hit 22 home runs and they totaled 149 RBIs between them. Coaker Triplett, surely one of the best righthanded hitters ever to play for Buffalo, improved to .315. He had hit .303 in '46, his first year as a Bison.

Young lefty Billy Pierce showed the results of Richards' pitching know-how by finishing at 14-8. Another lefty, fragile-looking Ted Gray, a Tiger farm-hand, as was Pierce, impressed at times, winning 11 games.

1948 (Int.)

Record: 71-80 - .470 (6)
Mgr. - Paul Richards

THE JUNE 20 MASSACRE

On June 20 at Offermann Stadium, the Bisons obliterated the Syracuse Chiefs in a doubleheader, 28-11 and 16-12. In the first game they hit a league-record 10 home runs (Anse Moore, 3; John Groth, 2; Saul Rogovin, 2; John Bero, Chet Laabs and Lindsay Brown). In a baseball rarity, Bero came to the plate in each of the eight innings the Bisons batted. In the two games the Bisons tattooed Syracuse pitching for 41 hits. Groth was 7-9 and Moore 7-10. Oddly, the explosion of Offermann followed a Saturday game at Jersey City in which the Bisons were shut out with four hits. In addition, most of the Buffalo players were up all night on the train, playing cards. The similarity between this doubleheader and that of May 30, 1932 (Buffalo over Toronto, 18-1 and 26-2) is remarkable. In each the Bisons had 81 at bats, had 41 base hits and scored 44 runs.

The Bisons hit on other days as well. Coaker Triplett batted .353 and led the league; Groth, the brilliant young centerfielder, hit .340 and had 37 doubles, 16 triples and 30 home runs;

Laabs and Moore hit 29 and 23 home runs, respectively, and first baseman Larry Barton added 18. Barton, incidentally, played 3020 games in 25 minor league seasons, but never made a major league appearance.

Not even pitching master Paul Richards could work his magic with the Buffalo staff. Best of the lot were Saul Rogovin (13-7) and Clem Hausmann (14-11). but each had lofty ERAs of 3.92.

Rarely had Buffalo fans seen a better looking young ballplayer than John Groth. He was a graceful fielder (in the mold of Frank McGowan) with a powerful throwing arm; he could hit to all fields, and with power. He enjoyed a long major league career (15 seasons) but a succession of injuries prevented him from attaining star status.

Despite their potent attack, sixth place was the best the Bisons could do. The Syracuse Chiefs, whom the Bisons had humiliated on June 20, finished third.

1949 (Int.)

Record: 90-64 - .584 (1)
Mgr. - Paul Richards

STRIKING GOLD

The Bisons proved to be good "49ers," striking gold in the pennant race and at the gate. Finishing on top for the first time since 1936, they drew more fans (393,483) than any Buffalo team ever had. Like so many other International League pennant winners, however, they stumbled in the play-offs, first beating Jersey City, but then losing to Montreal.

The '49 Bisons were a team of balance with just a few stars. Again, the home run punch was there. Infielder Gene Markland hit 25; outfielder Ray Coleman 23 (he also had 113 RBIs); Coaker Triplett and Chet Laabs each had 22, and first baseman George Byam 19 (he added 106 RBIs). In addition to his 25 home runs, Markland, who played second and third, batted .305, walked 155 times (a Buffalo record), drove in 90 runs and was hit eight times. His "on base" average was a phenomenal .470.

Pitcher Bob Hooper was the team's good-luck charm. Every time he pitched the Bisons scored plenty of runs. Despite an ERA of 3.96, Hooper won 19 games and lost but 3 for a percentage of .864, fourth highest on the Bison all-time list. Only Steve Farr (13-1 in '83), Al Smith (16-2 in '39) and Carl Fischer (13-2 in '36) are ahead of him. Saul Rogovin (16-6) and Clem Hausmann (15-7) combined with Hooper to give the Bisons three dependable starters.

On July 10 at Offermann Stadium, the Bisons were victimized in a rare four-strikeout inning. George Copeland of Rochester fanned Byam and Billy DeMars, before Len Okrie reached first when the catcher missed his third strike. After walking Ben Warren, Copeland then fanned Markland for his fourth "K".

Disappointed over the play-off result and disturbed by what he considered an erosion of his authority, Paul Richards announced on Oct. 20 that he was leaving to take over the Seattle Club of the Pacific Coast League. (Thirty-three years later, Chuck Knox of the Buffalo Bills was to move from Buffalo to the same city, and for the same reasons.) In Richards' case (he had been manager and general manager) the die was cast in mid-season when President John Gehm brought in Leo T. Miller as "front-office assistant." To Richards that was a slap in the face he would not tolerate.