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The 1970s

Untitled Document
Bisons History: The 1970s

1970 (Int.)

Record: 9-29 - .237 (8 when team was shifted)
Mgr. - Clyde McCullough


Don Labbruzzo was, in fact, brought back, signed to a five-year contract at $25,000 a year and given carte blanche to operate the team. "Don will have a debt-free club," said the directors. Labbruzzo certainly had the credentials. He had been at Syracuse for several years and had put that near-bankrupt operation on a firm footing. Minor League Commissioner Phil Piton said he was "the best front office and promotion man in the minors over the past 10 years."

The seven labors of Hercules were child's play compared to what Labbruzzo faced. Problem number one was the stadium. Deciding there was no future for Buffalo baseball at Hyde Park, he looked south to Lackawanna, where he found a willing ally in Mayor Mark L. Balon. The Mayor proposed a $500,000 renovation of Lackawanna Stadium, to bring it up to Triple-A standards. The Common Council rubber-stamped the idea, but it was later batted down by a taxpayers' referendum. Labbruzzo next tried to line up All-High Stadium, behind Bennett High School, and offered to spend $50,000 to improve the lights and other facilities. But there was too much opposition, and the School Board rejected the idea. So, it was back to "The Old Rockpile."

The Bisons, armed with a Montreal Expo working agreement and with ex-Bison catching hero of 1940, Clyde McCullough, in charge, never had a chance. The opening day crowd was only 1,319, one of the smallest in memory. On June 2, and with the team at 9-27, the Bisons had played 13 games at home and drawn just 9,204 fans. League officials met in New York on June 4 to discuss the Buffalo situation. That afternoon the Buffalo franchise was forfeited and awarded to the Expos, who subsequently transferred it to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Buffalo's last International League game was played against Tidewater on June 4, 1970. The team started the game as the Buffalo Bisons and finished it as the Montreal Bisons. It was a 7-4 loss and left the team at 9-29, six and one half games out of seventh place. Buffalo was now without professional baseball for the first time since 1876.

Going down in flames with the Bisons was General Manager Don Labbruzzo. His personal losses were heavy. He had used his own funds and borrowed on his life insurance to pay the bills. He also lost the equity in his home, when the Internal Revenue Service slapped a lien against him ("as responsible officer") for unpaid federal taxes.

The relocated team finished the season in seventh place, posting a 52-88 record. The Expos (nee Bisons) played one more year in Western Canada, and then were moved to Hampton and Newport News, Va., and became known as the Peninsula club. Peninsula was replaced by Memphis in 1974, which, in turn, was replaced by Columbus in 1977. So, it can be said that the present, highly successful Columbus Clippers trace their lineage to the ill-fated Bisons of 1970.


After the meeting in New York at which the fate of the Bisons and Don Labbruzzo was sealed, a heart-warming incident occurred. John McHale, a former Bison player and president of the Montreal Expos, who were to take over the Buffalo franchise, called Labbruzzo aside and handed him an envelope, with instructions to open it later. When he opened it, he found it contained an Expo check in the amount of $5,000, payable to him. It was marked "scouting expense." Don had never scouted in his life.

1979 (East.)

Record: 72-67 - .518 (4)
Mgr. - Steve Demeter


This was the year baseball was to return to Buffalo. And it was strictly by accident. Buffalonian and Eastern League umpire Pete Calieri called league President Pat McKernan to inquire about his W-2 form. This income tax problem taken care of, McKernan, in passing, told Calieri that Jersey City had dropped out and a new city was needed. "What about Buffalo?" asked Calieri. "Do you have a place to play? If so, we would be interested," replied McKernan. Calieri said he would be in further touch. He then contacted his old friend, Don Colpoys, city fireman, ballplayer and manager. A conference with Mayor Jimmy Griffin followed and soon the wheels were in motion.

It was agreed that $90,000 would be needed. In fairly short order, 90 Buffalo people, including the Mayor, agreed to put up $1,000 each. Meanwhile, $40,000 was needed to buy the franchise, plus about $10,000 for league and National Association fees. Broadway Market candy dealer John Sikorski agreed to advance the money until the funds from the stock sale came in. The deal was closed and Buffalo was back in baseball after an eight-year hiatus. Colpoys, with the strong support of Mayor Griffin, was appointed general manager. A working agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates was secured. Steve Demeter, who had played for Buffalo in 1955, was named manager.

The Pirates sent the Bisons a couple of youngsters who salivated when they saw the friendly right field wall at War Memorial Stadium. Outfielder Rick Lancellotti hit 41 home runs, putting him third on the all-time Buffalo list behind Ollie Carnegie and Billy Kelly. His 41 home runs also tied the all-time Eastern League mark set by Ken Strong of Hazleton in 1930, and earned him the "Player of the Year" award for the league. Brilliant catcher Tony Pena, who ranks high on the long list of great Buffalo catchers, hit 34 home runs and batted .313. Future major leaguer Lu Salazar hit 27 home runs and versatile Chuck Valley 25. The 198 home runs hit by this first Buffalo Double-A club not only was a Buffalo record (old mark was 192 in 1932), but also was an Eastern League record.

The Bisons tried 18 pitchers, but other than Jim Smith (9-0) not one notched more than seven wins. As for Smith, he was moved up to Portland of the Pacific Coast League during the year, developed a sore arm, returned to Buffalo and never pitched again.

The fourth place Bisons attracted 133,148 fans, by far the highest attendance in the Eastern League.