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The 1990s

Untitled Document
Bisons History: The 1990s

1990 (AA)

Record: 85-62 - .578 (2 - East)
Mgr. - Terry Collins

1990 began with a major addition to the design of Pilot Field. On January 29, phase 1A construction began to include 1,400 bleacher seats, a 5,000ft standing-room-only area on the Mezzanine level and 30% more space in the centerfield tent area. When completed on June 1, the seating capacity to the ballpark rose to 20,900, with 150 spaces for standing room.

When filled, like it was on April 16 for the team's home opener against the Denver Zephyrs, the Bisons fans were treated to one the most dramatic pennant races in the team's long history. In either 1st or 2nd place the entire season, the Bisons season came to an end in heart-breaking fashion. After 146 games, the Bisons were tied with the Nashville Sounds atop the American Association Eastern Division. On September 4, the two teams forged an epic one-game playoff battle. "The Game," which lasted 18 innings and five hours and eight minutes, finally ended when after 43 players and 14 pitchers, Chris Jones doubled down the left field line to score Billy Bates and give Nashville the 4-3 win.

The season, however, was filled with some great moments. For the third straight season, the Bisons topped the million mark in attendance with 1,174,358 fans coming to Pilot Field. 1990's average attendance was 16,540, exceeding three major league clubs: Atlanta, Houston, and Cleveland. On June 1, the largest crowd ever to see a game at Pilot Field (21,050) enjoyed a post-game Beach Boys concert.

On the field, The Bisons were led more by pitching, with only 86 home runs hit in 4,963 at-bats. Dorn Taylor (14-6, 2.91ERA) and Vicente Palacios (13-7, 3.43ERA) both led the pitching staff that posted a team-ERA of 3.15. Mark Ryal, the team's Most Valuable Player, led the team with a .334 average to go along with a team-high 34 doubles. Armando Moreno's 10 home runs bested Ryal's total of nine, while Orlando Merced (9HR, 55RBI) was the team's top run producer.

1991 (AA)

Record: 81-62 - .566 (1 - East)
Mgr. - Terry Collins

The year 1991 saw the end, at least for the present, of Buffalo's dreams for a major league franchise when the National League's expansion committee selected Denver and Miami. The year also saw the termination of the Triple-A Alliance with its inter-league competition among teams in the International League and the American Association.

On the field, with Terry Collins at the helm for the third straight year, the Bisons not only won their first Eastern Division title, set another minor league attendance mark of 1,240,951, but also, in the fourth game of the playoffs against Denver, staged the most dramatic last ditch rally in the history of Buffalo baseball, only to come up a run short. In the final series, after winning the first two games at home, the Bisons needed just one win in three games at Denver to win the title. In the first game at Mile High Stadium, they were beaten, 8-3. In the next game they were shutout for eight innings without a hit and went into the top of the ninth facing a 9-0 deficit. Suddenly coming to life, the Bisons scored six runs and had the bases full with two outs. Late-season hitting star Greg Tubbs then lined a double to left. Runs seven and eight scored easily and it seemed certain that speedy Greg Edge would score from first with the tying run. But a brilliant relay by the Zephyrs nipped him at the plate, at least in the opinion of umpire Scott Potter. The Bisons did not agree. Emotionally sapped and with pitching ace Rick Reed having to leave the game in the first inning with a bad back, the Bisons were overwhelmed in game five, 12-3, bringing to an end a season of great expectations and great accomplishments.

The disappointment of the loss in the playoffs and of a major league franchise couldn't over-shadow what the Bisons did accomplish in 1991. The attendance mark of 1,240,951 still stands as the all-time Minor League Baseball record. With their 6-4 win over Louisville on August 31, the team captured their first American Association Eastern Division Title. Nine times a Bisons was named American Association Player of the Week, including Rick Reed's three. Reed, the AA's Most Valuable Pitcher and All-Star Pitcher by season's end, went 14-4 with a 2.15 ERA and 102 strikeouts to lead the Bisons. His incredible season included just 26 walks in 167.2 innings of work.

1992 (AA)

Record: 87-57 - .604 (1 - East)
Mgr. - Marc Bombard

Another Eastern Division championship, this time by four games over Indianapolis, highlighted the 1992 season. Marc Bombard replaced popular Terry Collins as manager as Collins had moved to the Pirates as a coach.

Though plagued by the worst weather in memory (six dates were lost), the Bisons continued to draw fans to Pilot Field in large numbers as attendance topped the million mark (1,134,488) for the fifth consecutive year. The Bisons went into the playoffs as heavy favorites over the Oklahoma City 89ers, a team that had finished 13 games behind them. But, shockingly, Buffalo went down in four straight games. The campaign ended on a positive note, however, as the Bisons received the John H. Johnson President's Award, symbolic of minor league baseball's "most complete franchise." Vice president/general manager Mike Billoni also was cited by USA Today's Baseball Weekly as one of the nine most influential men in baseball for 1992.

The 1992 team was much more powerful than in previous years. The Bisons belted 130 home runs led by Brian Dorsett's 21 and Al Martin's 20. Dorsett also drove in 102 runs to go along with a solid .289 batting average, earning the team's Most Valuable Player award. Martin, meanwhile, was an extra-base hit machine adding 16 doubles and 15 triples to his home run total (.305). The offense also featured fan favorite Carlos Garcia (.303, 13HR, 70RBI) and Eddie Zambrano (.284, 16HR, 79RBI). On the mound, Tim Wakefield used his dancing knuckleball to help him post a 10-3 record and a 3.06 ERA.

1993 (AA.)

Record: 71-73 - .493 (2 -East)
Mgr. - Doc Edwards

Late in 1992, newly-appointed manager Doc Edwards underwent open-heart surgery. He recovered and was able to manage, but only from the dugout. The '93 Bisons contended until mid-season, faded after being hit hard by injuries and recalls, and wound up at 71-73, 10.5 games off the pace. Paid attendance was 1,079,620, putting the Bisons over the million mark for the sixth consecutive year.

The injuries and call-ups caused just six Bisons to play 100 games. Of those that did, outfielder Scott Bullett had the most productive season with a .287 batting average and 28 stolen bases. The team did see its home run total continue to rise from 1992, hitting 142 blasts led by Russ Morman's 22. However, the team's batting average of .261 was 18 points lower than in 1992. Tim Lieper, who hit .327 in 75 games, led the team in average.

Roy Smith was the only Bisons pitcher to post double-digit wins, going 15-11 with a 4.13ERA and 87 strikeouts. Tony Menendez posted a new Bisons Modern Era record 24 saves in the bullpen.

1994 (East.)

Record: 55-89 - .382 (8)
Mgr. - Doc Edwards

The 1994 season saw Buffalo, again under Doc Edwards, slump in early May and never recover. They finished the season on a dismal note, losing 10 games in a row. Their 55-89 record was the team's worst since 1965 and led to ticket sales dropping below the million mark for the first time in Pilot Field history, although the season-ending total of 982,493 led all of minor league baseball.

The team hit just .257 and Rich Aude was the only hitter to reach double-digits in home runs (15). Aude did have a great season, however, with a .281 batting average and a Bisons record 38 doubles that stood until Jhonny Peralta's 2004 season. John Wehner's 303 average led the team while Tony Womack swiped a Bisons Modern Era record 41 bases.

The pitching staff did help out with the offense. John Hope became the first Bisons pitcher to homer at Pilot Field with a solo shot on August 6. On the mound, only four pitchers posted at least five wins, but three of them also had double-digit loss totals (Tim Wakefield, 5-15, Rich Robertston, 5-10, Scott Scudder 5-10).

At season's end, the seven-year working agreement with Pittsburgh was severed and a new pact was signed with the Cleveland Indians.

1995 (AA)

Record: 82-62 - .569 (2)
Mgr. - Brian Graham

The 1995 season was the beginning of the Bisons' fourth stint as a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. This season also marked the start of the Indians' five-year domination of the American League, and the Bisons mirrored their parent club. New manager Brian Graham, and future major league stars Brian Giles (.310, 15 HR, 67 RBI) and Jeromy Burnitz (.284, 19 HR, 85 RBI), led the Bisons to a second place finish in the regular season, helped by a successful run in the end of July. The team had been lingering in fourth place from mid-May. On July 3, the name of Pilot Field was officially changed to North AmeriCare Park. The next day, the Bisons moved into second place, and held on to that position until the end of the season. After defeating Omaha three games to one in the semi-finals for their first playoff series victory since 1961, the Bisons lost the American Association Championship Series, three games to two, to Louisville. The Bisons dropped game five 8-2 in front of 16,508 fans in North AmeriCare Park. Final season attendance amounted to 951,080, which again led all of minor league baseball, and was the ninth highest total ever in the minors.

1996 (AA)

Record: 84-60 - .583 (1)
Mgr. - Brian Graham

In 1996, the Bisons continued their regular season success by posting the best overall record in the American Association (84-60) and winning the Eastern Division regular season title by 6 games, occupying first place for every day of the season. Hitting stars Brian Giles (.314, 20 HR, 64 RBI), Nigel Wilson (.299, 30 HR, 95 RBI), and Ryan Thompson (21 HR, 83 RBI) helped the Bisons lead the league in batting average (.273), home runs (163), and runs (723). Unfortunately, unlike the previous season, the team slumped after the July 4th holiday. On July 5, the Bisons stood at an amazing 60-26, a full 17.5 games ahead of second place. After that, they went 24-34, before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs, three games to two, to Indianapolis. Final attendance for North AmeriCare Park in 1996 was 876,263, which again led all of minor league baseball, and ranked tenth all-time in the minor leagues. One highlight of the season was on July 4th, when the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra played a concert at the ballpark, along with fireworks, following the game in front of a capacity crowd. This enjoyable fan-favorite event has turned into a tradition, and the BPO has joined the Bisons to celebrate our nation's independence every year since.

Following the season, radio voice Pete Weber -- who had called every game since the club's return to Triple-A in 1985 -- left his position for a similar role with the Buffalo Sabres and was replaced by Jim Rosenhaus.'

1997 (AA)

Record: 87-57 - .604 (1)
Mgr. - Brian Graham

Just like in 1995, the 1997 Buffalo Bisons peaked at the right time, eventually winning their first ever American Association championship. The Bisons started the season 42-31, with a firm grasp on second place. With that good start, the team turned it up and went 45-26, moving into first place on June 28 and never looking back, fueled by a seven game winning streak immediately following the All-Star Break. In the Eastern Division playoffs, the Bisons defeated arch-rival Indianapolis, three games to two. In the decisive fifth game, Buffalo won 6-2, behind a complete game from David Weathers and a six-run fourth inning in which Trenidad Hubbard hit a clutch, two-out, bases-loaded triple. In the American Association Championship Series, the Bisons swept three close games against Iowa to claim the championship. In the third and final game, Sean Casey hit the game winning home run in the top of the 10th inning and Weathers got the save to secure the 5-4 victory. Torey Lovullo (.440, 6 RBI) was named MVP of the playoffs. Individual highlights included the first no-hitter in the ballpark's history (a 4-0 win by Bartolo Colon over New Orleans on June 20, the night the 10 millionth fan entered the turnstiles) and the first three-home run game (by Jeff Manto, July 14 vs. Iowa).

 1998 (IL)

Record: 81-62 - .566 (1 -East)
Mgr. - Jeff Datz

The 1998 season was a season of change for Buffalo's baseball club. First, the Bisons moved into the now six-team North Division of the International League (as part of the consolidation of Triple-A baseball into 2 leagues - the IL and the Pacific Coast League - and the elimination of the American Association). In addition, after three successful seasons at the helm, Brian Graham (who moved up to the Indians' coaching staff) was replaced as manager by Jeff Datz, who was promoted from Double-A Akron. All the switching did not affect the Bisons on the field, as they once again claimed a league championship. This time, however, they took a much harder path to get there. On June 14, the team stood at 30-33, in fourth place in the division, and 11.5 games out of first place. They won six in a row, and gradually moved up to third and then second place. On August 10, with less than a month left in the season, the Bisons were in second place, but a full 8 games behind Syracuse, after an embarrassing 17-3 drubbing by Pawtucket. This poor performance ignited the team, and the Bisons went to Syracuse, swept the SkyChiefs in four games, and continued to play well down the stretch. They finally passed Syracuse and moved into first place on the last day of the season when Jeff Manto's 3-run home run in the 9th inning gave them a 7-5 win at Scranton. Both the Bisons and the SkyChiefs were rained out on the next day, and the IL North Division title went to Buffalo.

In the first round of the 1998 playoffs, Buffalo again swept Syracuse, three games to none. Travis Driskill pitched a complete game, 6-0 shutout, in the third and final game for the Herd. In the International League Governors' Cup Finals, the Bisons defeated the Durham Bulls, three games to two. In the fifth and decisive game, Jason Jacome pitched eight strong innings to lead the Bisons to a 3-1 victory, and their second consecutive league championship. This earned the team a trip to the first-ever Triple-A World Series, against the New Orleans Zephyrs, champions of the Pacific Coast League. Despite dropping the series three games to one, 1998 was still one of the most successful seasons in the history of baseball in Buffalo. In addition to the first-place regular season and the Governors' Cup Championship, Bisons hitters also set a modern-day team record with 206 home runs, led by Alex Ramirez (34), Phil Hiatt (31), Jeff Manto (23), and Richie Sexson (21).

1999 (IL)

Record: 72-72 - .500 (4 -East)
Mgr. - Jeff Datz

Coming off of back-to-back championships, the 1999 Bisons had lofty goals, as well as high expectations. Unfortunately, in great part due to a rash of injuries with the parent club Indians, Buffalo hovered around .500 for much of the season. Despite the disappointing record, there were still a number of highlights during the year. Over the course of the season, 684,051 fans came out to the renamed Dunn Tire Park, which was the third highest attendance total in the history of the International League. An Opening Day crowd of 19,699 (the largest Opening Day crowd in the minor leagues) witnessed the unveiling of the Bisons Big Board, a 20' x 40' state-of-the-art video board. Jeff Manto, a fan favorite in Buffalo, became the Bisons Modern Day home run king, finishing the season with 66 career home runs in a Bison uniform. Bill Selby (.295, 20 HR, 85 RBI) shined at the plate, while Paul Wagner (8-4, 3.82 ERA, 95 K) led the pitching staff. On September 5th, despite being out of playoff contention, the Bisons drew a crowd of 19,910 to Fan Appreciation Night - outdrawing six Major League teams that played earlier in the day! While it may have been a disappointing season in the standings, 1999 was still a success in the eyes of Bison fans.