Top 100 Teams
International League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
Close on the heels of the great Orioles dynasty, another International League team made shambles of the offensive record book. Helping this champion garner its laurels was a heavy-hitting first baseman who single-handedly dominated the leader board.
The city of Buffalo, located in upper-state New York on the shore of Lake Erie fielded an impressive amateur nine during baseball’s infancy. Known as the Niagara club, this team was a local powerhouse, defeating one team by the absurd score 220-10 in 1868. In 1877, Buffalo showcased its first pro team which finished with an impressive 79-28-3 record the following year while playing mostly an independent schedule. The next season, the team was invited to join the fledgling National League, where they stayed through the 1885 season. In this seven-year period, the team never won a pennant but finished in the first division five times. In 1886, Buffalo dropped down to the International League, staying through the truncated 1890 season. Also in 1890, the city participated in the major league Players’ League, finishing dead last with a 36-96 club.
During the rest of the 19th century and the first few years of the 20th, Buffalo participated in a variety of leagues. From 1891 to 1898 the team played in the Eastern League, winning a pennant in 1891 with a 89-35 record. In 1899, Buffalo jumped to Ban Johnson’s Western League, remaining through its change to the American League the following season. After a seventh place finish in the ’00 American, the team returned to the Eastern League the next season, this time for a lengthy stay. High points included pennants in 1904, 1906, 1915 and 1916. During the 1914 and 1915 campaigns, the club had major league company as the Federal League Buffalo Blues crowded into the Buffalo baseball scene.
In the years following World War I, Buffalo, along with most of the International League, watched while the Orioles rang up pennant after pennant. After Toronto broke the string in 1926 with a Top 100 team, Buffalo was ready to take its turn the following year.
The 1927 Bisons took control of the pennant race late in the season, pulling away to win the flag with a 112-56, .667 record, 10 games ahead of Syracuse. Spurring the team was a 14-game winning streak in July. Following the season, Buffalo was trounced by the American Association’s Toledo Mud Hens, five games to one in the Little World Series. In the regular season, the Bisons led the International League in batting (.318), runs (1,059), hits (1,799) and doubles (340).
The 1927 International League champs were ably managed by 53-year-old William J. (Derby Day) Clymer, who was in the second year of his second tour of duty as Buffalo’s pilot. Clymer’s nickname derived from his practice of clapping his hands and exhorting his players with the cry, “It’s Derby Day today!” In his book, “The 100 seasons of Buffalo Baseball,” the late Joseph Overfield describes Clymer as “vigorous, imperious and argumentative. His personality immediately rubbed off on the team….Clymer was impatient with failure. It was said of him that he always had one team coming, one going and one on the field.” Clymer, who played three major league games with Philadelphia in the American Association in 1891, was a popular outfielder for Buffalo from 1894-97. In 1897, Clymer was a member of a unique trio. As recounted by Overfield, “The odds against being a redhead are 16-1. What then would be the odds of a baseball team’s having three red-headed outfielders as did the ’97 Bisons with Romer Gray in right, Billy Clymer in center and Larry Gilboy in right? Western novelist Zane Grey, older brother of Romer Grey, and a professional ball player himself, later wrote a famous short story called ‘The Red-Headed Outfield.’ For some reason he changed the locale, but there was no question he was writing about the ’97 Bisons.” In the fictional story, Clymer is called “Clammer.”
Clymer began his managerial career in 1900 at Wilkes-Barre (Atlantic). He managed for 22 years in the American Association and International League, winning five pennants, plus two more championships in the New York State League. He piloted one other of the Top 100 teams, the 1905 Columbus Senators in the American Association. Clymer’s last year on the field was 1932 at Scranton (New York-Penn). His career record was 2,122-1,762, .546, placing him seventh among all minor league managers in total victories. Nineteen of his teams finished in the first division. Clymer piloted Buffalo in 1913-14, finishing fourth and second. He returned in 1926 following his only year in the majors, 1925, when he was a coach at Cincinnati. He remained at the helm of the Bisons until June 20, 1930 when he was released. Overfield considered Clymer’s 1927 champions to be the greatest of all Buffalo teams.
Buffalo’s best player was a 27-year-old powerfully built left handed hitter, first baseman Del Bissonette. Of French-Canadian descent and a lifelong resident of Winthrop, ME, Bissonette had been a pitcher in college, but an arm injury turned him into a first baseman. After he hit .381 for York (New York-Penn) in 1925, Brooklyn bought him and farmed him out first to Rochester and Jersey City in 1926 and then to Buffalo in 1927. Overfield states that he had the greatest year a Buffalo player ever enjoyed. Bissonette led the International League in runs (168), hits (229), total bases (408), doubles (46), triples (20), home runs (31) and RBI (167) and was third in batting (.365). His runs, total bases and RBI totals were league records at the time. He batted in eight runs in one game, on July 18. Bissonette moved up to the Dodgers in 1928 and hit .320-25-106 in 155 games. In his first four years with Brooklyn, he compiled a .308 average. Unfortunately, illness and injury plagued him throughout his brief major league career. He underwent arm surgery, a mastoid operation and a dozen surgeries to relieve a sinus condition with several of the operations serious and then, in 1932, a final injury that cut short his playing career. During spring training at Clearwater, FL, he suffered a severed Achilles tendon during a volleyball game. The injury required surgery and an infection set in. The Sporting News reported that for days he hovered between life and death and there was a possibility he might lose his leg. Bissonette was out all year. He attempted a comeback in 1933, but batted only .246-1-10 in 35 games and was released to Baltimore. He had one more good season in the minors, batting .307-11-111 for Baltimore and Albany in 1934. After two more seasons as a player for Montreal, he turned to managing. In 1944, he piloted another Top 100 team, Hartford in the Eastern League. He started 1945 as a coach for the Boston Braves and managed the club the last two months of the season following the departure of Bob Coleman. His last baseball connection was as a coach for Pittsburgh in 1946.
Fourth in the International League was 22-year-old Andy Cohen who hit .353-14-118 while playing second base and shortstop. Cohen was a native of Baltimore who grew up in Laredo, TX and was a collegiate star at the University of Alabama. He broke into pro ball in 1925 with Waco (Texas) and came up to the majors in June, 1926 with the New York Giants. He played in only 32 games the rest of the season and was sent to Buffalo for more experience. Giants manager John McGraw was convinced that Cohen was going to be the Jewish star he had long sought. In January, 1928 McGraw traded his Hall-of-Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby to Boston and announced that Cohen would replace him. That put quite a burden on the young infielder’s shoulders. Hornsby had been acquired just a year earlier from St. Louis in a trade for the Giants’ popular future Hall-of-Famer, and New York native, second baseman Frankie Frisch. In 1926, Hornsby, after leading the National League in batting for six consecutive years, had managed the Cardinals to the first pennant in the city’s history and a World Series victory over the vaunted New York Yankees, but he and owner Sam Breadon frequently were at odds. McGraw made Hornsby team captain, but the two strong-willed men never got along. On opening day, 1928, Cohen turned in some great plays at second base and won the game with his bat. Giants fans carried him off the field on their shoulders. He was a hitting sensation in the early days of the season while Hornsby got off to a slow start in Boston. The New York World began running a little box on the sports page showing how much better Cohen was doing. The first time Boston came to the Polo Grounds, Hornsby told the press, “That’s a lousy trick to play on the kid. I ain’t hitting now, but when I start, I’ll lose him.” And, of course, that is just what happened. Hornsby won his seventh batting crown with a .387 average, Cohen finished at .274. In 1929, Cohen batted .294, but played second base in only 94 games. By 1930 he was back in the minors to stay, first with Newark for two years and then for seven excellent seasons with Minneapolis where he became a fan favorite. He managed in the minors from 1939-57 with three years off for Army service in World War II. He is in the record book as a major league manager with a perfect record. Andy was a coach for Philadelphia in 1960 when manager Eddie Sawyer resigned and he piloted the Phillies for one game, a win, before Gene Mauch arrived. Cohen lived most of his life in El Paso, TX, where he became known as Mr. Baseball. He founded the baseball program at the University of Texas-El Paso and was its coach for many years. He was the first person inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame. Cohen Stadium, the home of the El Paso (Texas League) Diablos, opened in 1990, is named in honor of Andy and his younger brother, former major league pitcher Syd Cohen.
Sharing shortstop with Cohen was 25-year-old Eddie Taylor who stood only 5’6” tall. Taylor hit .288-3-48 in 122 games. He had been acquired from the Boston Braves for whom he batted .268 in 92 games in 1926. In 1925 Taylor was having a good season with Albany (Eastern), hitting .328 in 115 games when he was beaned and suffered a fractured skull and a broken eardrum. While the Braves were negotiating his purchase, Eddie was in a hospital fighting for his life. Taylor played in the high minors through 1937, but missed most or part of four seasons because of his frequent injuries: fractures of both legs, a badly dislocated ankle, a broken nose and fractured fingers. He managed Tacoma (Western International) one year, then was a coach in the Pacific Coast League for Seattle, Oakland and Vancouver for 14 years except for service in World War II for two years. Taylor scouted for 20 years, the last 15 with the Yankees in the Pacific Northwest.
The regular third baseman was 30-year-old Bill Huber who was among the top ten in the league in batting, .334-9-91 in 135 games. He had played briefly for Detroit in 1920-21 and was the Phillies’ regular third baseman in 1925-26. He had a .263 major league career average.
The Bisons employed several outfielders. Only one, 24-year-old right-handed hitting Otis (Blackie) Carter, played more than 100 games in the outfield. Carter hit .331-15-89 in 140 games. He was in six games for the Giants batting .190 in 1925-26. In an 18-year minor league career, Carter batted .313.
Veteran center fielder Al Tyson finished second in the league in batting, one point behind Dick Porter of Baltimore. Tyson hit .375-4-45 in 93 games after coming down from the Giants. He was in his second tour of duty with the Bisons. He started in pro ball as a pitcher in 1912 and was with Buffalo from 1914-1917, going 19-9, 2.15 in 1916. He subsequently switched to the outfield and in 1925 hit .352 for Louisville and set an American Association record for outfielders with 533 total chances. The next season he was a 34-year-old rookie with the New York Giants, batting .293 in 97 games. He fell off to .264 in 47 games in 1927 and was sold to Buffalo. After his great 1927 season, Tyson was purchased by Brooklyn. He was hitting .271 in 59 games for the Dodgers in 1928 when he suffered a broken leg on July 3. He was out the rest of the year and, never having fully recovered from the injury, was released prior to the 1929 season.
George (Showboat) Fisher, a 28-year-old left-handed hitter who had been obtained in a trade with Indianapolis, hit .320-10-61. He had played briefly for Washington in 1923-24. After batting .336 for Buffalo in 1929 and leading the International League in home runs (36) and RBI (124), Fisher was purchased by the Cardinals. In 1930, his only full season in the majors, Fisher batted .374-8-61 in 92 games for the National League champions, sixth in the league among players in 75 or more games, and was 1-for-2 as a pinch-hitter in the World Series. However, by the start of the next season, he was back in the minors with Rochester.
Andrew Anderson, a perennial .300 hitter in the International League for 11 years (1918-28) with five clubs, batted .328-7-62 for the Bisons. A local product, Andy played for four years with Buffalo. A pair of 35-year-olds, outfielder Fred Brainerd and catcher Mickey Devine contributed to Buffalo’s success. Devine, who caught for the Phillies, Red Sox and Giants in parts of three seasons, played for six International League clubs and four American Association teams during his career. Brainerd was with the Giants in 1914-16, batting .195 in 95 games. He managed Newark in 1923-24, Wichita Falls (Texas League) in 1925 and Dallas (Texas League) in 1926. By an odd coincidence, Brainerd replaced Devine as Newark manager during the 1923 season.
A local semi-pro player, Vince McNamara, appeared in one game at shortstop for the Bisons. McNamara became an umpire and, later, head of Buffalo’s recreation department. For 36 years, from 1949 through 1984, McNamara was president of the New York-Penn League. For several years he was a member of the National Association Executive Committee and baseball’s Official Playing Rules Committee. At baseball’s winter meetings in Honolulu in 1972 he was chosen King of Baseball. The McNamara Division of the New York-Penn League is named in his honor.
On the mound, Buffalo was paced by 31-year-old right-hander Leo (Blackie) Mangum (21-7, 3.34) who led the league in percentage (.750), tied for the lead in shutouts (5), was tied for second in wins and was seventh in complete games (21). From 1924-1935, in seven scattered campaigns, Mangum pitched for the White Sox, Giants and Braves, going 11-10, 5.37 in 85 games. Next to Mangum, Buffalo’s biggest winner was 31-year-old right-hander Jack Hollingsworth (17-7) whose 2.85 ERA was third in the league. He pitched parts of four years with Pittsburgh, Washington, Brooklyn and the Boston Braves, 1922-25. Hollingsworth lived to be 94 years of age.
Warren (Curly) Ogden (11-7, 4.99) was the younger brother of Jack Ogden, one of the greatest pitchers in International League history and a mainstay of the great Baltimore teams of the 1920’s. Curly had gone directly from Swarthmore College to the Athletics in 1922 and pitched for Philadelphia and Washington through 1926 with an 18-19, 3.79 record. He relieved in one game for the Senators in the 1924 World Series. The brothers were born in Ogden, PA, a town named for their family. After his playing career ended, Curly scouted for the Browns and Phillies for several years.
Fay Thomas, a 22-year-old rookie on option from the Giants, went 3-5, 3.91 in 12 games. Seven years later, he was a 28-game winner for another of the Top 100 teams, the 1934 Los Angeles Angels. At the other end of the scale was the graybeard of the pitching staff, 39-year-old Walter Leverenz (9-7, 3.46) who was nearing the end of a career that started in 1908. Leverenz pitched for 12 years in the Pacific Coast League before joining Buffalo in 1926. He pitched three more years with Toronto and Reading before retiring in 1930 with a minor league record of 269-228, 3.56. Leverenz pitched for the St. Louis Browns from 1913-15. His major league ERA of 3.15 probably was more indicative of his ability than his 8-31 record for the dismal Browns, Leverenz was one of four pitchers invited to join the Chicago White Sox team that played the New York Giants on the World Tour of November 1913-March 1914.
The Bisons remained in the International League for another 42 years, but enjoyed only limited success. Their only regular season titles came in 1949 and 1959, with a league championship in 1961. In June, 1970, facing attendance woes in an antiquated facility, the team relocated to Winnipeg. Nine years later, the city rejoined pro ball when it entered a team in the Eastern League. In 1985, Buffalo returned to Triple AAA, placing a team in the American Association. Three years later, playing in brand-new Pilot Field, the team drew an impressive 1,147,651 fans. Over the space of 13 seasons, the Bisons finished in the playoffs four times, winning the league championship in 1996. Following the demise of the Association in 1997, the team was assigned to the International League where they won the pennant in 1998.
In more than 100 years of baseball history, Buffalo has witnessed many fine champions. Of this group, only the 1927 winners crossed the century mark in wins, achieving its glory through its potent, record-setting batting attack. Of all the teams to play in the International League in the 20th century, not one team has been able to eclipse Buffalo’s .318 team batting average.
|1927 International League Standings|
|1927 Buffalo Bisons batting statistics|
|Lewis Malone (J. City)||2B||149||540||61||154||75||21||5||7||36||50||2||.285|
|Rabbit Whitman (J. City)||OF||146||561||83||173||72||29||9||0||25||12||5||.308|
|Pete Radwan (J. City)||SS,3B||109||393||52||108||33||22||6||3||29||28||7||.275|
|Charlie High (Toronto)||OF||70||191||30||49||31||6||2||4||20||13||3||.257|
|Roger Nolan (Reading)||1B||53||151||12||31||10||5||1||2||22||18||1||.205|
|Allen Russell (Reading)||P||31||39||1||6||4||1||0||0||4||18||0||.154|
|John Schulte (Syracuse)||C||21||58||17||19||8||3||0||1||8||1||0||.328|
|Charles Schmehl (Tor.-Re)||UT||17||32||1||2||0||0||0||0||0||3||0||.063|
|1927 Buffalo Bisons pitching statistics|
|Allen Russell (Reading)||3||12||.200||28||5||1||123||155||47||27||4.24|