The Time Babe Ruth Pitched Against the Bisons in Buffalo’s Home Opener

April 9, 2016

Part two of a three part series about Babe Ruth pitching against the Bisons. Click here for part one.

 

Babe Ruth Cartoon. Buffalo Evening News.

 

The Bisons returned home to the same question that the Orioles were facing: Could they keep attendance up, despite the fact they were now competing with a Federal League team in their city? Buffalo manager “Derby Day Bill” Clymer thought so, saying “Buffalo is a big city and able to support two ball clubs, I think. We’re going to give the fans an excellent brand of ball this summer. If that’s what the fans are looking for they’ll find it at our grounds.”[1]

 

The Bisons grounds were at the Buffalo Baseball Park at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street, the future sight of Offerman Stadium. The Federal League’s Buffalo Blues played at Federal Field on Northland Avenue. In a sign of the burgeoning rivalry between the two teams to attract fans, the Federal League’s Buffalo Blues were planning on having a “monster street parade” before their first game, which was on the Monday following the Bisons’ opener.  The Blues parade would be complete with a band, “the Eagles, Moose, Elks and other fraternal organizations, as well as local clubs, societies and other orders.”[2] As for the Bisons, “There would be no street parade because the players strenuously object to riding through the streets and chilling their arms, but there will be lots doing at the park, the features including a band concert, a parade across the field by the players, Mayor Fuhrmann pitching the first ball, presentation of flowers and other presents to the players.”[3]

 

The home opener had to be postponed the day it was originally scheduled due to a cold drenching rain that soaked the field. Numerous fans showed up to the Ferry Street grounds anyway, hoping to see a game, since many businesses gave employees half days in order to attend the opener. However, all they saw was a drenched field and some of the Buffalo players practicing. The newspapers reminded fans that “If the weather is threatening tomorrow and you’re not certain whether a game will be played, watch for a flag on the roof of the Iroquois Hotel. If there is a flag flying, a game will be played. No flag, no game.”[4] The long blue banner which stated “Game Today” was unfurled on top of the Iroquois Hotel throughout the season on game days.

 

The next day, the field was dry enough to play, but it remained very cold. Fans “braved the dangers of pneumonia and like diseases just to see a ball game and welcome the Buffalos home for the season of 1914.”[5] Although the crowd was smaller than in past years, the weather, rather than the new Federal League team, was to blame. As the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser stated “But who could have expected a larger crowd under the conditions? While Old Sol peeped from the heavens, still the air was raw and cold. It was anything but an ideal day for baseball, despite general appearances.”[6] The reported attendance for the home opener was 6,054.

 

Before throwing the first pitch, Mayor Fuhrman handed his derby hat to Buffalo manager “Derby Day Bill” Clymer, and put Clymer’s baseball cap on. The mayor’s pitch “cut the pan in half but was just a trifle high and LaLange had to stand upright to nail it.”[7]

 

Mayor Fuhrman and Derby Day Bill Clymer. Buffalo Evening News. 

 

As the Bisons took the field to once again face the young left handed phenom Babe Ruth, they did so in “new white uniforms with purple stripes, the stockings also being white with a two-inch purple band.”[8] The smallish crowd was raucous at times, as the seventy-fourth Regiment band “was in the stand and played before the opening and during innings.”[9]

 

Both sides were scoreless through two innings. In the third, with one out, Ruth walked Buffalo pitcher George McConnell. Leadoff hitter Frank Gilhooley then hit into a 5-4 fielder’s choice. Ruth proceeded to walk Bobby Vaughn, and Buffalo right fielder Les Channell finally helped the Bisons break through against Ruth as he singled in Gilhooley. Vaughn advanced to third, Channell went to second on the throw in, and the Bisons suddenly had a rally going. Buffalo first baseman Albin Carlstrom came to the plate against Ruth with runners at second and third and two outs. He hit a hard line shot toward short, but Orioles shortstop Claud Derrik made “a spectacular pick-up and throw, retiring the runner at first and robbing Channell of a hit and Buffalo of a few runs.”[10] The Bisons left two runners stranded, but had their first lead of the year against Ruth, 1-0.

 

The Orioles put together their own rally off Buffalo pitcher George McConnell in the sixth. Babe Ruth led off the inning and “popped up a difficult one between third and short and well back towards the foul line. Roxey Roach got under the ball, seized it, and then to the despair of the fans, dropped it.”[11] After the error, Bert Daniels sacrificed Ruth to second. Baltimore left fielder Ralph Capron grounded back to McConnell, who tried to cut Ruth down at third. However, the throw was off line and Ruth was safe, putting runners at the corners with one out. Ezra Midkiff drove in both Ruth and Capron with a single to center, and Birdie Cree drove home Midkriff with another single to give the Oriole’s a 3-1 lead, before a double play ended the inning.

Ruth continued to cruise, allowing just three hits and one run through the first eight innings. But then, “The Bisons came to bat amid a pandemonium of encouragement from the fans, which got on Ruth’s nerves.”[12] Joe McCarthy led off with a “cloud grazer” to deep left field that Ralph Capron caught for the first out.[13] The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser reported that “At this juncture some fans in the grandstand unlimbered a machine that gave out sounds like a fog-horn in distress. Such a racket has never been heard on the home grounds.”[14] The commotion seemed to rattle Ruth, as Buffalo catcher Mickey LaLonge singled to center, followed by a George McConnell single to right. Charlie Jamieson pinch ran for McConnell as the crowd continued to make noise and attempt to rattle the 19 year old hurler. The next batter, Frank Gilhooley hit a groundball to third baseman Ezra Midkiff, who fumbled it, and all hands were safe, loading the bases. Bisons third baseman Bobby Vaughn came to the plate with the Bisons trailing 3-1, the bases loaded, and only one out. He promptly doubled to left field, scoring two runs to tie the game 3-3. However, in what would wind up being a key play in the game, Frank Gilhooley overslid third base, and Midkiff slapped the tag on him for the second out. The Buffalo Courier described the play saying “It wasn’t the only time Ruth’s neck was saved by fast support. The fine backing the rest of the Bird’s gave him was one of the things Babe should remember when Thanksgiving Day comes around.”[15] The next hitter, Les Channel grounded out to Ruth, and the game was headed to extra innings.

 

New Bisons pitcher Phifer Fullenwider retired the Orioles in order in the tenth. Ruth then settled back in and got the Bisons in order in their half of the inning. Bert Daniels led off the top of the eleventh for the Orioles, and reached first when Bisons shortstop Roxey Roach booted a groundball. Daniels went to second on a wild pitch, and Ralph Capron beat out a bunt, and then stole second. Ezra Midkiff gave Baltimore the lead with a Texas league single, his third hit of the day, scoring Daniels. After Birdie Cree made an out, Claud Derrick hit a flyball to left fielder George Jackson, which scored Capron, and gave the Orioles a 5-3 lead. Neal Ball ended the inning by grounding out and it was on to the bottom of the eleventh.

 

Babe Ruth came back out to pitch the eleventh. The Buffalo Courier stated that “From the moment Ruth stepped into the box bedlam broke loose in the cheering sections. Every kind of instrument intended to make noise added to the uproar. Ruth was plainly rattled.”[16] Joe McCarthy, Ruth’s future manager, led off with a single to center. After catcher Mickey LaLange sacrificed the runner to second, Jim Stephens pinch hit for Fulenwider and hit a single to left field, sending McCarthy to third.[17] Bill Wright went in to pinch run for Stephens. Frank Gilholey stepped to the plate with “the prayers and supplications of 6,000 fans” directed at him.[18] Gilhooley hit a “short fly back of second which looked impossible for Cree to get and Wright was part way down to second when Cree (LF) nabbed the ball and shot it over to Gleichman (1B) doubling Wright and the game was over.” An outstanding defensive play had once again bailed Ruth out.

 

Babe Ruth finished with a line of 11 innings pitched, giving up three runs on eight hits, with six walks and two strikeouts. He was helped by some great defensive plays, like the tagging of the runner who overslid third in the ninth inning, and the double play in the eleventh. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser stated, the Orioles fielders “stuck to their task savagely and pulled Ruth out of some of the tightest holes a pitcher ever got into.”[19] The Buffalo Evening News said “It is true that Ruth won his game- but McConnell pitched better ball, the Oriole fielders backing up Ruth in better style than the Bisons supported McConnell and the result was that Buffalo was forced to play eleven innings- and lose by a 5-3 score at that. Buffalo should have won in nine innings, but for a few misplays. Spectacular plays also prevented the Herd from piling up a good lead in the early innings of the game.”[20]

 Cartoon from Buffalo Evening News. 

 

Buffalo would next face Ruth on June 27, 1914, in a double header in Baltimore. In the first game, Baltimore won 4-3 by scoring three runs in the ninth inning. Ruth pinch hit and went 0-1.

 

After a half hour rain delay between games, Ruth started the second game for the Orioles on a hot, humid Baltimore day. He got off to a rocky start, walking the leadoff hitter, George Jackson. After getting Bobby Vaughn to groundout to second, Les Channell singled to right field to put runners at first and third with one out. Buffalo first baseman Albin Carlstrom drove in Jackson with a single to left. Jimmy Eschen then loaded the bases by bouncing one off of Ruth’s glove. A rattled Ruth threw a wild pitch, which scored Channell and allowed the other runners to move up a base. Bisons’ captain Roxy Roach came to the plate with a chance to help the Herd capitalize on Ruth’s wildness, and he delivered, hitting a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Carlstrom, making the score 3-0.

 

After that, Ruth settled down. He got the side in order in the second, striking out a pair, and he never looked back. He “had the visitor’s at his mercy all during the game.”[21] He gave up two meaningless runs in the ninth on a two run triple by Ben Houser. When the game was over, Ruth had picked up another complete game with a 10-5 win, going nine innings, giving up five runs on nine hits, with two walks and five strikeouts. As the Baltimore Sun said, “Ruth kept the hits well scattered. Excepting the final inning, when Paddock and Vaughn made singles. Not in any other round did the visitors get more than one single and only three runners reached third base.”[22] Ruth also had one hit in three at bats in the second game.

 

Team Picture from Buffalo Inquirer. 

 

The victory, gave Ruth 11 wins against six losses on the season. Even though the Orioles were 44-22, they were not winning the ticket battle against the Federal League. There were only 700 to 800 fans at the double header against Buffalo. In one game when Ruth threw a shutout against Rochester, only 11 fans were present.[23] Orioles owner Jack Dunn was forced to begin selling players to try to save the franchise. On July 10, 1914, just two weeks after facing the Bisons, the Orioles sold Babe Ruth, Ben Egan and Ernie Shore to the Boston Red Sox for $25,000. After taking the overnight train to Boston, Ruth started for the Red Sox the next day, July 11, and beat Cleveland 4-3. Ruth went seven innings, giving up three runs, two of them earned, on eight hits, with no walks, and one strikeout, earning his first major league win.

 

To Be Continued: Part 3 of 3 That Time the Bisons beat Babe Ruth

 

[1] “Bisons Will Not Change the Old Starting Hour,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 5, 1914.

[2] “Federal Park is ready for Opening on Monday,” Buffalo Evening News, May 5, 1914.

[3] “International League Games Will Start at Usual Hour,” Buffalo Evening News, May 5, 1914.

[4] “No Game Today Between Buffalo and Baltimore,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 6, 1914.

[5] “Fans, Regardless of Mean Weather, Turn Out in Thousands to See Herd,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 8, 1914.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Bisons Lose After Hard Tussle,” Buffalo Courier, May 8, 1914.

[8] “McConnell and Ruth the Opposing Pitchers,” Buffalo Evening News, May 7, 1914.

[9] “Orioles Take Measure of Bisons,” Buffalo Enquirer, May 8, 1914.

[10] “Bisons Lose Opener in Eleventh Inning,” Buffalo Evening News, May 8, 1914.

[11] “Fans, Regardless of Mean Weather, Turn Out in Thousands to See Herd,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 8, 1914.

[12] “Bisons Lose After hard Tussle,” Buffalo Courier, May 8, 1914.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Fans, regardless of Mean Weather, Turn Out in Thousands to See Herd,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 8, 1914.

[15] “Bisons Lose After Hard Tussle,” Buffalo Courier, May 8, 1914.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The newspapers reported this as a sacrifice, but it’s unclear why they would sacrifice down two with one runner on, so it may have just been a groundball that advanced the runner and a generous scorekeeper.

[18] “Bisons Lose After Hard Tussle,” Buffalo Courier, May 8, 1914.

[19] “Fans, Regardless of Mean Weather, Turn Out in Thousands to See Herd,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 8, 1914.

[20] “Bisons Lose Opener in Eleventh Inning,” Buffalo Evening News, May 8, 1914.

[21] “Ford Was in Fine Form, Bisons Dropped Doubleheader,” Buffalo Express, June 28, 1914.

[22] Baltimore Sun, May 8, 1914.

[23] Leigh Montville, “The Big Bam, The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,” Anchor Books: NY, 2006.

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