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The 1933 International League Playoff Run (Part 1)

By: Brian Frank

Part 1 of a 3 part series about the Herd's amazing 1933 playoff run.

In 1933, for the first time in history, the International League allowed wild card teams to participate in the playoffs under the new Shaughnessy playoff system and the Bisons took full advantage. After a slow start, Buffalo made a late summer charge to challenge for the final playoff spot, led by the exploits of Ollie Carnegie (.317, 29 HR, 123 RBI), Ollie Tucker (.323, 27 HR, 115 RBI), Len Koenecke (.334, 8 HR, 100 RBI), and Greg Mulleavy (.337).

The Bisons overcame a grueling September stretch that included a string of five doubleheaders in five days and entered the final game of the season having won six out of seven games. Despite an 82-85 record, the Herd could still squeak into the playoffs if they beat Rochester and Toronto lost to Montreal on the season’s final day.

Buffalo sent Charlie Perkins to the mound in the decisive final game to try to clinch a playoff spot. The southpaw delivered, throwing his second complete game of the four game series, scattering eight hits and allowing just two runs. The Bison Stadium crowd rejoiced in the sixth inning when it was posted on the scoreboard that Montreal had bested Toronto by a score of 7-5. The Bisons did their part by hanging on to beat the Red Wings 5-2, behind Perkins’ stellar effort, three hits from Ollie Carnegie, and home runs by Ollie Tucker and Bucky Crouse.

Despite finishing two games under .500, Buffalo was in the playoffs. Bisons manager Ray Schalk reflected on Buffalo’s rollercoaster season, telling the Courier Express that “Considering the injuries and untoward breaks we have had, and the fact that at one time we were twelve games back of Toronto, I think it is remarkable to see a team fight its way through a last ten-day schedule, that included the playing of five consecutive doubleheaders, and finish in front of the Maple Leafs by a half game.”[1] As Bill Abbott of the Buffalo Times wrote “The rocky road to Dublin was a boulevard compared to the path the Bisons traveled to reach the play-offs.”[2]

Bisons manager Ray Schalk during his playing days.

The new playoff system had an odd setup. The wildcard Bisons were able to avoid both division champions in the first round. The Southern Division champion Newark Bears, a powerhouse that won 102 games, squared off against the Northern Division champion Rochester Red Wings, while the Bisons faced the other wild card team, the Baltimore Orioles. The winner of the four team playoff would advance to play the American Association champions in the annual Junior World Series.

Despite finishing second in the Southern Division, the Orioles were certainly no pushovers. Player-manager Beauty McGowan’s team featured no less than seven players who finished in double figures in home runs. Sluggers Buzz Arlett (.343, 39 HR, 146 RBI) and Moose Solters (.363, 36 HR, 157 RBI) both had incredible seasons powering the Orioles offense. A prolific slugger, Arlett belted 432 minor league home runs by the time he retired in 1937, a record that wouldn't be broken until 2015. Baltimore’s pitching staff featured one of the best arms in the league in staff ace Harry Smythe (21-8, 3.97 ERA). However, the Bisons had found success against the Birds during the season, winning 14 of 24 games, including seven of the last nine played in Baltimore.

W.S. Coughlin of the Courier Express described the excitement at Buffalo’s Central Terminal as the team departed for Baltimore:

Appearing imbued with every evidence of confidence and enthusiasm, cheered by the shouts of scores of fans gathered at Central Terminal to bid them farewell and backed by a corps of loyal rooters shuffling off to Baltimore for the playoff games, Ray Schalk and his triumphant Bisons took gala departure from Buffalo last night for their quest of eventual league championship honors.[3]

The jubilant fans were representative of the strong support the team received all season. Bob Stedler of the Buffalo Evening News recounted that “No team representing Buffalo has ever received the support the 1933 combination has enjoyed, and the huge crowds undoubtedly have been an inspiration to the players. We have obtained the enviable position of being the best minor league city in the country in point of attendance…”[4] Not only did the Bisons lead the minor leagues in attendance, drawing 245,082 fans to Bison Stadium, but they also outdrew three major league teams, the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Browns.[5]

Baltimore manager Beauty McGowan surprised observers by sending veteran right-hander Guy Cantrell, who only won two out of 11 decisions during the season, to the mound in the series opener. Buffalo intended to start red hot Bill Gould, who had two wins in the last week of the season, however he came down with the flu en route to Baltimore. So, Schalk turned to Phil Gallivan, who won 15 games during the season, but also lost 15 and had a 5.13 ERA.

Gallivan didn’t disappoint. He didn’t allow a baserunner until the fourth inning and didn’t allow a run until the sixth. Meanwhile, the Herd broke on top in the fourth with a big swing from Len Koenecke. Joe Cummiskey described the at-bat in the Buffalo Times:

He worked Cantrell to a three-one count. Guy, trying to break one of his very best curves, got it too close to Len who lashed it out of the park in right center field. Manager McGowan, centerfielder for the Birds, heard the ball crack from the bat, placed his hands on his hips and watched it sail off toward Chesapeake Bay without moving a step.[6]

After the Orioles evened the score, the Bisons broke on top again in the eighth on a run scoring single by Ollie Tucker. An error by Baltimore second baseman Don Heffner allowed the second run of the inning.

Phil Gallivan was still on the mound in the ninth, with Buffalo up 3-1. However, with a man on first and two down, Baltimore catcher Bob Linton drove a ball into the right field bleachers to tie the game 3-3, and send it to extra innings.

In the top of the 11th, Bisons leadoff man Greg Mulleavy, who already had three hits on the day, stepped to the plate with two men on and two out. He lined the first pitch he saw into the left-center field gap, and legged out a two-run triple giving the Herd a 5-3 lead. Amazingly, Phil Gallivan was still on the mound in the bottom of the eleventh. With two outs and a runner in scoring position, Bob Linton came to the plate as the tying run. Linton had already tied the game with a home run off Gallivan in the ninth. This time, the outcome would be different. Gallivan bore down with “victory within his grasp. He shot three tantalizing balls through and struck him out to drop the curtain on the toughest game the team had played all season.”[7]

Gallivan was simply spectacular in his emergency start. “The lion-hearted young pitcher” allowed 11 hits, one walk, three runs, and struck out seven in his 11 innings of work.[8] The Herd also had a number of heroes at the plate, helping to propel them to victory. Leadoff man Greg Mulleavy was 4-for-6, with a triple, a run scored and two runs batted in, and Len Koenecke was 2-for-5, with a home run, two runs scored and an RBI. Joe Cummiskey described the mood of the team in the Buffalo Times: “The fiery spirit of the Buffalo Bisons, unquenched now as never before, flamed time after time in one of the most courageous battles this town has seen. Yes, even in the days of (former Orioles greats John) McGraw and (Hughie) Jennings.”[9]

The damp, cool, rainy weather continued in game two of the series. The Orioles sent their ace, Harry Smythe, to the mound to try to even the series. The lefthander dominated the International League all season and hadn’t pitched in ten days in order to be well-rested for the playoffs. The Bisons countered with side-armer Ray Lucas (9-7, 4.71 ERA).

The Bisons picked up where they left off the day before. Ollie Tucker gave the Herd the early lead, when he blasted a two-run home run in the top of the first. Buffalo also made some great plays in the field. Center fielder Len Koenecke made a brilliant play with a man on in the third inning. Frank Wakefield described the acrobatic catch in the Buffalo Evening News: “Len’s catch of Arlette’s fly in the third was one of the best of the season. He crashed into the center field fence while running backward for the ball, started to sag from the impact, but reached and held the ball as he toppled over on his head. It was just that sort of playing that took the heart out of the Orioles…”[10]

Orioles slugger Buzz Arlett, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 7, 1922.

After the Orioles picked up a run in the third, the red hot Greg Mulleavy singled home a run to put the Herd up 3-1. But Buffalo’s starter, Ray Lucas, suddenly became wild in the fifth. After Lucas gave up a pair of walks, Orioles slugger Buzz Arlett smashed his 40th home run of the season to put the Birds on top 4-3. Lucas then allowed another walk, before giving way to reliever Hal Elliott.

Baltimore’s lead didn’t last long. With one out in the sixth, Ollie Tucker, who already had a two-run homer on the day, stepped to the plate. Joe Cummiskey described the slugger’s at-bat in the Buffalo Times: “Tucker strode to the dish, wiped his hands in the dirt, braced and let fly. The ball landed high up in the bleachers in right for Ollie’s second homer of the game and the tying run.”[11] Then in the seventh, with a man on base, Greg Mulleavy “who seemed to have a good two days’ work already, picked out one of Smythe’s benders and crashed it out of the lot, clearing a 30-foot bill board in left field by twenty feet.”[12]

Reliever Hal Elliott proceeded to mow through the Orioles lineup. He allowed just four hits and a lone run in four and two-thirds innings. He closed the door on the Orioles final comeback attempt in the ninth. With the tying run at third, Elliott fanned Bob Linton, who tied game one with a ninth inning home run. W.S. Coughlin wrote in the Courier Express that “As Linton swung violently and missed the Bisons tossed their gloves in the air gleefully before surrounding the hurler to rush him to the clubhouse almost on their backs.”[13] The victory gave Buffalo a two games to none lead in the series, and nine wins in their last ten games.

The Bisons were welcomed back to the Queen City as “conquering heroes.”[14] The Buffalo Times reported that “Despite the early hour, scores of faithful fans, including a sprinkling of notables, greeted the team at the New York Central Terminal. There was general handshaking as photographers boomed away at the happy group.”[15]

With Bisons fever running high, plans were made to place one or two rows of chairs around the field against the fences to accommodate an overflow crowd at Bison Stadium.[16] However, cold drenching rain during the morning and “chilling breezes before the game that sent the fans diving into the closets for top-coats, furs and blankets” kept the crowd down to just over 9,000.[17]

Ollie Carnegie's number is retired by the Bisons.

The Bisons jumped on top in the second inning, when Bucky Crouse singled home Ollie Carnegie for the first run of the game. In the third inning, Ollie Tucker knocked Baltimore starter Earl Mattingly out of the game with a run scoring single. The previous day’s starter, Harry Smythe, was forced to enter the game in relief. The Courier Express described what happened next:

Ollie Carnegie greeted him with a towering shot to left that looked all over a home run. However the ball, caught by the strong wind, drifted against a high wire atop the left field fences and rolled back on the field. Solters picked it up and hurled perfectly to Sand at third, nailing Tucker after he had slowed up, thinking the ball might be caught. Carnegie got a two-bagger, and Koenecke scored…[18]

With the Herd ahead by three runs, Buffalo starter Charlie Perkins took over. The lefty had been the hero on the final day of the season when he beat Rochester to clinch a playoff spot and he came into the playoffs with a 9-0 record against Baltimore over the last two seasons. Despite working himself into some tight jams, Perkins continued his impressive run against the O’s. The Buffalo Times reported that “Perkins seemed to be in plenty of trouble and there were pitchers warming up for Buffalo most every inning, but just when things looked bleakest the port sider would bear down again and come up with colors flying.”[19] Perkins induced Orioles batsmen to hit into three double plays to escape jams and struck out seven batters in the game, many in key situations. W.S. Coughlin wrote in the Courier Express that “It seemed to give Perkins a boyish thrill to tease the Birds in to hopes of rallies and then make them look giddy and hopeless, principally through timely strikeouts, although his supporting mates rallied behind him to make the show possible…”[20]

As they did in the first two games, the Orioles made things interesting in the ninth when they loaded the bases with two outs. The Courier Express described the end of the game and the wild celebration that ensued:

This brought up Frank McGowan, who had proven the only visitor able to solve Perkins by busting two whistling singles and a double for three of the seven hits permitted by the southpaw. After working his foe to two strikes and two balls, Perkins shot a perfect curve over the plate which saw McGowan called out for the seventh strikeout victim of the game and the final killing of the series. There was almost a fist fight between Perkins and Bucky Crouse as they fought for possession of the precious ball surrounded by wildly pawing and jubilant mates.[21]

Perkins’ brilliant seven hit shutout was his third complete game win in a week and gave the Herd a three game sweep of the Orioles. After disposing of Baltimore so quickly, Buffalo awaited their next opponent as the series between Newark and Rochester was knotted at one with inclement weather expected to drag the series out. As the entire city looked forward to the next series, the players and fans were brimming with confidence after their exciting run to the playoffs and sweep of the O’s. Joe Cummiskey of the Buffalo Times noted that “The fiery spirit which carried the Bisons into the playoffs against what looked like unsurmountable odds, burned right through the Orioles series. And those who are close to the Bisons know today it won’t burn out either.”[22]

To be continued…

[1] W.S. Coughlin, “Bisons, Loyal Rooters Head for Baltimore,” Buffalo Courier Express, September 12, 1933.

[2] Bill Abbott, “Bisons Make the Grade, Play-offs for Majors, Softball’s Big Climax,” Buffalo Times, September 11, 1933.

[3] Coughlin, “Bisons, Loyal Rooters”.

[4] Bob Stedler, “Karpe’s Comments,” Buffalo Evening News, September 11, 1933.

[5] Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolfe, Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, N.C.: Baseball America, 2007), 333.

[6] Joe Cummiskey, “Bison Pennant Chances Soar After Victory,” Buffalo Times, September 13, 1933.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Frank Wakefield, “Orioles Line-up is Shaken Up for Second Tilt,” Buffalo Evening News, September 13, 1933.

[9] Cummiskey, “Bison Pennant Chances Soar”.

[10] Frank Wakefield, “Bisons to Play Unless Storm Floods Field,” Buffalo Evening News, September 14, 1933.

[11] Joe Cummiskey, “Victorious Bisons Return, Eager to Mop Up Orioles,” Buffalo Times, September 14, 1933.

[12] Ibid.

[13] W.S. Coughlin, “Mulleavy and Tucker Hit In All Six Runs,” Buffalo Courier Express, September 14, 1933.

[14] Cummiskey, “Victorious Bisons Return”.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Frank Wakefield, "Bisons to Play Unless Storm Floods Field," Buffalo Evening News, September 14, 1933.

[17] Frank Wakefield, “Bisons Move Step Nearer League Flag,” Buffalo Evening News, September 15, 1933.

[18] W.S. Coughlin, “Perkins Hurls Shutout Ball Before 9,098,” Buffalo Courier, September 15, 1933.

[19] Joe Cummiskey, “Bisons Sweep Oriole Series, Prepare for Final Playoffs,” Buffalo Times, September 15, 1933.

[20] Coughlin, “Perkins Hurls Shutout”.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Cummiskey, “Bisons Sweep Oriole Series”.

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