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Fans Celebrate First Governors' Cup Crown

By: Brian Frank

Part 2 of a 3 part series about the Herd's amazing 1933 playoff run.

The Bisons led the minor leagues in attendance in 1933, even outdrawing three major league teams.[1] The fan support they received during the regular season grew to incredible numbers during the post season as baseball fever gripped Western New York. Despite finishing the season two games below .500, Buffalo made the playoffs on the season’s final day. They then swept the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the playoffs and advanced to face the Rochester Red Wings, who had upset a powerhouse Newark team that won 102 game during the regular season. Buffalo and Rochester would battle in a best of seven series to decide who would be crowned champions of the new expanded playoff system and recognized as the first Governors’ Cup Champions.[2]

Baseball fans in Buffalo and Rochester were ecstatic that the two longtime rivals would meet to decide the International League championship. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called the matchup a “Dream of Dreams” series.[3] Joe Cummiskey wrote in the Buffalo Times that “The series is the greatest minor league natural ever developed. There’s a rivalry between the two teams that always is flaming. And in such a series as this it already has been fanned to a fever heat.”[4] Even though the Red Wings finished 6 1/2 games ahead of the Bisons in the standings, Buffalo had found success against the Wings, winning eight of their final nine meetings in Buffalo, including a five game sweep to finish the season. But for all their success in Buffalo, the Herd struggled in Rochester, losing eleven out of twelve games at Red Wing Stadium during the season.

The first three games of the seven game series were played in Rochester, and Bisons fans flocked to the Flour City to watch the Herd. In a time before the New York State Thruway made travel between the two cities more convenient, Billy Kelly reported in the Courier-Express that “the exodus of Buffalo fans to Rochester yesterday looked like a modern caravan, the Genesee and Main Street routes being jammed with double lines of cars from 10 o’clock until after 2 in the afternoon.”[5] While W.S. Coughlin wrote that “Rochester folks thought Buffalo a deserted village for the day for they saw the unbroken lines of cars bearing Erie County licenses streaming through town from early morning.”[6] Fans also traveled by train. The New York Central Railroad ran trains to Rochester for the games for $1.75 round trip.

An estimated 3,500 Bisons fans traveled to Red Wing Stadium for the first game of the series, and they made their presence felt. Frank Wakefield of the Buffalo Evening News described the electrifying atmosphere: “The cheering and enthusiasm displayed by the rival rooting sections, reminded one of a big college football game, rather than a baseball contest. Although outnumbered, the Bison boosters made considerably more noise and displayed a lot more spirit than did the hometown delegation.”[7] Encouraged by the Women’s Democratic Fife and Drum Corps of Cheektowaga, Bisons fans cheered throughout the game, armed with horns, whistles, a fire siren, and hundreds of cowbells.

Buffalo starter Phil Gallivan pitched a phenomenal game, allowing only six hits and two walks through eight innings of work. The defense behind Gallivan was “worth going through fire and brimstone to look at.”[8] Bisons centerfielder Len Koenecke stood out in the field, throwing out two runners on the base paths. Unfortunately for the Herd, Rochester starter Tony Kaufmann dominated Buffalo batters. Outside of Koenecke, who had three hits, “the Bisons were as putty in the hands of a sculptor for Kaufmann.”[9] Kaufmann allowed only four hits, four walks, and two hit batsmen.

Rochester left fielder and cleanup hitter Ray Pepper all but decided the game with his play in the sixth inning. In the top of the inning, Pepper robbed Fresco Thompson of a home run, making the catch while slamming against the low left-field fence. Then with two outs and nobody on in the bottom half of the inning, Pepper connected for his third hit of the day, a run scoring double. The hit gave the Wings the only run of the game, and propelled them to a one game to none lead in the series.

Due to chilly, windy weather and the threat of rain, only about 1,000 Bisons fans were in Rochester for game two. However, “the loyal Buffalonians made more noise and cheered louder than did the Rochesterians. The Wings supporters appeared content to let the Bison gathering have their fill of fun.”[10] St. Louis Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey was on hand to watch Rochester, a Cardinals’ farm team, and was moved to remark on the incredible energy of the Bisons fans, saying, “It’s the finest spirit I’ve ever observed in my long years of association in organized baseball. The game needs more of this sort of enthusiasm.”[11]

Branch Rickey's Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

After a pre-game pep talk from team president Frank Offermann, the Herd jumped all over Red Wings ace John “Sherriff” Blake to the delight of the Buffalo fans. Greg Mulleavy doubled on the first pitch of the game, followed by a four pitch walk to Joe Brown. Len Koenecke then “decided he liked Blake’s first serve and forthwith lathered it high, wide and handsome over the right field rampart at the 365-foot marker…”[12] Later in the inning, Jack Smith singled home Ollie Carnegie to give the Bisons a quick 4-0 lead, knocking Sherriff Blake out of the game.

In the second inning, the red hot Len Koenecke came to the plate with a man on. Joe Cummiskey described the sluggers at bat in the Buffalo Times: “Slashing through with a viciousness that mirrored the spirit of the entire team, Len again rocketed a homer shot out of the park in right field, a few feet short of the spot he rifled his first one.”[13] Given a 6-0 lead, Bisons lefty Charlie Perkins took over. Perkins, who had beaten the Red Wings twice in the final series of the regular season, continued to dominate, cruising to his third win over Rochester in 11 days. Perkins went the distance, allowing only six hits and a walk. He had a string of nineteen consecutive shutout innings broken up in the sixth inning, when Rochester plated a pair of runs. Perkins even added to Buffalo’s lead with an RBI bloop single in the ninth for good measure. The Bisons won 7-2, to even the series at a game apiece.

Buffalo didn’t have as much success during the third and final game in Rochester. After Buffalo jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, the game belonged to the Red Wings. Big Ray Pepper once again led the Red Wings charge, going three-for-four, with a two-run homer. The three hits gave Pepper seven hits in 11 at bats through the first three games of the series.

As the series headed to Buffalo, the Red Wings were not looking forward to playing at Bison Stadium, where they hadn’t had much success during the season. Red Wings players and media blamed their struggles on the stadium's lighting. The Rochester press complained vehemently about the poor lighting and also about the size of the ballpark. Cray Remington of the Rochester Evening Journal and Post expressed the Wings annoyance with the “pint-cup park” writing that “The Bison park, as large as a hat box and only semi-illuminated at night, is excessively tender to base hits. Most any old ball that is knocked into the gloaming becomes a base hit.”[14] The Bisons made the park even smaller for the series by taking down the screens and canvas on the left field rampart, making it easier for a home run to go out in left.

The lights weren't the only advantage the Bisons found when they returned home. Overflow crowds showed up at Bison Stadium to support the Herd. The team erected extra bleachers in center field and put ropes on the field all the way around the outfield. Fans could sit and stand behind the ropes during the games, making the playing area even smaller. But even these drastic measures weren’t enough to hold all the rabid Bisons fans. Second story verandas along Woodlawn Avenue were filled with spectators and fans built bootleg bleachers beyond the left-field wall. Many in the overflow crowd were armed with noisemakers, creating a chaotic, earsplitting atmosphere.

Game four was a tale of two games for the Herd. For the first four innings, the Bisons only had one harmless single and “were about as docile a bunch as one could find.”[15] At the end of four innings, Rochester led 1-0. However, Buffalo’s offence woke up in the fifth, led by a big blast off the bat of Ollie Carnegie. After Ollie Tucker drew a bases loaded walk to tie the score, Carnegie came to the plate with the bases still full. Frank Wakefield of the Buffalo Evening News described:

It was a tense moment as Carnegie, home run king of the Buffalo Club, strode to the plate. He watched one perfect strike speed across the plate. Another pitch and Carnegie had knocked the ball over the left field wall to drive in four runs and settle the issue. The Wings were never the same after that lethal blow, their spirit, and fight of the earlier innings departing as the ball cleared the fence.[16]

Buffalo hurler George Milstead also chipped in at the plate. Milstead had three hits, two of them doubles, “one of which won him a new suit by scoring a bullseye on an advertising sign in left field and starting the rally that wound up with Carnegie putting the game in the frigidaire.”[17] Buffalo’s lineup exploded over the final four innings for 16 runs on 18 hits, en route to a 16-4 win to even the series.

The big victory under the lights only added to the belief that the Red Wings couldn’t win a night game in Buffalo. The Herd were overflowing with confidence. Bisons manager Ray Schalk told the Rochester Times Union that “It’s in the bag for us now. We can always beat Rochester here.”[18] Team president Frank Offermann added that “We’re on our way to Columbus and the junior series. Tomorrow and Friday we’ll clean up. You can’t beat us here. The edge is all with us.”[19]

Bisons manager Ray Schalk pictured during his playing days.

Red Wings manager George “Specs” Toporcer tweaked the lineup heading into game five. He inserted 20-year-old prospect and future Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Mize at first base, in place of veteran Art Shires, hoping that the young slugger could add some punch to the struggling Wings lineup.

Although the crowd was smaller for game five due to the weather, the fans were no less enthusiastic, as Buffalo rolled to another big win. W.S. Coughlin described the crowd in the Courier-Express: “Another hysterical throng of 9,682 persons shouted itself hoarse from the time the Bisons took up the fearful slaughter of the baseball, in the first inning, that they left off on Wednesday evening…Music by two bands, shrieking sirens and clanging bells lent another opening day atmosphere to the occasion.”[20]

Buffalo’s bats remained hot, as the Herd knocked Red Wings ace Sherriff Blake out in the first inning. Buffalo scored three runs in the first, two in the second, 10 in the third, and two in the fourth, on their way to an 18-7 win and a three games to two series lead. After scoring 16 runs in the final four innings of game four, and 17 runs in the first four innings of game five, Buffalo had scored 33 runs in eight consecutive innings to take control of the series.

Ollie Tucker belted a two-run home run in the first and Ollie Carnegie hit a bases clearing three-run triple in the third. But the story of the game was the consistency of the Herd lineup. Every starter for Buffalo scored exactly two runs and knocked in at least one run, while Carnegie and Tucker each finished with four runs batted in. The offensive explosion excited the crowd, as they “raved, roared and all but tore up the seats in their joy at seeing Buffalo’s most bitter league rival being humbled in such decisive fashion.”[21]

After the game there was once again talk of Bison Stadium negatively affecting the play of the Red Wings. It was written in the Buffalo Evening News that “This is one of the psychological factors in their (the Red Wings) sudden crackup. They came here under a mental hazard that has grown into proportions of a jinx. Every time someone boots one or strikes out, he has a quick alibi, ‘the lights’.”[22] Cray Remington of the Rochester Evening Journal and Post Express complained that “The Bison stadium reminds of the illuminations of the old time medicine show with candle power so faint that even spectators can’t see the game,” and added that “the truth is the Bisons have the psychological something on the Reds in the Buffalo park and the Reds are 50 per cent licked before they start.”[23]

Fans filled Bison Stadium like never before for game six. It had previously been announced that the game would not be broadcast on the radio, and although the decision was reversed, it undoubtedly caused even more fans to pack into the park. Gene Korzelius reported in the Buffalo Evening News that:

Beneath the covered stands and in the open sections, shinning steel girders and astride the concrete fence; on nearby verandas, on housetops and on the roof of the stands- everywhere conceivable where could be caught the slightest glimpse of the game there were spectators, seeking to be in on the kill.From the respective dugouts along the foul lines to the right and left field fences the patrons were jammed in rows that were seven and eight deep. Around the outfield, fringing left, center and right, they were banked, again seven and eight deep.[24]

The game started 40 minutes late as people continued to fill every open space. Thousands were turned away. Team President Frank J. Offermann, also the sheriff of Erie County, had to call in more city police and deputy sheriffs due to the massive crowd. Attendance was announced as 23,386, but that didn’t include the people in the bootleg bleachers and watching from the rooftops surrounding the park.

Once again, the Herd jumped on top early when Ollie Carnegie doubled home two runs to put the Herd up 2-0 in the first. The Bisons added to the excitement in and around the ballpark, when they increased their lead with a two run rally in the fifth to make the score 4-1. As they had all series, the crowd celebrated from beginning to end. Jack Burgess of the Rochester Times Union wrote: “The hysteria of the crowd was symbolized in the noise making contraptions in evidence. One man had a steamboat whistle. There were two fire wagon sirens. Another had a string of cowbells which he kept continually jangling, three bands, two of them uniformed women, added to the din and it seemed as if 10,000 horns were blowing all the time while the roar of the crowd surged in a deep thunder of overtone every minute of the time.”[25]

In the seventh inning Ollie Carnegie strode to the plate with a man aboard and managed to send the fans into an even greater frenzy. Stephen P. Cain described the scene in the Buffalo Times: “Carnegie picked out one of Dutch’s offerings and smacked it even with the lights over the left field housetops. The crowd, visualizing the league pennant fluttering from the top of the stadium, went crazy. One fan almost made a perfect flying tackle on Carnegie as he rounded third base in his cantor home.”[26]

When Ollie Tucker caught the final out of the 8-1 victory, “the frenzied fans rushed onto the field and staged a wild, unrestrained demonstration, reminiscent of the first Armistice Day or of a Lindbergh ovation. They danced, shouted and leaped with joy on the diamond where the Bisons had fought so successfully.”[27] W.S. Coughlin wrote in the Courier-Express that “The crowd of frenzied spectators broke all control to engage in a furious exchange of cushions, and the hazy field became almost completely obliterated by the profusion of missiles flying everywhere. Even chairs were flung and serious injury was narrowly avoided by many persons… it was going into the early morning hours before the scenes of pandemonium abated.”[28] Bisons starting pitcher Charlie Perkins stated that “Never in all my time have I ever heard such a din and racket at a ball game. You can hand some of the credit to those fans for the way the boys pasted the ball.”[29]

After outscoring the Red Wings 52-20 in the six games, the Bisons were champions of the International League and on their way to the Junior World Series to face the champions of the American Association, the Columbus Red Birds. Baseball fans in the Queen City had reason to celebrate, as an incredible season was extended for yet another playoff series.

To be continued…

This is part 2 of a 3 part series about the Herd's amazing 1933 playoff run.

[1] Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolfe, Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, N.C.: Baseball America, 2007), 333. Buffalo outdrew the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Browns

[2] It’s interesting to note that none of the Buffalo or Rochester newspapers at the time referenced the Governors’ Cup, but referred to the champions as the pennant winners.

[3] Joseph T. Adams, “Buffalo’s Stampeding Herd Will Open Today at Stadium,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, September 17, 1933.

[4] Joe Cummiskey, “It’s Bisons vs. Rochester in Finals Starting Today,” Buffalo Times, September 17, 1933.

[5] Billy Kelly, “Before and After,” Buffalo Courier-Express, September 18, 1933.

[6] W.S. Coughlin, “14,500 Crowd Sees Thrilling Pitchers’ Duel,” Buffalo Courier-Express, September 18, 1933.

[7] Frank Wakefield, “Rainstorm Hits Rochester, Threatening Bison Playoff,” Buffalo Evening News, September 18, 1933.

[8] W.S. Coughlin, “14,500 Crowd Sees Thrilling Pitchers’ Duel,” Buffalo Courier-Express, September 18, 1933.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Alfred H. Cohen, “Koenecke’s Homers Change Jeers to Cheers,” Buffalo Evening News, September 19, 1933.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Joe Cummiskey, “Gould Takes Slab, Against Wings Today,” Buffalo Times, September 19, 1933.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Cray Remington, “Square Series at 2 Games Apiece,” Rochester Evening Journal and Post, September 21, 1933.

[15] Frank Wakefield, “Shires is Out, Mize to Play for Rochester,” Buffalo Evening News, September 21, 1933.

[16] Ibid.

[17] W.S. Coughlin, Carnegie Hits Telling Blow Before 10,346,” Buffalo Courier-Express, September 21, 1933.

[18] Jack Burgess, “Sports Editorial,” Rochester Times-Union, September 21, 1933.

[19] Ibid.

[20] W.S. Coughlin, “Herd Hammers Four Pitchers to Win, 18-7,” Buffalo Courier-Express, September 22, 1933.

[21] Frank Wakefield, “Henry Picked to Stem Bison Pennant Rush,” Buffalo Evening News, September 22, 1933.

[22] “Floodlight Jinx to Wings Players,” Buffalo Evening News, September 22, 1933.

[23] Cray Remington, “Herd Take 3-2 Lead in Series, Rochester Evening Journal and Post Express, September 22, 1933.

[24] Gene Korzelius, “City’s Biggest Ball Crowd Mobs Bisons After Victory,” Buffalo Evening News, September 23, 1933.

[25] Jack Burgess, “Red Wings Battered To Pulp by Herd as 19,363 Crowd Roars,” Rochester Times-Union, September 23, 1933.

[26] Stephen P. Cain, “Bedlam Breaks as Bisons Win,” Buffalo Times, September 23, 1933.

[27] Frank Wakefield, “Bisons Enter Columbus Tilt Even Choice,” Buffalo Evening News, September 23, 1933.

[28] W.S. Coughlin, “Red Wings Fall Again Beneath Savage Attack,” Buffalo Courier-Express, September 23, 1933.

[29] Cy Kritzer, “Unique Philosophy Helps Perkins Win,” Buffalo Evening News, September 23, 1933.

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