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The Bisons Played a Game on Grand Island in 1893

By: Brian Frank

The story about how the Bisons ended up playing a game on Grand Island is as fascinating as the game itself. It’s a story that includes blue laws, rowdy crowds, a petition, boats across the Niagara River, and a posh Grand Island resort.

Buffalo’s home field in 1893 was Olympic Park, located at Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street, the future site of Offermann Stadium. But, in an effort to escape the city’s blue laws, which prohibited playing baseball on Sundays, the team played Sunday games a bit further out of town, at City Baseball Park, located at Genesee Street by the Belt Line tracks and Barthel Street.[1] As Joe Overfield wrote in The 100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball, "Sunday ball was illegal in those days, but the law was not always enforced, except at Olympic Park, which was built near a church."[2]

A chaotic game at City Baseball Park in late July 1893 helped trigger the events that led to the Herd playing on Grand Island. The day began with a seven inning City League game that lasted about two hours, followed by the Bisons being drubbed by the Albany Senators by a score of 30-20. The game featured 43 singles, 17 doubles, three home runs, and an astounding 26 walks, 13 by each team’s pitcher. As the Bisons game wore on, the estimated 2,500 fans in attendance began to grow unruly. The Buffalo Express reported:

Late in the afternoon, when the spectators began to tire of the game, they crowded in on the field, around the players’ benches and on the roof of the grand-stand. Several ineffectual attempts were made to keep the lines clear, but in a second or two matters were worse than before. A policeman and two or three specials could not manage the mob, and soon Buffalo’s bench was obscured from view and half of the left field was filled. A halt was made and another attempt was made to clear the ground.[3]

The newspapers don't pinpoint a particular event, like a bad call, that triggered the fans' actions, but rather suggest the crowd was just exhausted and irritable from a long hot day. When a skirmish broke out near the Bisons bench, “It was 10 minutes before a mounted policeman could scatter the mob again, and even then they encroached on the players’ territory up to the time the last inning was played, when a grand rush was made through the gates for the cars by the dead tired spectators.”[4]

After the commotion at City Baseball Park, Bisons team president Jim Franklin and manager John Chapman pledged to never play another game there. They decided to try their luck by playing their next Sunday game at Olympic Park. The Buffalo Courier wrote: “There seems to be no desirable place in the city to hold Sunday ball games except at Olympic Park and as the games are not called until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, there should be no serious objection raised against them there. At that time of day there are no church services to disturb, and as there is no liquor sold on the grounds. The amusement is as harmless as other Sunday entertainments.”[5] Unfortunately for the Bisons, Olympic Park’s neighbors did not agree.

The Herd played their first Sunday game ever at Olympic Park on July 30, 1893, in front of an estimated 4,000 fans. The Buffalo Courier reported that, unlike at City Baseball Park, “Yesterday’s large crowd was very orderly, and nothing occurred to mar the pleasure of the afternoon.”[6] Even though the game went off without incident, many in Buffalo’s Cold Springs neighborhood were not happy that a game had been played in their community on a Sunday. By Sunday evening, they’d gathered over 100 signatures to take to the mayor’s office the next morning requesting his help in stopping future games. The mayor referred the matter to the police commissioner, who checked the City Charter and ordinances, and determined that “Sunday ball games were prohibited, and that no future games at Olympic Park shall be allowed.”[7] Bisons president Jim Franklin responded “I shant play any more Sunday games out there, if there is so much objection, although I can’t see why the people should object to an orderly crowd like that of Sunday, while they are permitting beer drinking and all kinds of carousing elsewhere.”[8]

Now the team had a problem- where to play their Sunday games. The answer seemed to be to move outside the city altogether. On August 3, it was announced that the Bisons next Sunday game, just three days later against the Binghamton Bingoes, would be played at Eldorado on Grand Island. Eldorado was a summer resort located on the eastern shore of Grand Island in an area known as Sour Spring Grove. The field at Eldorado was reported as being in excellent condition and seating at the grounds was expanded to accommodate a crowd of about 1,500.

Advertisement for Eldorado Resort. Buffalo Enquirer, August 3, 1893.

In order to get fans to Eldorado, the Bisons had to come up with a plan to get fans across the Niagara River. Since there were no bridges to the island, the team announced that boats would leave from the Main and Ferry Street wharfs at regular half hour intervals from 1:30 onward, with the game scheduled to begin at 4:00.

The Bisons had an exciting team in 1893, led by a player who once starred as a major leaguer in Buffalo, Jack Rowe. Rowe played with the Herd from 1880 to 1885, when the team was in the National League. He later played for, and was a part owner of, the 1890 Players’ League Bisons. At 36-years-old, Rowe was now playing for the Eastern League iteration of the Herd. Future Baseball Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins was also on the team. Collins, just 23-years-old, was in his first season of professional baseball. However, his role on the team had evolved into a utility role, and he didn’t play in the Grand Island game. The following season, his career would take off, as he hit .352 with Buffalo, before going on to star in the major leagues and revolutionize how third base was played. Other hitting stars for the 1893 Bisons included Eddie Daley, Sandy Griffin, Chicken Wolf, and Jake Drauby. The Herd entered the Grand Island game in third place, with a respectable 41-37 record, but 7½ games behind league leading Troy. Binghamton was in fifth place with a record of 34-35.

Bisons star Jack Rowe when he played with the Detroit Wolverines.

Even though the team expected to fill Eldorado with fans, the park was partly empty, largely due to frigid conditions. Newspapers estimated the crowd as somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200. The Buffalo Courier wrote: “With the thermometer only a few degrees above the freezing point and the wind blowing a miniature gale, about 1,200 lovers of the good old national game tucked their hands in their pockets, turned their coat-collars well up around their ears, sat upon the slivery benches at Eldorado, Grand Island, yesterday, striving hard to gain some enjoyment from the game between the Bisons and the Bingoes.”[9] The Buffalo Evening News added “the weather was cold enough for a November day.”[10]

An oddity of playing at the small Eldorado ballpark that added to the uniqueness of the situation, was that the field of play was so small, it was agreed that balls hit over the outfield fence would count as doubles rather than home runs. The Bisons took full advantage of the small playing field and “sent the ball over the fence time and time again.”[11]

The Bisons jumped all over Bingoes starter Jesse Duryea in their half of the first. They scored six runs, with the big hits being Jake Drauby's two-run single and Bill Urquhart’s drive over the fence that brought home a run, but only counted as a double. The Herd tacked on three more runs in the second to take a commanding 9-0 lead, and the rout was on. In the third inning, a double by Daley, single by Rowe, and triple by Griffin, brought home two more runs, and the Bisons were up 11-0.

Binghamton didn’t get a hit off Bisons starter George Meakim until the fourth inning, when they also managed to get on the scoreboard. The Buffalo Courier reported: “Meakim had good speed and kept the hits well scattered, except in the fourth inning… though only one of the runs obtained by the visitors was earned, errors by Monte Cross and Drauby contributing to the others.”[12] At the end of four, Buffalo’s lead had been cut to 11-4.

Both pitchers got locked in after that. The Bisons had only one more hit in the game, but it led to another run in the seventh. Buffalo finished with 14 hits, including five doubles and a triple, en route to a 12-4 victory.

Box Score from game at Eldorado. Buffalo Express, August 3, 1893.

Whether it was the limited seating, the smaller ballpark dimensions, or the difficult logistics in getting fans to Eldorado, the Herd decided to rescind their vow never to play at City Baseball Park again, and returned to the East-side grounds for their next Sunday game. This time, the Buffalo Courier reported that “Five special policemen will be on hand to see that order is maintained, and ropes and railing will prevent spectators from crowding the diamond.”[13] The Buffalo Express noted that “sufficient police arrangements have been secured to maintain good order being maintained, and the field will be protected by a double fence.”[14] The improvements that were made must have been sufficient to keep the estimated 2,000 spectators under control, as the game was played without incident. The Herd would continue to play their Sunday games at City Baseball Park through 1899 and never returned to Grand Island for another game.

[1] City Baseball Park was also known as Franklin Park, or the East-side grounds.

[2] Joe Overfield,The 100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball (Kenmore, NY: Partners' Press, 1985), 33.

[3] “Breaks the Record,” Buffalo Express, July 24, 1893.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Around the Bases,” Buffalo Courier, July 26, 1893.

[6] “Between the Innings,” Buffalo Courier, July 31, 1893.

[7] “No More Sunday Games,” Buffalo Express, August 1, 1893.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Superior Playing,” Buffalo Courier, August 7, 1893.

[10] “Bingos Upset,” Buffalo Evening News, August 7, 1893.

[11] “Sporting News and Gossip,” Buffalo Enquirer, August 7, 1893.

[12] “Superior Playing,” Buffalo Courier, August 7, 1893.

[13] “Schellerman Will Pitch,” Buffalo Courier, August 27, 1893.

[14] “Finishing Strong,” Buffalo Morning Express, August 27, 1893.

[12] “Schellerman Will Pitch,” Buffalo Courier, August 27, 1893.

[13] “Finishing Strong,” Buffalo Morning Express, August 27, 1893.

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