The Last Major-League Game in Buffalo

July 20, 2020

As fans wait to see if the Toronto Blue Jays will play their 2020 home games in Buffalo, it’s notable that there have been many major-league games played in the Queen City over the last 150-plus years. These games range from exhibition games to actual major-league games played when Buffalo had major-league franchises.

 

There have been numerous exhibition games played in Buffalo involving major-league clubs. The first such example could arguably be before a professional league was even formed. The famed Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first-ever professional baseball team, played Buffalo’s amateur team, the Niagaras, in June 1869. Some other prominent examples of major-league teams playing exhibition games in the city include: the minor-league Bisons playing major-league teams, often (but not always) their parent club; when the New York Yankees took on the International League All-Stars in 1963; and a pre-season game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians at War Memorial Stadium in 1987. But the last official major-league game in Buffalo that actually counted in the standings, was played on September 8, 1915, between the Federal League’s Buffalo Blues and Baltimore Terrapins.

 

Buffalo has been home to three different major-league teams. The Buffalo Bisons played in the National League from 1879 to 1885 and featured no less than five Baseball Hall of Famers: Pud Galvin, the first pitcher to win 300 games; Dan Brouthers, who won four N.L. batting titles, including two while he was with the Herd; player-manager Jim O’Rourke, who had the first base hit in N.L. history; Deacon White, who won the 1877 N.L. batting title and played 20 seasons of major-league baseball; and Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, who played a few games at second base and in the outfield for Buffalo, before going on to be a Hall of Fame pitcher for Providence, famously winning 60 games in 1884.[1]

 

Buffalo also had a team called the Bisons in the short-lived Players’ League, which was a third major league in 1890. Although they finished with an abysmal 36-96 record, the Players’ League Bisons also featured a future Hall of Famer in young catcher Connie Mack, who’d go on to become one of the game’s greatest managers.

 

The most recent major-league team to call Buffalo home played in the Federal League. The Federal League was a third major league that existed in 1914 and 1915. Like the 1890 Players’ League, Major League Baseball recognizes the Federal league as having been a major league and its statistics count in players’ all-time stats.

 

Buffalo’s Federal League team was known as the Buf-Feds in 1914, and was later known as the Buffalo Blues (or Buf-Feds) in 1915. They played their games at Federal Field on Northland Avenue at Lonsdale Road. Their best player was Hal Chase, who was a slick-fielding first baseman and one of the best players of his era. Chase led the Federal League with 17 home runs in 1915, and would go on to win the N.L. batting title in 1916 with the Cincinnati Reds. Later in his career, his reputation was tarnished when he was accused of betting on baseball and fixing games.

 

The Blues played their final home games as part of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Terrapins on September 8, 1915. After winning the first two games of the series, the Blues entered the final day of their home schedule with a 65-68 record, sitting in sixth place in the eight-team league. Baltimore was having a disastrous season. The Terrapins were 43-83 and in last place.

 

Approximately 5,000 fans were on hand to watch the two squads square off. The Buffalo Courier commented on the level of play the fans were about to witness: “Had an unknowing fan come into the park and seen the two games without being told who was playing, he might have suspected that two teams which were fighting for nothing short of a pennant and a chunk of World Series money were engaged in combat instead of a sixth placer against a hopelessly tail-end aggregation.”[2]

 

 Blues ace Al Schulz. Public Domain.

 

In the first game of the twin bill, the Blues sent their ace, Al Schulz to the mound. The lefty had been solid all season, and entered the game with a 19-12 record and a 3.22 ERA. He was opposed by right-hander Rankin Johnson, who had an unimpressive 8-12 record for the last-place Terrapins, with a 3.34 ERA.

 

Buffalo struck first in the fourth inning. Chase doubled to lead off the frame, and after being sacrificed to third, he scored on a ground out to short to put Buffalo on top 1-0. The Blues used three hits and a walk in the eighth inning to put another three runs on the scoreboard.

 

Shulz was masterful on the mound, scattering five hits and a walk over nine innings, while striking out six. Only two runners reached second base against him, and none got as far as third, as the lefty picked up his 20th win of the season, and the Blues took the first game by a score of 4-0.

 

 Box Score from first game. September 9, 1915, Buffalo Enquirer.

 

In the second game, the final major-league game played in Buffalo for at least 105 years, the Blues sent 25-year-old right-hander Roy “Cy” Marshall to the hill. Marshall hadn’t pitched in over a month, with his last appearance coming in a start at St. Louis on August 2, in which he allowed five earned runs on five hits and five walks in just five innings. Used primarily as a reliever earlier in the season, he had a lofty 4.36 ERA. Baltimore countered with 32-year-old right-hander Jack Quinn, who was an unimpressive 9-19 with a 3.56 ERA.

 

Baltimore jumped on Buffalo’s young hurler early, with the first three batters collecting two singles and a double. When the dust cleared on the top of the first, the Terrapins had a 2-0 lead.

 

Buffalo center fielder Clyde Engle reached base to lead off the second when Terrapins shortstop Jimmy Smith sailed a throw into the first-base grandstand, allowing Engle to reach second. Marshall helped his own cause when, with two outs, he singled home Engle to cut the Terrapins lead to 2-1. However, Baltimore got the run right back in the top of the third, when Marshall walked Harvey Russell with the bases loaded to force in a run.

 

Jack McCandless drilled an RBI triple in the fourth inning to put the Terrapins in front 4-1, and Blues player-manager Harry Lord considered pulling Marshall from the game in favor of reliever Hugh Bedient. However, for whatever reason, the Buffalo fans rallied around Marshall and “demanded that the youngster be allowed to finish the game.”[3] As the crowd chanted “Marshall,” Lord decided to keep his starter in the game. The decision paid off.

 

Marshall led off the fifth inning “with a single to right field, took second when Steve Evans fussed with the ball and came home on an out and a player’s choice (fielder’s choice) on Lord.”[4] Hal Chase “did what the fans usually expect him to do.”[5] The star first-sacker “drove the pill over the fence, sending home manager Lord ahead of him”[6] to bring Buffalo all the way back to tie the score 4-4.

 

 Hal Chase wearing his Buffalo Blues uniform. Public Domain.

 

In the top of the seventh inning, Buffalo second baseman Baldy Louden set a “cleverly contrived trap” for a baserunner, that may have saved the game for the Blues.[7] Terrapin center fielder Jack McCandless was at first base with one out, with Vern Duncan at the plate, when a hit-and-run play was called. The Buffalo Courier described what followed: “McCandless, when the signal was given, started to run with nary a glimpse at the ball and was on second base before he was fully aware of what had happened. He turned to see Bill Louden dancing around with his eyes on the clouds getting set to catch a high fly ball. ‘Get back,’ shouted somebody. Johnny was taken completely unaware. He started back for first base. In the meantime, (right fielder Solly) Hofman who had fielded Duncan’s hit, threw to (shortstop Roxey) Roach. Roxey touched second base and McCandless was forced out.”[8] The Courier was not kind in its assessment of McCandless base-running blunder, writing he had been elected “to the Eminent and Everlasting Order of Boneheads. Bill Louden nominated Johnny and the spectators nominated him unanimously with the biggest chuckle heard at the park this year.”[9]

 

Reliever Snipe Conley took over for Baltimore in the seventh. Clyde Engle, just as he’d done in the second inning, got things started for Buffalo in the bottom of the eighth with a single to right field. After Roach sacrificed him to second, Nick Allen hit a ball down the third-base line that allowed Engle to cross the plate, and Buffalo had its first lead of the game at 5-4.

 

After almost being removed in the fourth inning, Marshall settled in and finished the game with five shutout innings, allowing only two hits and three walks during that span, much to the delight of the home fans who’d lobbied for him to remain in the game. The Courier wrote: “Cy Marshall came forth from the obscurity of the bench and pitched himself into the ranks of heroes.”[10] Marshall’s midgame turn around helped Buffalo win game two 5-4 and sweep the doubleheader.

 

 Box Score for the last major-league game played in Buffalo. September 9, 1915, Buffalo Enquirer.

 

 

Besides the great pitching of Schulz and Marshall, Hal Chase also had a big day. Chase went 3-for-4 with a double and three runs scored in the first contest and 2-for-3 with a two-run home run and a walk in the second.

 

Buffalo went on a 17-game road trip to finish the season. The Blues would never again return to Buffalo, as the Federal League folded following the season, and thus ended the city’s third and final experience with a major-league baseball franchise.

 

The Buffalo Courier reflected on the final twin bill: “It was a happy throng of fans who reluctantly made their exit through the gates at Federal Field yesterday afternoon and saw the doors close behind them for the last time this season, and it was a happy club that bade its constituents farewell as it boarded a train last night to begin its last campaign of an eventful year.”[11] But, the paper added, “There was an undertone of regret in the goodbyes. It was all so good that it seemed too bad it had to end where it did.”[12]

 

 

 

 

[1] Radbourn signed to pitch with Buffalo in 1880, but injured his arm in the preseason and never took the mound for the Herd. He did play six games in the field for Buffalo, three games at second base and three in right field. As to his 1884 win total with Providence, Basebal-Reference now lists Radbourn as having 60 wins. For more on whether Radbourn won 59 or 60 games, see: https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-28-1884-old-hoss-radbourn-59-or-60-victories/

[2] Buf-Feds Wind Up Home Season with Double Victory, Buffalo Courier, September 9, 1915.

[3] Buf-Feds Finish with Two Wins, Buffalo Enquirer, September 9, 1915.

[4] Buf-Feds Wind Up Home Season with Double Victory, Buffalo Courier, September 9, 1915.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Buf-Feds Finish with Two Wins, Buffalo Enquirer, September 9, 1915.

[7] Buf-Feds Wind Up Home Season with Double Victory, Buffalo Courier, September 9, 1915.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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