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Buffalo's Major League Stars

By: Brian Frank

Major-league baseball will return to Buffalo for the first time in 105 years when the Toronto Blue Jays take on the Miami Marlins at Sahlen Field on August 11. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will add their names to the group of players who have starred while playing home games in the Queen City. Buffalo has had its share of standout major leaguers during its storied baseball history, as three different big-league franchises have called the city home.

The Bisons were in the National League from 1879 to 1885. This was an era when players still played gloveless and the rules of the game were still developing, like how many balls were needed to draw a walk and whether a pitcher was permitted to throw overhand. James “Pud” Galvin, player-manager Jim O’Rourke, and the Big Four of Dan Brouthers, Deacon White, Hardy Richardson and Jack Rowe are just a few of the players who made their mark on Buffalo baseball history with the N.L. club. The Bisons enjoyed some success during this time, finishing third in the eight-team league four times. Unfortunately, the city’s involvement in the N.L. ended when owner Josiah Jewett sold the franchise and all its players to the Detroit Wolverines in 1885.

The 1882 National League Buffalo Bisons, Public Domain.

The Players’ League was a short-lived major league formed by the sport’s first players union, the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players. The Players’ League Bisons were not nearly as successful on the field as the National League ball club had been. They finished in last place with an abysmal 36-96 record, 46.5 games out of first. The most recognizable name on the team was catcher Connie Mack, who’d go on to become one of the game’s greatest managers.

The 1890 Players' League Buffalo Bisons, Public Domain.

The most recent major-league team to take the field for Buffalo played in the Federal League, a third major league that existed in 1914 and 1915. Buffalo’s team was known as the Buf-Feds in 1914 and adopted the name the Buffalo Blues in 1915. The team finished a respectable 80-71 in 1914 and 74-78 in 1915. First baseman Hal Chase, one of the biggest stars in the league, and emery ball pitcher Russ Ford were two of the standout players for the team. Like the Players’ League, the Federal League is still considered to have been a major league, with players’ statistics counting toward their career major-league totals.

Larry Schlafly, Buffalo's Federal League manager.

Here are some of the top players to take the field for one of Buffalo’s three major-league teams:

James “Pud” Galvin (National League Bisons, 1879-1885)

James Galvin earned his nickname “Pud” because his pitches made opposing batters look like pudding. The numbers Galvin put up were incredible in his day and unreachable by today’s standards. In 1883, he went 46-29 with a 2.72 ERA, threw a league-leading 72 complete games in 75 starts, and led the league with an astonishing 656.1 innings pitched. He followed that season up by going 46-22 in 1884, and lowering his ERA to 1.99 in 636.1 innings pitched. In one eye-popping six-day span in August 1884 at Detroit, Galvin started four games, tossed a no-hitter and a one-hitter, threw 39 innings, allowed only 12 hits, one unearned run, and had 32 strikeouts. He also led the N.L. in strikeouts four times and in shutouts twice while pitching with Buffalo.

Galvin was the first pitcher in major-league history to win 300 games, 218 of which came while pitching for the Herd, including two no-hitters. He finished his career with 365 major-league wins, which ranks sixth all-time behind Cy Young (511), Walter Johnson (417), Grover Cleveland Alexander (373), and Christy Mathewson (373). He is also second all-time in innings pitched, with 6,003.1 (second only to Young’s 7,356,) and second in complete games with 646 (second to Young’s 749.) Galvin was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965.

Pud Galvin, Public Domain

Dan Brouthers (National League Bisons, 1881-1885)

Dan Brouthers was one of the most feared sluggers of the nineteenth century. Legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw, who played with Brouthers in Baltimore in the mid-1890s, later said of him: “There is a general tendency to scoff at the record of old timers, but most of them were the real thing. Brouthers really was a great hitter, one of the most powerful batters of all time. Big Dan in his prime, against present-day pitching and the modern lively ball, would have hit as many home runs as anybody. I don’t think I ever saw a longer hitter.”[1]

The big first baseman won four National League batting titles, two while playing with Buffalo, and another while in the American Association in 1891. His best year with Buffalo was probably 1883, when he led the league with 159 hits, 17 triples, and 97 RBI, while winning the batting title with a .374 average. “Big Dan” hit .342 for his career and hit the fourth most home runs in the nineteenth century (106). He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1945.

Dan Brouthers, Public Domain.

James “Deacon” White (National League Bisons, 1881-1885, Players’ League Bisons, 1890)

A deeply religious man, the clean living James White was known as Deacon during a time when most ballplayers had reputations of being a bit rough around the edges. Henry Chadwick, famed sportswriter and statistician, wrote of White: “What we most admired about White was his quiet, effective way. Kicking is unknown to him. And there is one thing in which White stands preeminent, and that is the integrity of his character. Not even a whisper of suspicion has ever been heard about Jim White. Herein lies as much of his value to his team as his great skills.”[2]

White was one of baseball’s greatest catchers during its early professional period. He was the first batter ever in baseball’s first professional league, the National Association, which began in 1871. He was 28-years-old by the time the N.L. began in 1876. In 1881, when he was 33-years-old, he signed with Buffalo. By that point in his career, White wasn't catching as often, and after trying out a few different positions with the Herd, he settled in as the team’s primary third baseman. He hit .301 in five season in Buffalo, with his best year coming in 1884, when he hit .325. He returned to Buffalo in 1889 along with former N.L. teammate Jack Rowe, as part-owner of the International League Bisons. Although the pair helped manage Buffalo early in the season, baseball’s reserve clause kept them from taking the field for their new team, and they were forced to play for Pittsburgh’s N.L. team instead. The next season, White and Rowe helped form Buffalo’s Players’ League team and White hit .260 as a 42-year-old third baseman. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Deacon White, A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, NYPL.

Jim O’Rourke (National League Bisons, 1881-1884)

Jim O’Rourke spent four seasons in the National Association before joining the Boston Red Caps for the N.L.’s first season in 1876. Not only did O’Rourke play in the N.L’s first game, but he also recorded the league’s first ever hit. After starring with Boston for five seasons, O’Rourke made his way to Buffalo in 1881 to be a player-manager for the Herd. The Bisons had gone 24-58 the season before O’Rourke’s arrival and improved dramatically to 45-38 in his debut campaign. Buffalo finished in third place in the eight-team N.L. in three of O’Rourke’s four seasons at the helm. O’Rourke also led by example, hitting .328 in 1883, before leading the league in hits with 162 and winning the batting crown with a .347 average in 1884. The Iron Man of his day, he played in his 319th consecutive game on July 3, 1883, setting what was an N.L. record at the time.

The highly educated O’Rourke was known as “Orator Jim” due to his loquaciousness and high vocabulary. After leaving Buffalo, he earned a law degree from Yale Law School in 1887. He finished his career with a .313 career batting average and collected 2,678 hits, second only to Chicago’s Cap Anson at the time. O’Rourke was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

Jim O'Rourke, Public Domain.

Hardy Richardson (National League Bisons, 1879-1885)

Hardy Richardson played with Buffalo during all six seasons they were in the N.L. He hit .299 during his rookie season, and ranked fifth in the league with 10 triples. Richardson played every position during his time with Buffalo, even pitching for four innings in 1885. He had 45 assists playing in the outfield in 1881, third most all-time. In his final season in Buffalo he ranked fourth in the league in hitting with a .319 batting average. He went on to lead the N.L. in home runs with Detroit in 1886, and led the Players’ League in home runs (16) and RBI (152) with Boston in 1890. He retired in 1892 with a .299 career batting average in 1,331 major-league games.

Hardy Richardson, The Library of Congress.

Jack Rowe (National League Bisons, 1879-1885)

A member of Buffalo’s Big Four, along with Brouthers, White and Richardson, Jack Rowe was the team’s primary catcher for the majority of its time in the N.L., while also spending time in the outfield, third base, and shortstop. Rowe hit .289 in 504 games with the N.L. Bisons. He then played three seasons with Detroit and one with Pittsburgh. As mentioned above, Rowe and former teammate Deacon White became part owners of Buffalo’s International League team in 1889, but were forced to play for Pittsburgh due to baseball’s reserve clause. Rowe and White then became part owners of the Players’ League Bisons. Rowe played shortstop for the Players’ League team and managed the club for most of the season. His final two years as a player were spent with the Eastern League Bisons, where he hit .349 and scored 113 runs in 110 games during his final summer as an active player. He then managed Buffalo’s Eastern League team from 1896 to 1898. Rowe would continue to make his home in the Queen City and owned a popular cigar store in downtown Buffalo.

Jack Rowe, The Old Cardboard website, Public Domain.

Davy Force (National League Bisons, 1879-1885)

Davy Force was a slick-fielding shortstop who played for Buffalo in 1878 when they were still a minor-league team. He kept playing for Buffalo throughout their N.L. days. He wasn’t much of a hitter, batting only .207 in his seven seasons with the N.L. club, but it was in the field where the 5’4” Force stood out. In one memorable 12-inning game at Worcester in 1881, the diminutive shortstop had 12 putouts, seven assists, made two unassisted double plays, and was involved in a triple play, while committing only one error. This feat is even more impressive considering it came at a time before players began wearing gloves in the field.

Davy Force, Public Domain.

Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn (National League Bisons, 1880)

Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn is well known for setting the record for pitching wins in a season with the 1884 Providence Grays. Depending on how wins are calculated, Radbourn won either 60 or 59 games that season. Baseball-Reference currently credits him with 60. But what many don’t know is the legendary hurler actually began his career with the N.L. Bisons. In 1880, the native of Rochester, NY, signed with Buffalo to be the team’s second pitcher to Galvin. However, Radbourn injured his arm before the season began. He got into six games with the Herd, three as a second baseman and three as a right fielder, collecting three hits in 21 at-bats (.143). Buffalo released him due to the fact that his sore arm made him unable to pitch. The next season he signed with Providence, and went on to win 310 games, including his historic 1884 season. Radbourn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

Old Hoss Radbourn, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Hugh Daily (National League Bisons, 1882)

When Hugh Daily debuted for the Bisons as a 35-year-old rookie on Opening Day of the 1882 season, he became the first pitcher missing a hand to play in the major leagues. He’d lost his left hand in a gun accident when he was 13-years-old. To play baseball, he had a special pad made for his left arm, which he used to trap the ball between the pad and his right hand. He started 29 games for the 1882 Bisons, and went 15-14 with a 2.99 ERA in 255.2 innings. Daily was known for having a volatile temper, often arguing with umpires, opposing players, and teammates. His time in Buffalo lasted only one season. In 1883, he was on the N.L.’s Cleveland Blues, where he went 23-19 with a 2.42 ERA and threw a no-hitter. He spent the next season in the short-lived Union Association, and struck out a league leading 483 batters in 500.2 innings pitched.

Hugh Daily, Public Domain.

Curry Foley (National League Bisons, 1881-1883)

Currey Foley put up solid numbers in three seasons with Bisons. He hit .278 with 80 RBI and 132 runs scored in 190 games for the Herd. But it’s one particular game that puts the native of Milltown, Ireland in baseball's record book. On May 25, 1882, in a game against the Cleveland Blues at Buffalo’s Riverside Park at West and Fargo Avenues, Foley hit a grand slam in the first inning, a bases-loaded triple in the second inning, singled in the third, and doubled in the fifth, to complete the first cycle in major-league history.

Curry Foley, Public Domain.

Connie Mack (Players’ League Bisons, 1890)

In 1890, 27-year-old catcher Connie Mack, who’d been playing in the N.L. with the Washington Nationals, invested his life savings of $500 in Buffalo’s new Players’ League team. He hit .266 with 12 triples, 53 RBI, 95 runs scored, and stole 16 bases in his season playing with Buffalo. Obviously well respected by his teammates, Mack was appointed Buffalo’s team captain with 19 games left in the season, a position akin to a modern day manager. Although not officially credited with managing the team, Mack’s biographer Norman L. Macht wrote: “The record books credit Jack Rowe with piloting the Bisons in their last 19 games, in which they were 5-14. But as the field captain, Connie Mack directed the team on the field and made decisions during the game. This was Mack’s major league managing debut.”[3]

After the Player’s League went under, Mack returned to the N.L. and played six more seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, including spending time as a player-manager. It would be as a managerof the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1950 when Mack made his mark in baseball history. He managed 7,755 career games, winning 3,731 of them, both of which are records that will likely never be broken. He also managed the A’s to nine American League pennants and five World Series Championships. Mack was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, while he was still managing the A’s.

Catcher Connie Mack with the 1890 Players' League Bisons, Public Domain.

William Hoy (Players’ League Bisons, 1890)

William Hoy is one of the most underrated players of the nineteenth century. He was one of the best center fielders and leadoff hitters of his time. Hoy hit .298 with a .386 OBP and collected 2,048 hits in his 14-year big-league career. Hoy was deaf and mute from a bout of meningitis he suffered at the age three, and is the most accomplished deaf player in major-league history. He was referred to as Dummy Hoy during his playing days, a name he was known to ask others to call him, but also a nickname that is clearly offensive by today’s standards.

Hoy patrolled center field for the 1890 Players’ League Bisons and put together a solid season at the plate. He hit .298 with a .418 OBP, scored 107 runs, and stole 39 bases. He went on to play 11 more major-league seasons. His penchant for getting on base is illustrated by the fact that at the age of 39, while playing for the Chicago White Sox, he led the A.L. in walks and hit by pitches. Remarkably, when he was 99 years-old he threw out the first pitch at Game 3 of the 1961 World Series, symbolically bridging the gap from nineteenth century baseball to the modern game.

William Hoy, Public Domain.

Sam Wise (Players’ League Bisons, 1890)

Sam Wise was a 32-year-old veteran middle infielder when he joined the 1890 Players’ League Bisons. He played second base for Buffalo, hit .293, scored 95 runs, and collected 102 RBI. After his major-league career was over, he played six more minor-league seasons, four of which were spent playing second base for the Eastern League Bisons, where he hit .315, .352, .311, and .290.

After Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia A’s to a 1929 World Series championship, he responded to a letter from Wise’s widow, writing, “What a great player Sam was. He could field and throw. I have never forgotten him as so many things came up while we were together at Buffalo that have always kept him in my mind.”[4]

Sam Wise, Public Domain.

Ed Beecher (Players’ League Bisons, 1890)

Ed Beecher played in four different major-league seasons in three different leagues. His best season by far was in 1890, playing outfield with the Players’ League Bisons. Beecher hit .297 with 69 runs scored and 90 RBI in 126 games for Buffalo.

Ed Beecher, Public Domain.

Hal Chase (Federal League Buf-Feds/Blues, 1914-1915)

Called the greatest fielding first baseman ever by none other than Babe Ruth, Hal Chase was also renowned as a hitter. Chase was a star with the New York Highlanders, who later changed their name to the Yankees, and then played a season and a half with the White Sox, before breaking his contract with Chicago and signing with the Buffalo Buf-Feds midseason in 1914. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey filed an injunction to prevent Chase from taking the field for Buffalo, which Chase challenged and won.

“Prince Hal” hit .347 with 19 doubles, 3 home runs, and 48 RBI in just 75 games with Buffalo in 1914. He followed that up in 1915 by hitting .291, leading the league in home runs with 17, hitting 31 doubles, 10 triples, driving in 89 runs, and stealing 23 bases for the 1915 Blues. After the Federal League folded, Chase signed with the Cincinnati Reds, where he won the N.L. batting crown, hitting .339, and led the league in hits with 184. However, his career was marred by the fact he was accused of “laying down” in games, including by his own managers. Eventually, allegations of betting on baseball and fixing games helped end his career and likely kept him from a place in Cooperstown.

Hal Chase, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Russ Ford (Federal League Buf-Feds/Blues, 1914-1915)

Russ Ford noticed that he could put incredible break on a scuffed baseball while pitching for the minor-league Atlanta Crackers. This led to his invention of the emery ball. Ford hid his new pitch’s identity for years by hiding a piece of emery board in his glove and claiming he was throwing a spitball, which was legal at the time. He used the emery ball to have two incredible seasons with the New York Highlanders (Yankees). Ford went 26-6 with a 1.65 ERA and struck out 209 batters in 299.2 innings pitched for the 1910 Highlanders. The next season, he went 22-11 with a 2.27 ERA. He followed that up with two subpar seasons, before jumping to the Federal League to pitch with Buffalo.

Ford was one of the Federal League’s leading pitchers in 1914. He went 21-6, was second in the league with a 1.82 ERA, and led the league with a .778 winning percentage. However, the emery ball was discovered and banned by the Federal League heading into the 1915 season. This caused Ford to struggle and ultimately led to the end of his career. Dogged by a sore arm throughout the 1915 season and unable to use his bread and butter pitch, he went just 5-9 and his ERA skyrocketed to 4.52. He spent a couple more seasons in the minor leagues, but never pitched in the big leagues again.

Russ Ford, Library of Congress.

William “Baldy” Louden (Federal League Buf-Feds/Blues, 1914-1915)

Infielder Baldy Louden played briefly with the New York Highlanders, and then played two full seasons with the Detroit Tigers, before signing with Buffalo to play in the Federal League. Playing second base, third base, and shortstop for the Buf-Feds, he had the best season of his career in 1914, when he hit .313 with 6 home runs, 63 RBI, and had 35 stolen bases. In 1915, he hit .281 with 30 stolen bases. He played a season with the Cincinnati Reds after the Federal League folded, but his biggest contribution to baseball came after he retired as a player. While managing the Martinsburg Mountaineers in the Blue Ridge League in 1920, he discovered and signed a young left-handed pitcher from Lonaconing, Maryland, named Robert “Lefty” Grove. Grove would go on to win nine A.L. ERA titles, lead the league in strikeouts seven times, win 300 games, and is remembered as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

Baldy Louden, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Charlie Hanford (Federal League Buf-Feds, 1914)

Charlie Hanford played eight seasons in the minor leagues, including with the 1913 International League Bisons, before finally getting his shot in one of the major leagues. In 1914, he played center field for the Buf-Feds and hit .291 with 12 home runs, 90 RBI, and had 37 stolen bases. The next season, he moved on to play for the Federal League’s Chicago Whales, where his batting average dipped to .240. He spent three more seasons in the minors before his playing career ended.

Charlie Hanford, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Gene Krapp (Federal League Buf-Feds/Blues, 1914-1915)

Gene Krapp, a native of Rochester, New York, pitched in two major-league seasons with the Cleveland Naps before he joined Buffalo. In 1911, the 5’7” right-hander led the American League in walks with 138, but still managed to go 13-9 for the Naps with a 3.41 ERA. His best major-league season came with the Buf-Feds in 1914, when he went 16-14 with a 2.49 ERA in 252.2 innings pitched. In 1915, he had a 3.51 ERA, but only went 9-19 for the Blues. He pitched one more season in the minors before his playing career was over. Krapp was known to dabble with an emery ball, so perhaps the pitch being outlawed was a reason for his decline.

Gene Krapp, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Al Schulz (Federal League Buf-Feds/Blues, 1914-1915)

Al Schulz joined the Buf-Feds in June of 1914 after breaking his contract with the New York Yankees. Shulz had pitched in 42 games and made 27 starts for New York after joining the team in 1912. The lanky southpaw had a decent year for Buffalo in 1914, going 9-12 with a 3.37 ERA. He dominated a game in September against Chicago, hurling six shutout innings, allowing only one-hit, and hitting his only major-league home run, before being pulled from the game due to Buffalo’s large lead. In 1915, he had a career year for the Blues, going 21-14 with a 3.08 ERA in 309.2 innings pitched. His best game that season came in August against Pittsburgh. Schulz was throwing a no-hitter until allowing a bloop single to the first batter of the ninth inning. He settled for a one-hit shutout. Schulz pitched one more major-league season with the Cincinnati Reds after he left Buffalo.

Al Schulz, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Fred Anderson (Federal League Buf-Feds/Blues, 1914-1915)

Spitballer Fred Anderson may have been Buffalo’s most consistent pitcher when they played in the Federal League. He went 13-15 with a 3.08 ERA in 260.1 innings pitched in 1914, and then went 19-13 with a 2.51 ERA in 240 innings pitched in 1915. He pitched for the New York Giants after he left Buffalo and led the N.L. with a 1.44 ERA in 162 innings in 1917. He also pitched in the 1917 World Series with the Giants against the Chicago White Sox, taking the loss in Game 2. After retiring from baseball, Anderson became a dentist.

Fred Anderson, Public Domain.

[1] Roy Kerr, Big Dan Brouthers, (McFarland & Company, Inc.: Jefferson, North Carolina and London), 178.

[2] Joseph M. Overfield, “James Laurie White (Deacon),” in Robert L. Tiemann and Mark Rucker, “Nineteenth Century Stars,” (The Society for American Baseball Research: Phoenix, Arizona), 280.

[3] Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack: And the Early Years of Baseball, (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 79.

[4] Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack: The Turbulent & Triumphant Years 1915-1931, (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 559.

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