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The Phillies' History Playing in Buffalo

By: Brian Frank

As the Toronto Blue Jays prepare to take on the Philadelphia Phillies in a doubleheader at Sahlen Field this afternoon, it's worth noting the Phillies have played in the Queen City before. The Buffalo Bisons were a member of the National League from 1879 to 1885. Philadelphia’s N.L. franchise began in 1883, so for three seasons they played the Bisons regularly. The Phillies came to Buffalo for six different series, playing 23 games. The Bisons went 14-9 against the Phillies in games played in Buffalo.

Although sometimes referred to as the Quakers in their early days, most newspapers at the time simply called the team “the Philadelphias,” as it was common at the time to refer to a team in such a manner. The Bisons, for example, were often called “the Buffalos” in their early days. Eventually, the Philadelphias was shortened down to the Philllies, and that became the official team name. The Phillies official website claims “the Phillies are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports,” dating back to their debut season in 1883.[1] Therefore, throughout this article, the team will be referred to as the Phillies for consistency.

In 1883, the National League was entering its eighth season, and baseball rules and equipment were still evolving to become what baseball fans are familiar with today. Among some of the more obvious differences from the modern game are that most players in 1883 still played the game without gloves, batters were allowed to call for a low or high pitch, and eight balls were needed for a base on balls.

May 1883

Philadelphia did not have a successful first season. They went 17-81, for a .173 winning percentage, still the worst record in team history. The Phillies played seven games in Buffalo during their maiden season. The Bisons would finish the season 52-45 in fifth place in the eight-team league. Buffalo featured four future Hall of Famers in pitcher Pud Galvin, first baseman Dan Brouthers, third baseman Deacon White, and manager-outfielder Jim O’Rourke.

The Bisons played home games in 1883 at the Riverside Grounds at Rhode Island Street, Fargo Avenue, Vermont Street, and West Avenue. Philadelphia’s first game in Buffalo was on May 24, 1883. Approximately 600 fans were on hand to watch a game played on the wet, muddy grounds after days of rain soaked the field. The Bisons wore blue uniforms and the Phillies were outfitted in white with scarlet trimmings. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser said of the Phillies: “Compared with other league clubs it is weak, but this is not strange for when it was organized nearly all the strongest professionals were under contract in other cities.”[2] Former Bison outfielder, Blondie Purcell hit leadoff for Philadelphia and singled and scored in the first inning. Some sloppy play in the field by Buffalo helped the Phillies jump out to a 4-0 first-inning lead off Galvin. However, that was all the damage Philadelphia would do off Buffalo’s ace. After the first inning, Galvin allowed only three more hits in a complete-game effort, and Buffalo battled back to win 6-4. Brouthers and Hardy Richardson each collected three hits for Buffalo, with Richardson legging out a triple.

The next day Galvin hurled a three-hit shutout on a warm, sunny day, and Buffalo won 4-0. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser wrote: “The Buffalo’s played a model game – one that excited the keenest admiration in the spectators.”[3] Richardson also starred again for the Herd, going 4-for-5 with a double.

Box Score from Philadelphia's first game in Buffalo. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 25, 1883.

After a rainout and a day off, the third game of the series was again played on wet grounds. The Buffalo Courier reported: “The contest was not a brilliant one by any means, still some pretty catches and plays were made.”[4] With Galvin on the mound for Buffalo and John Coleman for Philadelphia, the game went to extra innings tied 2-2. The Phillies finally broke through in the 11th inning, when Jack Manning “made a corking three baser” and Fred Lewis singled him home.[5] It was the Phillies first-ever win in Buffalo and Galvin’s first loss of the season.

July 1883

The Phillies returned to Buffalo in July for a four-game series. In the first game, “the visitors played a wretched game, whereas the home nine played almost perfectly.”[6] Once again, the game featured Galvin in the pitcher’s box versus Coleman for the Phillies. The Bisons offense exploded for a 21-6 win. O’Rourke and Richardson both went 5-for-7 with a double and Brouthers went 4-for-7 with a triple and double, to lead the Herd.

The following day, both teams gave their regular pitchers the afternoon off. Buffalo turned to rookie southpaw Ed Cushman to make his first-ever start, while Philadelphia went with 20-year-old rookie Art Hagan. Hagan received rave reviews from the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser: “His delivery was remarkably swift and deceptive and he received good support. In one inning he struck out three men in succession.”[7] The Buffalo Courier wrote of the young hurler: “Philadelphia has evidently got a bonanza in Hagan, and if he continues to twirl the ball as he did yesterday there is quite a base ball future before him. At times he reminds one gently of Galvin, as he has that peculiar drop ball which is winning so many of the gentle James’ games.”[8] The Bisons scored their first run in the seventh inning, and then scored four more in the eighth. But it was too little too late, as the Phillies pulled out a 7-5 win. It was Hagan’s only win all season. He finished the year 1-16, with his final two losses coming while pitching for Buffalo.

Coleman and Galvin were both back to pitch in the third game of the series, and Buffalo got its revenge for the previous day’s loss, winning in a rout 25-5. The Bisons collected 27 hits off Coleman, who went the distance despite his poor performance. “In the last five innings the visitors were retired without scoring while the Buffalos piled up runs, their avalanche of hits running a very even race with the egregious and oft-repeated errors of the visitors,” the Buffalo Express reported. “True, Coleman was batted almost at will, but his support considered, it seems remarkable that he was not punished even worse.”[9] The Express continued: “The features of the game were home runs by Richardson in the fourth and O’Rourke in the fifth inning, the ball in both cases going into the extreme southeast corner of the grounds, and in each instance it was lost in the grass at the fence beyond Doyle’s power to find it until after the runner had crossed the plate.”[10] As can be expected in a 25-run performance, Buffalo had many hitting stars in the game: O’Rourke went 5-for-7 with a home run; Brouthers was 6-for-6 with two doubles; Richardson went 3-for-6 with a home run; and White went 4-for-6 with a double.

Galvin was Buffalo’s starter two-days later for the final game of the series, but this time he went against Hagan who'd stymied the Herd earlier in the series. The Buffalo Courier wrote: “The Philadelphias are the weakest nine in the league, and yet, strange as it may seem, they occasionally brace up and make things lively for their opponents… The Philadelphias did not fumble and muff as is their wont, but played a very good game.”[11] Buffalo’s Jack Rowe scored on a wild throw in the ninth inning to send the game to extra innings. Buffalo scored three runs in the tenth to win 7-4. The big hits in the final frame were doubles by O’Rourke and Brouthers and a single by White. Another interesting side-note was three balls had to be used in the contest. “The first was ripped and the second lost over the fence.”[12]

June 1884

In 1884, Buffalo moved its home games to Olympic Park at the corner of Richmond Avenue and Summer Street. The Bisons had another solid team going 64-47, finishing third in the N.L. Philadelphia was much improved under new manager and future Hall of Famer Harry Wright. Wright is well-known as the man who assembled, managed, and played for baseball’s first professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. However, despite doubling their win total, Philadelphia still finished a woeful 39-73, in sixth place.

Philadelphia manager Harry Wright. Wikimedia, Public Domain.

The Bisons won the first game between the two clubs at Olympic Park. Galvin made the start for Buffalo and Charlie Ferguson took the ball for Philadelphia. Galvin surrendered 10 hits and two walks, but only allowed two runs in a 9-2 Buffalo victory. “Yesterday’s game was another quiet, uninteresting one, the Buffalos downing the Philadelphias in the easiest fashion,” the Buffalo Courier wrote. “The home nine did some good, sharp fielding, and moved around as if they intended to win, while the work of the visitors was very loose at times and cost them numerous runs.”[13]

The Phillies rebounded to win the second game of the series. Galvin had the day off for Buffalo and rookie Billy Serad pitched for the Herd. John Coleman took the ball for the Phillies. Philadelphia led 8-3 after six innings and hung on to win 8-7. “Hard luck lost yesterday’s game for the Buffalos,” the Buffalo Times reported. “They played a great up-hill game, but just when a wee bit of hitting would have sent them to the front, it was wanting. Both nines had on batting clothes and some severe raking was done. Serad was hit harder than for some time past, and six of the visitors’ runs were earned.”[14]

Buffalo won the third game of the four game series 12-1, behind the pitching of Galvin. Brouthers also starred for the Bisons going 3-for-5 with a home run and double against Ferguson, while White went 3-for-5 with a home run.

The Bisons also took the series finale by a score of 10-7. Galvin pitched all nine innings for the Herd, while Coleman went the distance for the Phillies. The Buffalo Courier reported: “The Philadelphias dropped the last game of the series in this city yesterday afternoon, owing to their very poor fielding and their inexcusable errors. They batted Galvin a great deal harder than better clubs have done, knocking out a total of twelve hits, but were easily disposed of in the end.”[15] Brouthers and Rowe both went 3-for-5 to help the Bisons win the series three games to one. Phillies shortstop Bill McClellan went 3-for-5 with a double.

September 1884

The Phillies returned to the Queen City in September for a four-game series at Olympic Park. The Buffalo Courier described the less than ideal conditions at the grounds: “The contest yesterday with the Philadelphias was characterized by some hard batting on both sides, and while the errors were not numerous, the very hard condition of the grounds and the strong wind which prevailed prevented much brilliant work, as the two difficulties named made it almost an impossibility to judge a ball with any degree of accuracy.”[16] After building up a 6-0 lead under the tough playing conditions, Galvin and the Bisons were able to go on to win 7-4. The Buffalo Times described how Galvin seemed to play with the Philadelphia hitters: “They (the Phillies) also did the best hitting, but when men were on bases Galvin would come up smiling and extinguish the next batters.”[17] There were three home runs hit in the game, all of which were of the inside-the-park variety. Buffalo had two of them, from Brouthers and Jim Lillie, while Sid Farrar had one for the visitors.

In the second game of the series, both teams rested their number one pitchers. Buffalo went with Billy Serad and Philadelphia turned to Bill Vinton. Buffalo collected 22 hits in a big 22-7 win. O’Rourke went 4-for-6, Rowe went 4-for-6 with a triple, and Brouthers went 3-for-6 with a home run and triple.

Buffalo won the third game of the series, as Galvin scattered seven hits en route to a 6-2 win. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser wrote of Philadelphia hurler Con Murphy: “In erratic delivery he surpasses any League pitcher.”[18] The Buffalo Express was impressed with Murphy, who apparently had a colorful delivery: “Yesterday was too cold for base ball, yet the exhibition of it given by the Buffalos and Philadelphias was not a bad one. The latter presented Murphy in the box, and he was as full of antics as a kitten is full of tricks. The grand stand was kept abroad grin by his grotesque positions and high kicking business. Still that did not prevent him from pitching a fair game, nor did it detract any from his work. He apparently has the material in him for a first-class man. Galvin was very strong and the visitors could do but little with him while the support he received was better than that tendered to the graceful Murphy.”[19] Rowe had three hits, all singles, and Brouthers went 2-for-4 with a two-run triple for the Herd.

Two days later, in the final game of the series, Philadelphia gave the ball to Charlie Ferguson to try to avoid a four-game series sweep. Ferguson outdueled Galvin, who received no run support, in a 3-0 Phillies win. The Buffalo Courier wrote: “The Philadelphias had apparently braced for a final effort; they played a strong, steady game, tendered their pitcher excellent support, gave the Bisons an immaculate coat of whitewash and won in capital style.”[20]

July 1885

Philadelphia had its best season yet in 1885. Harry Wright was back at the helm, and led the Phillies to a 56-54 record. Buffalo, on the other hand, had a disastrous season. O’Rourke had moved on to play with the New York Giants. Galvin was injured in a collision with Chicago’s Cap Anson and didn’t pitch up to his usual standard. He was sold to Pittsburgh’s American Association team in July. Team president Josiah Jewett’s interest in running a baseball team seemed to wain as the team struggled on the field and attendance plummeted. In mid-September, Jewett sold the franchise to the N.L.’s Detroit Wolverines. Detroit really wanted Buffalo’s Big Four of Brouthers, White, Rowe, and Richardson, and ended up buying the whole team to get them. Buffalo ended up finishing the season with a few holdover players that Detroit didn’t want and whoever else they could muster together to fill out a lineup. They finished with a 38-74 record.

Bisons ace Pud Galvin. Public Domain.

Prior to the Buffalo franchise’s downfall, Philadelphia visited the city in July for a four game series. The Bisons won the first game 6-5. Galvin, just weeks away from being sold to Pittsburgh, earned the win. The Buffalo Times wrote: “The Buffalos had luck on their side yesterday, and though they didn’t play as good a game as the visitors, their errors did not seem to be as disastrous as usual.”[21] Brouthers led the Bisons’ offense, going 3-for-3.

The two teams played a doubleheader on Independence Day, with Philadelphia winning the morning game 10-5, and taking the afternoon affair 7-2. Serad faced Philadelphia’s Bill Vinton in the morning game, while Galvin and Ferguson dueled in the second. “The Buffalos were defeated because their opponents outplayed them at all points, but particularly because they batted with vigor and success,” the Buffalo Express wrote. “The attendance for both games was creditable for Buffalo, though the afternoon audience could have been doubled and still have left the boat races and other attractions with a full complement of onlookers.”[22] Ed Andrews went 3-for-4 with two doubles in the first game to lead the Phillies, while Sid Farrar went 3-for-5 in the afternoon contest.

The final game of the series would be the last time Galvin would face Philadelphia as a Bison. Philadelphia again turned to Ferguson. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser reported: “Galvin pitched as though he meant business and the rest of the nine fell in line and backed him in unprecedented style.”[23] The man known as “Gentle Geems” allowed eight hits and didn’t walk a batter, in a complete-game 9-3 victory. Brouthers also had a big day, going 4-for-5 with a home run.

"Big Dan" Brouthers. Public Domain.

September 1885

It was during Philadelphia’s final series in Buffalo that the sale of the Bisons franchise was made to Detroit. Put another way, it was during this series that National League baseball in Buffalo met its demise.

Buffalo won the first game of the series behind the pitching of Pete Conway. Despite the fact that they lost, the Buffalo Express was impressed with the Phillies: “Yesterday’s game at Olympic Park was well worth seeing, and lovers of baseball who pass the Philadelphia series as of no particular interest are very much in error. No team in the League plays ball with more vim than Harry Wright’s men, and if they are not always victorious they make their opponents work for all they get.”[24]

Before the second game of the series, word got out about the impending sale of the Bisons to Detroit. Needless to say, Buffalo lost 7-3. “The Philadelphias turned the tables on the home nine yesterday afternoon and won the game on its merits,” wrote the Buffalo Courier. “They outplayed the Buffalos at almost every point, and were successful in batting (Pete) Wood pretty freely. The latter managed to get almost an equal number of hits off Ferguson’s puzzling curves, but scattered them too much to render them effective.”[25] Brouthers went 4-for-5 with a double in his second-to-last game as a Bison.

The next day would be the final game with Buffalo for Brouthers, White, Rowe, and Richardson. Brouthers gave Buffalo baseball fans something to remember him by, homering in his first at bat. Daily hurled a solid game for the Phillies, allowing eight hits and two walks over nine innings, and Philadelphia won the game 7-3. Phillies left fielder Ed Andrews had a big day at the plate, going 4-for-4. As far as National League baseball in Buffalo was concerned, the Buffalo Express’s headline the next day said it all: “The Glory Has Departed, Players and Rights Sold for Cash”.

The Phillies final game in Buffalo was on September 19, 1885. Brouthers, White, Rowe, and Richardson were all on their way to Michigan, and the Bisons fielded a patchwork lineup. Buffalo managed only five hits off Ferguson. A two-run home run by Conway in the eighth inning was the only thing that kept the Herd from being shut out. The Phillies easily defeated Buffalo in their final game in the Queen City 12-2. “Less than 200 people were in attendance at the ball game yesterday afternoon,” wrote the Buffalo Times. “It was a rather sad gathering, and nothing occurred to make it cheerful.”[26] Without its “Big Four,” of Brouthers, White, Rowe, and Richardson, Buffalo lost its final 16 games of the season. On October 10, the final day of the season, Buffalo lost a doubleheader at Providence, and National League baseball in the Buffalo came to a sad end.

Box Score from the Phillies last game in Buffalo. Buffalo Express, September 21, 1885.


[2] “Sporting,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 25, 1883.

[3] “Base Ball,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, May 26, 1883.

[4] “Eleven Innings,” Buffalo Courier, May 29, 1883.

[5] “Eleven Innings,” Buffalo Courier, May 29, 1883.

[6] “Terrific Hitting,” Buffalo Courier, July 18, 1883.

[7] “The W.M. Penn Boys,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, July 19, 1883.

[8] “Hagan’s Night,” Buffalo Courier, July 19, 1883.

[9] “Leather Hunters,” Buffalo Express, July 20, 1883.

[10] “Leather Hunters,” Buffalo Express, July 20, 1883.

[11] “Ten Innings,” Buffalo Courier, July 23, 1883.

[12] “Sporting,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, July 23, 1883.

[13] “On the Diamond,” Buffalo Courier, June 27, 1884.

[14] “Lacking Good Luck,” Buffalo Times, June 28, 1884.

[15] “Ten to Seven,” Buffalo Courier, July 1, 884.

[16] “The Buffalos at Home,” Buffalo Courier, September 17, 1884.

[17] “A Great Picnic,” Buffalo Times, September 17, 1884.

[18] “The National Game,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, September 19, 1884.

[19] “Thrice Victorious,” Buffalo Courier, September 19, 1884.

[20] “The Weak Ones Win,” Buffalo Courier, September 21, 1884.

[21] “The Buffalos Win,” Buffalo Times, July 4, 1885.

[22] “Holiday Pastimes,” Buffalo Express, July 5, 1885.

[23] “Keep It Up,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, July 7, 1885.

[24] “Sports of the Autumn,” Buffalo Express, September 16, 1885.

[25] “Sold to Detroit,” Buffalo Courier, September 17, 1885.

[26] “Base Ball Matters,” Buffalo Times, September 21, 1885.

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