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Will Negro League Games in Buffalo be Deemed "Major League"?

By: Brian Frank

It is time to reconsider when Buffalo’s last major-league game was prior to the Blue Jays making Sahlen Field their temporary home. Last season it was widely reported that the last major-league game in Buffalo before the Blue Jays played the Marlins on August 11, 2020, was played by the Buffalo Federals in 1915. But that may be changing with Major League Baseball’s long-overdue recognition of the Negro Leagues as being major league.

First, a little background: Buffalo was home to three different major-league franchises prior to the Blue Jays making the city their temporary home in 2020 and 2021. The National League Bisons played here from 1879 to 1885, followed by the Players’ League Bisons in 1890, and the Federal League Buf-Feds, who were later known as the Blues, from 1914 to 1915. The Buffalo Blues last game in Buffalo was played on September 8, 1915, against the Baltimore Terrapins at Federal League Park at Northland Avenue and Lonsdale Road.

However, last December Major League Baseball announced that it would correct “a longtime oversight in the game’s history” by recognizing players who played in the Negro Leagues between 1920 and 1948 as major-leaguers. The league also said statistics from certain Negro League games would be counted in the official record. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. Seven different leagues had major-league status bestowed on them: the Negro National League (I) (which played from 1920-31); the Eastern Colored League (1923-28); the American Negro League (1929); the East-West League (1932); the Negro National League (II) (1933-48); and the Negro American League (1937-48).

Buffalo has a long rich history of African American baseball in the city, from semi-pro teams like Grant “Home Run” Johnson’s Pittsburgh Colored Stars and Pete Hill’s Colored Stars and Colored Elks, to the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns making Buffalo their home base in the 1950s. The Clowns time in Buffalo is known to many fans, because they had an 18-year-old Henry Aaron playing shortstop for them in 1952, and later had three female players, Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, and Connie Morgan. However, since the Clowns weren’t based in Buffalo until 1951, four years after Jackie Robinson stepped on the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, those games came outside the period that MLB considers Negro League games as being major league.

Buffalo didn’t have a Negro League team during the period MLB will now recognize as being major league. However, the city played host to many Negro League games during that time. Legendary teams like the Kansas City Monarchs, Homestead Grays, and Pittsburgh Crawfords, would stop in Buffalo to play a game or two before moving on to another city. Over the years, all-time greats like Satchel Paige and Ray Brown took the mound in Buffalo and sluggers like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard each homered here.

Satchel Paige took the Offermann Stadium mound on numerous occasions.

I’ve been able to find over 30 Negro League games played in Buffalo between 1920 and 1948 between team's in leagues that MLB is currently reviewing. However, having the contests verified as being major-league is not a simple process. MLB is currently reviewing statistics from thousands of Negro League games in order to decide how to update the official record – but they have yet to clarify how they will determine if a game is to be deemed a major-league game. For example, will box scores for each game be required, or will it be enough if the game counted in the standings, but no box score can be tracked down? Answers to questions like these will help determine which games in Buffalo will meet the major-league criteria.

The Cleveland Buckeyes frequently played in Buffalo during the 1940s. They played nine games at Offermann Stadium in 1948 alone. The Buckeyes were a highly successful Negro American League franchise, who won league title in 1945 and 1947, and defeated the Homestead Grays in a four game sweep in the 1945 Negro League World Series. Their lineup featured Sam Jethroe, who would go on to be the first African American to play for the Boston Braves and won the National League Rookie of the Year in 1950.

The Negro American League's Cleveland Buckeyes played regularly in Buffalo.

The last game a Negro League team played in Buffalo during the period that MLB is now reviewing for major-league status was a doubleheader between the Cleveland Buckeyes and Chicago American Giants on September 8, 1948 - ironically 33 years to the day after the Federal League’s Blues played their last game in the city.

Unfortunately, there was little press coverage of most local Negro League games, and much of what happened at Offermann Stadium on September 8, 1948 has been lost to time. The Buffalo News and Courier-Express both had small articles about the doubleheader, reporting that the Giants won the opener 7-3 and the Buckeyes took the nightcap 8-1. However, neither paper had a box score or gave much of a recap of the games, nor did the African American newspapers the Chicago Defender or Cleveland's Call and Post.

Hopefully, the Buckeyes and Giants doubleheader, along with other Negro League Games from Buffalo’s past, will be verified as official major-league games when MLB completes its review. If so, Buffalo’s major-league history will expand to include many more great names, games, and moments – and they will all have taken place at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street, where so many memorable moments in Buffalo baseball history took place.

Keep checking The Herd Chronicles for future stories on memorable players, games, and moments from Buffalo’s Negro League history.


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