The long, rich history of baseball in Buffalo

A 46-game winner, baseball's first cycle and a memorable no-no

July 24th, 2020
Art by Tom Forget

It's official: Unable to play in Toronto after being denied approval from the Canadian federal government, the Blue Jays are moving their home games to Buffalo in 2020. Sahlen Field, home of the Jays' Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, will be their new ballpark.

Buffalo may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of baseball -- you probably get visions of early 1990s Buffalo Bills teams or, even better, Buffalo wings. But Buffalo has longer ties to pro baseball than nearly any other area in the country. The Buffalo Bisons were one of baseball's first MLB teams from 1879-85, the city has hosted Minor League teams by the same name from 12 franchises and some of the sport's biggest feats have been accomplished in the Queen City. So, as the Blue Jays descend upon their new home, let's take a look at some of the best highlights.

A 46-game winner

Actually, two straight seasons of 46 wins. Hall of Famer James "Pud" Galvin, a guy who looks more like your local pastry chef than big league pitcher, accomplished the feat for the National League's Buffalo Bisons in 1883 (46-29) and '84 (46-22).

The right-hander compiled a whopping 218 wins, 381 complete games and more than 3,000 innings pitched in just 6 1/2 seasons with the team. His nickname was "Pud" because he made batters look like pudding, although I'm sure his arm probably felt the same way by end of his career. He'd eventually become baseball's first 300-game winner.

The debut of a pitching god ... at second base?

If winning 46 games made your arm feel tired, what about 60? Old Hoss Radbourn put up the never-to-be-broken record back in 1884 for Providence. His entire stat line from that year is insane: 60-12, 1.38 ERA, 73 complete games, 678 2/3 innings, 441 strikeouts. Radbourn started and completed 40 of the Grays' last 43 games, including 20 in a row at one point. He pitched his team to a league championship, winning all three games by himself. His arm hurt so much he could barely lift it to comb his hair.

But Radbourn's Major League debut actually came with the Bisons in 1880. He played in six games for the team as a position player -- three at second and three in the outfield. He had three hits in 21 at-bats. Buffalo apparently released him after one season because he practiced too hard and hurt himself. Old Hoss, of course, lives on through his delightful Twitter account.

The first cycle

This line from the Buffalo Press the next day says it all: "[Buffalo] sent it all over and outside the pastures until the fielders’ legs were weary and their courage gone.”

But one player sent it all over better than the others: The Bisons' Curry Foley. He hit a grand slam in the first inning, a triple in the second, a single in the third and a double in the fifth -- completing the first cycle in big league history. Newspapers raved, "Nothing like it was ever seen before," and, well, they were right.

The discovery of Hank Aaron

The Negro League Indianapolis Clowns played at Buffalo's Offerman Stadium from 1951-'55, winning three league titles. They were kind of like baseball's version of the Harlem Globetrotters -- using exploding baseballs, running from first to third and trotting around the bases backwards. The team consisted of future Major Leaguers like Choo-Choo Coleman, actual Globetrotters like "Goose" Tatum and some of the first women in pro ball like Toni Stone, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson and Connie Morgan.

But back in 1952, some serious baseball action was at hand: A Milwaukee Braves scout was in town "looking for the next Jackie Robinson." Players pointed to a newly-signed teenager named Henry Aaron, the Braves gave him a contract and two years later he was launching homers in the big leagues.

A no-hitter for the ages

Galvin pitched two no-hitters during his tenure with Buffalo, but we've already had a paragraph on him. Sorry, Pud. This no-hitter came more than 100 years later with the Minor League Buffalo Bisons. This no-hitter took place with Richie Sexson manning first base and Enrique Wilson at second. This no-hitter came way by the golden arm of 24-year-old Bartolo Colon.

Colon walked the second batter of the game and then retired 25 straight, fanning eight on 112 pitches. He went on to win 247 games, strike out 2,535 batters and become one of the greatest sluggers the sport has ever known.

The birth of a phenom

The Bisons -- throughout their Major and Minor League affiliations for 140 years -- have seen their share of legends take the field. Galvin, Connie Mack, Big Dan Brouthers, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Thome, Johnny Bench and Manny Ramirez are just some of the names.

But there's one who treated his time with the Bisons like it was a home run derby every night. He's the son of a Hall of Famer, but might end up being even better than his dad ever was. He is Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Lucky for all of us, Guerrero is still on the Blue Jays and will be back in the place where he dominated for 39 games over parts of two seasons. He'll be pretty comfortable, which could make him even better. People who shouldn't be comfortable? The ones who risk parking their cars just beyond the left-field fence.