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Baseball in Buffalo: What Could Have Been



By Mike Silva ~ May 31st, 2011. Filed under: Mets Minors, Mike Silva.

When you think of New York baseball the Mets and Yankees obviously first come to mind. Perhaps the Cyclones are next, or maybe the Staten Island Yankees. Of course, old timers will remember the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. There are probably a contingency of fans that bring up the Long Island Ducks as well. What you rarely hear is the city of Buffalo.

Whether it’s the NFL Bills, NHL Sabres or the Bisons, the Mets Triple-A affiliate, Buffalo seems to be forgotten. What many don’t realize is the city was targeted by Branch Rickey when he was attempting to create a third Major League in 1960 – The Continental League – and also nearly became an expansion city in the early nineties. To date, Buffalo is the only city of the eight prospective members of Rickey’s Continental League that has not been given a big league club. It probably will never happen now due to the declining population, outdated stadium, and poor Upstate New York economy.

I didn’t even realize how far back baseball goes in Buffalo.  The original Buffalo Bisons were a member of the National League from 1878 to 1885, and the Buffalo Buffeds played in the Federal League from 1913-1915. Buffalo nearly became a member of the American League in 1900, but lost out at the last minute to Boston (Americans). For the next seventy years they were part of minor league baseball; playing in the International League until 1970 until they moved to Winnipeg. In 1979, Buffalo baseball was revived when the Bisons became members of the Double-A Eastern League as an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1984, they would move to Triple-A and become a member of the International League. During their 33 year history, the Bisons have been affiliated with the aforementioned Pirates twice, the Cleveland Indians twice, Chicago White Sox, and since 2009, the Mets.

If not for Bob Rich- owner of the Buffalo based Rich Frozen Food Company- saving the franchise in 1983, Buffalo might not even be on the map today. By 1988 they hosted the first Triple-A All Star Game, and that year drew a minor league record 1.1 million fans. When MLB was looking to expand in 1992 it appeared Buffalo was poised for a big league team as they were one of the finalists with Orlando, St. Petersburg, Denver, and Miami.

The committee selected Denver and Miami, and the dreams of a professional baseball team in Buffalo died. Looking back, it probably made more sense to give to give Buffalo a franchise over Miami. The 1.1 million fans drawn in 1988 to, then, Pilot Field is very comparable to what the Marlins have drawn each year since their ’97 World Championship. Even more impressive is they did it with a capacity that is less than 20,000.

Many baseball luminaries are a part of Buffalo history. Hector Lopez became the first African-American manager in minor league baseball in 1969. There are 18 members of the Hall of Fame that played for the Bisons, including Connie Mack, Joe McCarthy, Johnny Bench, and Jim Bunning.

It made sense when the Bisons affiliated with the Mets in 2009. Thus far, it’s turned into a disaster. The team was less than pleased with the dearth of talent they were provided that year. They have dealt with the dysfunctional Omar Minaya regime, lack of young talent, and now the Wilpon ownership fiasco. With their affiliation expiring next season, rumors are flying that Toronto might be a more viable partner. Right now, the Blue Jays are affiliated with the Las Vegas 51s.

Where would that leave the Mets? Not in a great place. The next closest city is Syracuse. The Nationals affiliation also expires in 2012, but why would the Chiefs leave? They have benefitted from the Nationals youth movement, and most likely will see Bryce Harper fill up some seats – albeit briefly- in the near future. Lehigh Valley? They are fine with the Phillies.  The Mets could be forced to relocate to Las Vegas. Not a bad city, but certainly not convenient when calling up players on short notice. This was a similar issue when they are affiliated with New Orleans in 2007 and 2008.

Hopefully, something can be worked out as I believe there is a good synergy with the Mets having Buffalo as an affiliate. Under Sandy Alderson and new minority owner, soon to be majority owner, David Einhorn, things should start to change for the better. Whether it’s too late to save the Buffalo/Mets relationship still remains to be seen.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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2 Responses to Baseball in Buffalo: What Could Have Been

  1. George

    I have a crazy idea: how about making the Newark Bears the Mets AAA team? The Yankees have their AAA team in Scranton and the Phillies in Allentown. Newark is much closer to Flushing than Buffalo and would certainly bring lots of fans to the mostly-empty stadium. But I don’t know what would happen to the Bisons in Buffalo.

  2. Mike Silva

    George

    I think that isn’t a bad idea, but I will go one step further: The Long Island Ducks. Of course, this would never happen because of territorial rights. Frank Boulton Ducks owner and CEO of the Atlantic League, who appeared on my show in 2009 made a point to say the Wilpons never believed the Ducks or the Atlantic League would work. The original plan was to make the Ducks an affiliate of the Yankees. The Mets blocked it. The compromise was the Cyclones/SI Yankees. It hasn’t hurt the Ducks who draw over 5,000 fans a game out in Suffolk County. Newark has a rich baseball history, but safety is a concern over there and I am not sure they would draw any better even with an affiliate.

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