The Last Game at Offermann Stadium
by Howard Henry
Saturday, September 17, 1960, 7:30pm.
The damp and chill had followed the two teams south from Toronto, already forcing one rain postponement. Skies looked uncertain and the ballpark looked tired and old, showing every one of its 37 baseball seasons—a very long time in baseball years. A crowd of 2020 tightly buttoned, overcoated fans sat nervously in the stands. Buffalo’s Baseball Bisons needed to win this evening to keep their playoff hopes alive. Worse, a loss here might also be the death knell of Offermann Stadium.
It was new and modern when it opened in 1924, concrete and steel, built to prevent grandstand fires. Babe Ruth and Baseball Commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, bitter opponents in the 1921 post-season, could nevertheless agree that the new baseball facility was a knockout. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, aunts and uncles, families and friends—and untold school children—would all concur. Now, after witnessing marvelous play and marvelous players for almost four decades, the ballpark was on the ropes itself.
For two years, the city of Buffalo and the Board of Education had coveted the site at Michigan and Ferry Streets where the stadium stood. Ground was needed for a new Junior High School No. 92. The city suggested that the team move to Civic Stadium, several blocks south and east, and share that facility with the new professional football team in town, the Buffalo Bills. Already, a baseball diamond had been constructed within the oval and interior walls revamped to provide sufficient outfield depth. The possibility of gaining a major league franchise in the anticipated new third major league, the Continental League, made it certain that Offermann Stadium could not serve as a baseball venue for the future.
Hamstrung by injuries, mid-season call-ups of pitchers, lax defense and untimely hitting, the 1960 Bisons had done well to prolong their season, knocking off the pennant winning Toronto Maple Leafs in the last game of the year and capturing a fourth-place Governors’ Cup Playoff position. Knowledgeable baseball men credited the managerial skills of Kerby Farrell for keeping the Bisons in it. Now, they were to face the Leafs again in the playoff’s first round.
In Toronto, the Bisons dropped the first two games. Outstanding pitching by the International League’s leading hurler, Ed Cicotte, downed the Bisons in the first game, 5-2. Lack of timely hitting in the 14-inning second contest—Buffalo stranded 19 men—left the Bisons on the short end of a 4-3 score. In game three, now in Buffalo, Bison ace Ken Lehman gave up only two runs; Buffalo could muster only one. Tonight’s game was do or die for the Buffalo men.
Neither starting pitcher lasted through the second inning. Buffalo opened the scoring with a run in the bottom of the first, third baseman Bobby Morgan collecting his first hit of the playoffs. He was forced home on a bases loaded walk to shortstop Bobby Wine, perhaps the Bisons’ brightest star (he was voted the International League Rookie of the Year). The Bisons scored no more and left the bases loaded.
Toronto struck for three runs in the top of the second, aided by a Buffalo error and a bloop single over a drawn-in infield by Leaf shortstop Billy Moran—a thorn in the Bisons’ side all series. Buffalo-born Babe Birrer, on in relief, gave up Moran’s hit but then scored the game tying run himself in the bottom of the inning. Buffalo second baseman Lou Vassie led off with a home run, the Bisons’ only one of the series. Birrer followed with a single and was tripled home by center fielder Don Landrum. The Bisons stranded Landrum on third. The Leafs called on Panamanian-born Patricio “Pat” Scantlebury to put out the fire.
Birrer pitched seven masterful innings. Scantlebury held Buffalo scoreless for the third time in the series, pitching 4 2/3 innings of one-hit ball. Two Bison errors led to an unearned Toronto run in the seventh. Birrer left for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth when the Bisons loaded the bases but again failed to score. Warren Hacker, now pitching for Buffalo in the ninth, surrendered a 321 foot home run to Billy Moran down the left field line. It was the Leafs’ first playoff homer and the last run they would need.
Landrum collected his third hit of the game, a bunt single, to lead off the bottom of the ninth. A fine defensive play at third base took a certain double away from the next batter. The final two Bisons went out without a murmur at the hands of Toronto reliever Russ Heman. The series was over.
The fans left quietly, followed shortly by the players. The lights went out. The ballpark stood empty. The memories hung on.
Deservedly, Scantlebury was credited with the final game win. Undeservedly, Birrer was tagged with the loss. Within days, Don Landrum was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for four players, three of whom would contribute to the Bisons the following year. The Continental League never materialized.
The 1961 Buffalo Bisons opened the home season at Civic—later to be named War Memorial—Stadium at the corner of Jefferson and Best Streets. A crowd of 20,619 watched the Bisons beat the Puerto Rico Marlins, 4-3. This year’s club won the post-season Governors’ Cup playoffs and swept the Louisville Colonels in the Little World Series, flying home on September 28, 1961 to a celebratory crowd of 2000, plus a 15 piece band. They had captured Buffalo’s first minor league championship since 1906.
Two weeks later, a small wrecking crew began demolishing Offermann Stadium. In a very short time the concrete and steel were dismantled. They never destroyed the memories.
Howard Henry is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org comments powered by Disqus
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