Offermann Stadium in Buffalo: Hitters Welcome; Pitchers Beware

This article was written by Joseph Overfield

This article was published in 1979 Baseball Research Journal

   In the highly successful SABR publication, Minor League Baseball Stars, mention is made of the relationship between ball parks and hitting records. Nicollet Park in Minneapolis and Sulphur Dell in Nashville were cited, along with the Sacramento park of more recent vintage.

   There are other parks that could have been mentioned. The one I know best and where many International League hitting records were set was Offermann Stadium (Nee Olympic Park and Bison Stadium) on Michigan Avenue at Ferry Street in Buffalo, N.Y., home of the Bisons from 1889 to 1960.

   Its birth pangs were hardly auspicious. First of all, it was constructed with second-hand lumber that was hauled from an earlier Olympic Park in another part of the city. Secondly, the contractor who did the hauling was not happy when his $800 bill was not paid. On opening day of 1889 he planted himself at the gate on Michigan Avenue and made it perfectly clear that he was not going to move until he was paid. Few doubted he meant business after seeing the shotgun cradled by his left arm. This novel method of enforcing payment proved highly effective and the disgruntled contractor was paid in full, permitting the Bisons to open their 1889 season on schedule

   Although the marriage of Buffalo baseball with the Michigan Avenue diamond was a shotgun affair, it developed into a long and fruitful union of 72 seasons. The old structure, rebuilt, patched up and added to many times over the years, was finally torn down between the 1923 and 1924 seasons and replaced with a steel and concrete stadium with 14,000 seats. Olympic Park flow became Bison Stadium, the name it was to retain until 1935 when it was renamed Offermann Stadium in memory of its long-time president, Frank J. Offermann.

    The Buffalo park was located in a densely populated part of the city’s near east side and had no parking facilities whatsoever. Immediately beyond the rightfield wall on Woodlawn Avenue was a row of two-family houses, whose upper porches provided an ideal vantage point for watching the games, provided you stayed alert with lefthanded pull-hitters at the plate.

The story is told of one Woodlawn Avenue resident whose attachment to baseball, which he had watched for free for many years, continued to the very end when a long home run off the bat of Buzz Arlett of the Baltimore Orioles crashed through the front window of his house and came to rest a few feet from the casket in which he was laid out.

    The left-field fence, 12 feet high at the beginning but increased to 32 feet in later years, was bounded by the back yards and garages of the houses that fronted on Masten Avenue to the east. Some of these residents erected bootleg bleachers on their garage roofs, attracting many fans who could not afford to pay their way into the park. In deep centerfield, 400 feet from home plate, the scene was dominated by a huge scoreboard that towered 40 feet above the fence and provided a challenging target for International League sluggers over the years. There would be only one to conquer it.

    Immediately behind the home plate portion of the stands was a church. If you were a Presbyterian, and so inclined, you could attend church on Sunday morning and watch the Bisons play in the afternoon, without even crossing the street. The church building, which is still there, bears the scars of many foul balls that bounced off its walls over the years.

    Offermann Stadium was always known as a hitters’ park. Its foul line dimensions (297 feet to right and 321 feet to left) were not nearly so absurd as those at Minneapolis, Nashville, Sacramento or Baltimore, but what made it a hitters’ paradise, particularly if you were righthanded, was the short distance to left center (346 feet) and the prevailing wind (or jet stream, as the ballplayers called it) which traditionally helped every ball hit in that direction.

    The individual and team batting feats that were performed in the Buffalo park were numerous. Ollie Carnegie, 12 years a Bison, holds the all-time International League records for home runs (258) and runs batted in (1044). While many of his big hits came on the road, it was in the home park with its friendly leftfield wall where he was most dangerous. The same thing applied to Billy Webb of the Bisons who hit two home runs in one inning against Newark in 1925, while George Fisher did the same thing against Jersey City in 1929. On August 4, 1957, shortstop Mike Baxes of the Bisons hit two home runs with the bases full against the Havana Sugar Kings-a feat accomplished only four times in the long history of the International League.

    But it was a Newark Bear, Bob Seeds, who chose the Buffalo park to put on what was probably the greatest two-day hitting performance in baseball history. On May 6 and 7, 1938, he hit seven home runs, four of them in successive innings, drove in 17 runs and rolled up an incredible 30 total bases. And then in the ninth inning of the May 7 game, with a chance to add even more to an unbelievable record, he was called out on a 3-2 pitch delivered by a rookie Bison pitcher named Don Ferris.

    Luke Easter, next to Ollie Carnegie as Buffalo’s most remembered ballplayer, did on July 14, 1957, what no other player, major, minor, semipro or Negro League, had been able to do. He hit a low, outside pitch delivered by Bob Kuzava of the Columbus Jets 550 feet over the scoreboard in center field. While this blow is legendary among Buffalo fans, it was not the longest or the hardest ball Luke hit as a Bison. That blow came during the same 1957 season when he caught a high, inside fast ball from Jerry Lane of the Havana Sugar Kings and pulled it directly to rightfield, across Woodlawn Avenue, over the houses and into the alley of a house on Emerson Place, the next street south.

    The Buffalo park was the scene of four noteworthy team batting performances, all by the Bisons. The first came on July 13, 1929, when the Bisons set an International League record by making 11 consecutive hits against the Baltimore Orioles. A single by Clayton Sheedy started the string, followed by singles by John Barnes and Jim Cooney, a home run by Buck Elliott, singles by Ollie Sax and Herb Thomas, a double by George Fisher, singles by Hack Miller, Al Moore and Sheedy and a triple by Barnes.

    On May 30, 1932, the Bisons put on one of the most devastating doubleheader hitting performances in baseball history, beating Toronto 18-1 in the first game, and then compounding the felony by annihilating the Leafs 26-2 in the seven-inning second game. The Bisons failed to score in the first two innings of the first game, but scored every other time they came to bat the rest of the afternoon. In the two games they had 41 hits in 81 at bats, hit eight home runs, one triple and eight doubles. George Detore was six for six in the second game, hitting three home runs and missing a fourth by inches.

    The Bisons set another International League record on May 15, 1934, when they hit five home runs in one inning, four of them in succession, in a game against the Albany Senators. Heinie Mueller led off the second inning against lefty John Milligan by drawing a walk. After a home run by Butch Meyers, Link Wasem and Johnny Wilson were retired. Greg Mulleavy and Les Mallon then followed with home runs, bringing righthander Art Jones on the scene in relief. He was greeted by home runs four and five by Jack Smith and Bill Regan. What happened next added a tragic footnote to this record performance.  Coming to the plate after Regan’s home run was Jake Plummer a promising young outfielder just called up from the lower minors. The first pitch from Jones caught Plummer flush on the head and knocked him cold. He tried to come back later in the season, but was never the same hitter and soon drifted out of the game.

    Ten home runs in one game! That is another International League record set by the Bisons at Offermann Stadium. This time the victims were the Syracuse Chiefs who went down to defeat in the first game of a Sunday, June 20, 1948, doubleheader by the football score of 28-1 1, as home runs were hit by the following Bisons: Anse Moore (3), John Groth (2), Pitcher Sol Rogovin (2), John Bero, Chet Laabs and Larry Barton. The Bisons then went on to win the second game by another football score of 16-12. It is an oddity that the Bisons scored the same number of runs (48), had the same number of hits (41) and went to the plate the same number of times (81) as in their Memorial Day massacre of the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 1932.

    After the 1960 season, fabled Offermann Stadium fell to the wrecker’s ball to make the site available for a junior high school. This was a sad event for Buffalo fans and for hitters everywhere. There is no record that a single pitcher shed a tear.