Houston Buffs Baseball: The “Shorts” Version.

Jerry Witte Models Late 1950 Buffs Uniform Shorts. They weren’t exactly bad. They were just absolutely horrible. The 1950 Houstons Buffs of the AA minor-level Texas League were well on their way to a deserved last place finish due to a severe absence of talent. It was one of those seasons in which the parent club St. Louis Cardinals had pumped all the talent upstream to their higher AAA level Columbus, Ohio and Rochester, New York teams.

With winning out of the mix as an attendance booster for the games at Buff Stadium in July 1950, the Buffs had to fall back upon the creative inspiration of club president Allen Russell for their hope of avoiding the dreaded red ink that usually follows a losing club like an old airplane message sky streamer. In Russell, the parent Cardinals trusted. The man already had taken the Buffs through the 1948 winning season in which the AA Houston club had outdrawn the losing St. Louis Browns of the major American League.

Allen Russell would find an answer for the challenge of 1950. Or so everyone hoped.

When the Russell antidote was announced, Houston fans reacted with derisive laughter and obsessive curiosity. It was the curiosity factor that Russell was betting on as the ultimate winner in this mood tug-of-war when he announced that the Buffs would embark upon a “Beat the Heat” campaign for the balance of the 1950 season by switching to short pants as their everyday uniform lower garment. “May as well try to beat the heat,” some Buff  fans exclaimed, ” ’cause they sure as heck ain’t beatin’ nobody else!”

The first fan reaction for the first Buffs game in shorts was not totally virginal. Russell had experimented briefly with the idea during the also fairly awful 1949 Buffs season, but without this kind of marketing promotion to the plan. Most fans were seeing the “new look” for the first time and the first wave came in droves to see what there was to see.

What the fans saw was a club that was equally capable of losing in short pants. These short pants, by the way, were little more than cut-off versions of the old blousy flannel trousers that eventually found their way to the scissors-mill. In fact, the blousiness of the Buff shorts caused them to more easily resemble a short skirt –  another factor that didn’t eactly appeal to any of the ballplayers interviewed. As I reflect now upon my 12-year old memory bank of that season, all I am able to recall is the common “what choice do we have?” attitude that threaded its way through the player quotes in the Houston Post. If there were any comfortable cross-dressing Buffs on the 1950 club, they either didn’t talk, or else, they weren’t quoted in the papers of that era. At age 12, I wouldn’t have recognized them anyway.

The players really did hate the uniform shorts. Good friend and late Buffs first baseman Jerry Witte talked about this period in “A Kid From St. Louis,” a biography that I helped him write a few years ago. The pain of sliding on bare skin and the exposure vulnerability to Houston’s vampire-squad mosquito attacks were the major objections. “We produced enough (blood-scrape) strawberries to open our own fruit market,” Witte said.

The experiment didn’t last more than three weeks. Once the attendance slipped back to its previous low level and people no longer cared what the Buffs were wearing on their way to the bottom, Russell killed the campaign, allowing the Buffs to finish the season in last place, but standing tall in long pants.

Curiously, and as bad as they were, the 1950 last place in the Texas League Houston Buffs still managed to outdraw the 1950 seventh place American League St. Louis Browns at the gate. Season home attendance for the ’50 Buffs topped out at 255,809. – The ’50 Browns drew 247, 131 fans to Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. If anything, those three weeks in shorts probably gave the Buffs the 8,000 plus extra fans they needed to again mildly  pummel the Browns at the main place it counts in baseball: that is, smack dab in the pocketbook.

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