Great Expectations a Slippery Slope for Buff Fans

Buffalo/Busch Stadium, Houston, 1928-1961.

I was happy to see Lance Berkman get the critical single that drove in the two runs that eventually made the difference in the Cardinals’ 3-2 win over the Rangers in Game One of the 2011 World Series in St. Louis last night. It was also amusing to hear Lance own up to the disparaging radio remarks he made about the Rangers prior to the season. He had admitted last April that he had not signed with Texas because he felt they were an average team without the 2011 return of 2010 starter Cliff Lee, one that had caught lightning in a bottle for a single year on their way back to lower finish this season.

Of course, Berkman guessed right about the Cardinals and walked right into the greatest baseball town in America as a result. It hurts me to say that as an extremely loyal Houstonian, but it’s simply true. No other sport is more important than baseball in St. Louis and the average population of lifelong St. Louisans knows more about the game and its history than any other group of people on earth. Based upon my now considerably cumulative time in the fair Mound City over the years, I’m convinced of it. St. Louis, Missouri is the Heartland of Baseball as it was meant to be played.

Houston was like that too for those of us who grew up here in the years following World War II. Perhaps, it was an extension of the Cardinal aura or just a fact of life that came along with Houston being one of the minor league cradles and schools for future Cardinals. The roll call of later greater St. Louis Cardinals who started as Houston Buffs reads like an honor list of baseball greats and near greats: Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Joe Medwick, Gus Mancuso, Watty Watkins, Howie Pollet, Red Munger, Eddie Dyer, Johnny Keane, Solly Hemus, Vinegar Bend Mizell, and Ken Boyer come to mind, just to name a few.

Great Expectations for Houston Buff fans in those days were a more tempered matter. After World War II, St. Louis had three higher minor league teams for polishing off their near-ready stars of the future: They had the Houston Buffs of the AA Texas League; the Columbus Red Birds of the AAA American Association; and the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League. The talent wasn’t always equally distributed at the Texas League AA level. Sometimes Houston was given a hot hand; other times they were given a bunch of over the hill old pros and raw rookies that doomed them to losing seasons.

In 1950, for example, the Houston Buffs finished in eighth and last place with a record of  61-93, a full 30.5 games behind the first place Beaumont Roughnecks. In 1951, the Buffs finished in first place with a 99-61 mark, a full 13.5 games ahead of the second place San Antonio Missions. The Houston pattern was not unusual for that era. As a minor league club fan, you just had to keep a bridle on your expectations as well as your hopes. You knew that a player who performed too well could be lost to a late season or injury-directed call up by the big league club at any time and that the needs of the major league club always superseded those of your hometown minor league team.

Oh well. I guess it’s like Mr. Biggio always tried to tell us in just about every post-game interview I ever heard him do: We just have to take our baseball one game at a time and go from there.

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8 Responses to “Great Expectations a Slippery Slope for Buff Fans”

  1. Harold Jones Says:

    You say that no other sport is more important than baseball in St. Louis. With all due respect to the St. Louis baseball fans I submit that football in Green Bay is way more important.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Harold –

      I don’t disagree with you. As my buddy writer Al Doyle of Oshkosh says further down on these column notes, I too see Green Bay and football as I do St. Louis and baseball. It would be ancient apples and oranges to argue which city has the greater love for their two different preferred sports and teams.

  2. Mike Mulvihill Says:

    HI OLD FRIEND,
    I TOO AM ROOTING FOR LANCE AS HE WAS ALWAYS A GOOD GUY. ONE POINT THAT ISN’T SO GOOD IS THAT THE LAST YEAR OR SO HE WAS AN ASTRO HE MUST HAVE WEIGHED A GOOD 40 OR SO POUNDS MORE THAN HE DOES NOW. I BELIEVE HE LET HIMSELF GET OUT OF SHAPE PLAYING FOR BELOW AVERAGE TEAMS. HE ALSO DID NOT SEEM TO CARE THE LAST YEAR HE PLAYED WITH THE ASTROS. JUST WENT THRU THE MOTIONS. THE TEAM SHOULD HAVE INSISTED HE STAY IN BETTER SHAPE.
    AS FOR THE GREAT CARDS WHO PLAYED FOR THE BUFFS. I REMEMBER EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM PASSING THROUGH HOUSTON ON THEIR WAY TO ST. LOUIE. I WAS BORN IN ST LOUIS AND USED TO VISIT MY GRANDPARENTS WHO WERE BIG CARD FANS AND TOOK ME TO SEE A LOT OF THESE PLAYERS WHEN I WAS GROWING UP. GREAT MEMORIES!!
    BASEBALL IS A LOT DIFFERENT NOW THOUGH. BACK THEN WITHOUT FREE AGENCY, ETC PLAYERS MOST OFTEN STAYED WITH THE SAME TEAMS THROUGHOUT THEIR CAREERS. MOST OF THE OLD BUFFS YOU NAMED TDA SURE DID.
    TAKE CARE.
    MIKE M

  3. Al Doyle Says:

    I live 55 miles south of Green Bay, and I have had the good fortune spend a fair amount of time in St. Louis. The national media can hype Boston all they want as a baseball town, but St. Louis is the best baseball city in America. The Packers are to Wisconsin what the Cardinals are to St. Louis.

  4. Gary Says:

    On the other hand, does the smartest guy in the room have constantly proclaim his intellectual prowess to everybody else in the room? That’s what St. Louis fans do – ad nauseam.

  5. mike Says:

    There are only two cities in America where the largest number of calls to sports radio over the entire year are to discuss baseball- Boston and St Louis. Boston fans are every bit as dedicated and savvy as Cardinal ones.

  6. Darrell Pittman Says:

    I’m pulling for the Cards not because they have Lance, but because they’re from the National League, where baseball is played. I always hate to see a softball team from the AL win it.

  7. bob copus Says:

    The comments are great to read. I am a huge Red Sox fan for I spent the first 15 years of my life (1962-1977) in South Boston. Red Sox fans love their team just as much as any other pro sports franchise in the country. One stipulation is that Boston is actually a hockey town, in my opinion. Despite having the Celtics, Sox, and Patriots, all of which are beloved by the fans, the Bruins have a special place in the heart of true Boston sports fans. Over 1 million people showed up for the Bruins Stanley Cup parade ealier this year. Does not get any better than being a Boston sports fan, especially in the last 10-12 years. Have a great day.

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