A ’47 Houston Buffs Reverie

The 1947 Houston Buffs were my awakening to the game of baseball.

Everything that exists has a start somewhere, even if some of those starts are so subtle and gradual that we don’t even know they are going on until they are completely upon us. Other things, like falling in love for the first time, land like a hurricane, taking over everything and changing how we see the world over night.

That’s pretty much how baseball started for me when my dad first took me to Buff Stadium for the first time back in 1947. I’m not even sure that I knew the world existed in Technicolor until we walked into that place for the first time and I saw that green, green grass and that big flag blowing from right to left from the big flag pole in faraway center field. It was the most beautiful and melodic picture that had ever fallen into my young life view of things. The organ music of Miss Lou Mahan stroked just the right theme for whatever ever was happening in the place, from the ascending scale of a baseball rolling up the protective screen behind home plate to its descending bounce down the scale, Lou was on it, even picking up the bump-tee-bump bounce of the ball as it again reached the ground and rolled into stillness.

I was only 9 years old, but I didn’t miss a thing, and it didn’t take me long to soak in the basic rules of  the game and to pick out my favorite Buff players. Second baseman Solly Hemus, the hustling guy they called “The Little Pepper Pot,” rapidly became my first hero. I loved the way that Solly and Buff infielders chattered up the game back then – and I always wanted to get there in time to watch the club take that pre-game infield practice with such style and enthusiasm. (Contemporary fans need to understand that player back in the post WWII era weren’t as perfect as today’s group. The guys from the old days needed infield practice as part of their pre-game preparation.)

Johnny Keane, Manager (Reprinted with permission from the Houston (TX) Public Library.)

Johnny Keane managed the 1947 Houston Buffs, taking the club all the way to the Texas League pennant and then to a six-game Dixie Series championship over the Mobile Bears of the Southern Association. That was a flat-out big deal back in the long shadow of Houston’s time as a member of the Texas League. Winning the Texas League pennant and the Dixie Series was a major way for any young fan to start their career as devotee of the game in this part of the world. And, for those who grew up in the East End, where Buff Stadium was built in 1928, it was even a bigger deal. Getting to games on our own, even as young kids, was pretty easy thanks to the Buffs’ sponsorship of the cheap-seat “Knothole Gang” down the left field line.

Buffs President Allen Russell didn’t miss a trick when it came to getting games played into the books either. If a rain storm came up prior to a game that would have flooded out any other club, Russell rolled up his sleeves to give God and the weather some help. He would saturate the wet grounds with gasoline and then explode the thing with a thrown lighted match as he ran away in retreat. What a sight that was.

Other Buff stars abounded. Gerry Burmeister (.210) was the Buffs catcher and Johnny Hernandez (.301) played first base. Johnny’s son Keith Hernandez later played a pretty good first base position himself with the Cardinals and Mets.

Tommy Glaviano (.245) was the starter at third base and little Billy Costa (.232) was the gardener at shortstop. Solly Hemus (.277), as I’ve already mentioned, played second base.

Eddie Knoblauch (.275), whose nephew Chuck Knoblauch later played second base for the Twins and Yankees, played left field and good old Hal Epps (.302) was best known as “The Mayor of Center Field,” and Vaughn Hazen (.280) played right field. The club’s top pitchers included Clarence Beers (25-8, 2.40) and Al Papai (21-10, 2.45). Beers could bring it – and Papai was a classic knuckleballer.

The ’47 Buffs had very little power. Hernandez led the club with 17 homers; Glaviano had 13. Nobody else made it to double figures and only three others (Epps 6, Benjamin 4, Angle 2) had more than one home run on the season.

The ’47 Buffs were a typical Johnny Keane-led club, running on situational hitting, speed, defense, and pitching. They had enough gas in the tank to edge out Fort Worth for the league crown and then take Mobile in the Dixie Series, but they will never be confused with the minor league version of the ’27 Yankees.They were more like the 1906 Chicago White Sox, the old dead ball era World Champions, the club they called “The Hitless Wonders.”

They had enough moxie in them to crank my interest in the game and I’ve never gotten enough, even if I failed to understand and appreciate any of the finer points I’m describing here today. The game caught me. Fortunately, the location of Buff Stadium in the East End and the presence of the “Knothole Gang” for kids made it easy for many of us to see a lot of games back in the safer-street days of the late 40s and early 50s.

Tonight, at year’s end, I salute you again, o favored first Buffs of my baseball fancy. Thank you for first attracting me to  the one great consoling constant of almost my entire life over the past 65 years – the game of baseball from age 9 – from here to eternity.

Now come on, Spring Training – hurry up and get here. This staring out the window with the ghost of Rogers Hornsby and waiting for spring is not my style.

Happy New Year, Everybody!

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2 Responses to “A ’47 Houston Buffs Reverie”

  1. tom murrah Says:

    Even though the powerful ’47 Buffs pounded my Missions into
    near oblivion that season, I’ve got a team photo of that Houston
    team on the wall in our garage. They look to be in brand-new uniforms with a big “H” on their shirts. Reminds me that the
    Bob Bailey Studio had a huge stash of baseball-related photos.These included one of Stan Musial at the plate against
    those ’47 Buffs in an exhibition game. If available, some of those
    pics from the 30’s thru the 50’s might fit into our project.

  2. Judy Levin Says:

    Loved your reminiscence.

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