Hurricane Carla Darkened Buffs’ Last Days

Gone With The WInd: Buff/Busch Stadium in Houston after one dance with Hurricane Carla, September 11, 1961.

Gone With The WInd: Minor League Baseball at Buff/Busch Stadium in Houston after one dance with Hurricane Carla, September 11, 1961.

At 2:00 PM CST on Monday, September 11, 1961, Hurricane Carla slammed into the Texas coast near Port O’Connor as a Category 5 storm with winds of 173 MPH. By nightfall, it had made its way through Houston, leaving a mass of destruction in its wake, including the outfield fences at “Busch” Stadium.

The demons of nature had done something that no serious baseball game scheduler would have ever put forth as a plan. By necessity, Carla had forced the Houston Buffs and the Indianapolis Indians to play their entire first round playoff series for the 1961 American Association pennant in the Indiana city. Tied at a game each when Carla struck, the Buffs played Games 3, 4, and 5 at the Indians home park with some powerful winds of their own, winning Game 3 by 5-4 on a 9th inning solo HR by Jim McKnight, taking Game 4 by 4-3 on a deciding HR by J.C. Hartman, and finishing Game 5 with a 10 scattered hits shutout by young Dave Giusti. Pidge Browne and Jack Waters both homered in the 6-0 Game 5 as last Buffs Manager Harry Craft put one more feather in his “H” cap on his way to becoming the first major league manager of the new Houston Colt .45s in 1962: Harry Craft was the last Houston Buffs manager to lead the club to a post-season series victory in their long minor league history. The 1961 Houston Buffs had defeated the Indianapolis Indians, 4 games to 1, in Round One, playing all five games away from their home base because of the hurricane.

It was also the end of the line for minor league success in Houston’s last season prior to becoming a major league city. Even though local community spirit abounded for better results against Louisville in the finals in response to the Buffs counter-attack upon adversity by their capture of an all road game playoff series.

“Busch Stadium fences have been restored and the park is in first class condition ready for the Buffs return.” – Baytown Sun, 9/18/61. Proud “old Buff” Stadium had weathered the storm, but the Buffs themselves were about to get blown away by a talented Louisville club. In effect, the series between the Buffs and the Louisville Colonels signaled the end of Houston’s road dominance. Louisville took Games 1, 2, and 3 at home, creating a hole from which the Buffs would not recover.

But they did make it interesting.

On Tuesday, September 19, 1961 the Buffs returned to their restored fence home and took the Louisvillians in 12 on a game-winning single by Pidge Browne in the bottom of the 12th.

On Wednesday, September 20, 1961, the Buffs came out blasting, using a 2-HR game by Pidge Browne to crush the Colonels by 10-5 and narrow their deficit in the Series to 2-3. One more game of hurricane magic and the Buffs would be back into a winner-take-all game for the pennant.

It was not to be.

On Thursday, September 21, 1961, Louisville was unstoppable on offense and Houston forgot what gloves and arms were for on defense. The Colonels bombed the Buffs 11-4 on 13 hits while Houston committed 7 errors in the field – 5 alone by shortstop J.C. Hartman. The Kentuckians had prevailed as the 1961 American Association Champions of 1961.

The wonderful now late Fred Hartman of the Baytown described this last hurrah of the Houston Buffs best:

~ “DEFEATED BUFFS BOW OUT” by FRED HARTMAN, BAYTOWN SUN, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1961 ~

Twenty-one years ago at the end of the 1940 baseball season, the Baytown Oilers were fighting for the Houston Post tournament semi-pro championship.

They fought their way into the semi-finals and the promoters of the tournament stupidly forced the Oilers to have to win three games in one day to win the title. They won the first two in brilliant fashion. Then their weary muscles failed them, and they fell apart in the finale.

It was a sad thing to see – just as sad as the complete fall apart of the Houston Buffs Thursday night as the were shellacked, 11-4, by the Louisville Colonels.

It was a historic defeat for it came in the last game of minor league professional baseball ever to be played at Busch (formerly Buff) Stadium. Next spring, the fledgling Houston Colts will play on a new South end field in the National League.

Busch-Buff Stadium has been the scene of some great events and now they are gone.

It was at home plate that Dizzy Dean and his bride were married. It was there that Joe Medwick  used to rattle the boards as 1961 first baseman Pidge Browne has been doing. It was there that Carey Selph battled to the death as a great inspirational star.  It was there that Bill Hallahan’s southpaw plans won him big league opportunities. It was there that Kenny Boyer won his climb to fame.

And all that is left is memories and the ignoming (sp) of the final game when the Buffs, trying too hard, fell apart. How else, for instance, can you explain the seven errors, five by the hustling shortstop J.C. Hartman.

If you want lingering memories of better things, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are, you can always remember the home run stroked by Jack Waters in the ninth with a Buff aboard and the homelings behind, 11-2.

In Jerry Witte fashion, Waters hit a circuit clout far over the left field wall. It soared high and far, and Jack took only three steps from home plate before he knew he had the big one. He trotted around the bases with the feeble applause of those faithful who were there at the end.

And the last record play was a brilliant one.  Jim Campbell slashed a hard hit ball through the box. The Colonels second baseman had been edging that way. He made a great play on the ball, and an even greater throw on the ball to first to beat the Buff catcher by a step. 

Thus did Buff Stadium – we never did like the Busch appellation – stumble in(to) the past on a sour note that never could replace the sweeter moments that victory and sensational plays had produced in the 33 years since that opener in the summer of 1928.

Baytown is now a live and highly expectant major league suburb. It couldn’t have happened until that final out wrote finish Thursday night.

~ Fred Hartman, Baytown Sun, Friday, September 22, 1961.

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Thanks to Mike Acosta and Darrell Pittman for supplying the image that invited the search that led to the material that made this article possible as a product of fresh research. Every ounce of fact and truth we discover and save together is mighty in its importance to the aggregate big picture in the long run.

Now we know that Houston won its last minor league game on 9/20/61. We know that Jack Waters hit the last home run in Buffs history. And we know that Jim Campbell‘s 4-3 groundout on a sharply hit ball up the middle was the last play in Buffs minor league history.

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3 Responses to “Hurricane Carla Darkened Buffs’ Last Days”

  1. Mark W. Says:

    My family moved to Houston in March of 1961. A few short months later I experienced my first hurricane, and Carla was quite an introduction. I remember at one point my father and I stepped outside to see what it feels like to have hurricane force winds blowing on us. We weren’t out there very long. I had been into the San Antonio Missions in a big way, but I wasn’t in Houston long enough for the Buffs to grow on me. Thanks for more enjoyable reminiscences, Bill.

  2. Darrell Pittman Says:

    My parents told me that when Carla was heading in, it was thought it would hit at Port Arthur where we lived, so they evacuated to my uncle’s house in Houston. Of course, the storm turned and hit Houston after all. My uncle’s house was maybe eight miles south of where Buff Stadium was. I was about 2-1/2 at the time, so I don’t remember any of it.

  3. Brian Reading Says:

    Excellent find!

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