Houston Buffs’ Upcoming 1947 Season

Manager Johnny Keane was optimistic going into the 1947 Houston Buff season, but did worry a little about the club's lack of power and the absence of any left-handed pitching prospects.

Manager Johnny Keane was optimistic going into the 1947 Houston Buff season, but did worry a little about the club’s lack of power and the absence of any left-handed pitching prospects.

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In the spring of 1947, MLB club control of players at all levels through the reserve clause was the dynamic that determined what minor league city fans could hope to see from their local teams from year. The Houston Buffs of the AA Texas League had the good fortune of being not only a farm club, but a 100% property of the St. Louis Cardinals since the early 1920s – and the beneficiaries of a talent deep organization, as you probably know, that was the base of General Manager Branch Rickey when he put together the first working model for using a controlled minor league farm club system for meeting the Cardinals’ ongoing needs at the major league level.

So, the primary movement of players during the reserve clause era was up and down, and much less so laterally from one organization to another. Players lost their free agency for all time, or until they were released from the total control bondage of the reserve clause by the team that owned their most recent contract.

The major direct suppliers of talent for the AA Buffs were the Cardinals and their two AAA clubs at Columbus, Ohio and Rochester, New York.  Players coming down came primarily from these places – and they included younger players who simply needed more seasoning at a level of play they could handle – and also older players whose diminishing skills at the major league and AAA levels were forcing them down baseball’s established competition level system. Others came up to Houston from the Cardinal talent pool at the Class A and lower levels in the St. Louis chain.

The following report was written by long-time Houston Chronicle sports writer Dick Freeman prior to the 1947 season. Freeman didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the 6th place Buffs from 1946 were about to transform into the 1947 team that would go on to win the Texas League pennant and the Dixie Series under future Manager Johnny Keane of the 1964 World Series Championship St. Louis Cardinals. But this piece was written prior to 1947. It would be a Houston Buffs club that also included another future Cardinals player and manager, a fellow named Solly Hemus.

At the conclusion of the article, we have added a link to the “1947 Houston Buffs Roster Page” at Baseball Reference. If your interest is sufficient, you may go there and see for yourself who contributed to the total success of the ’47 Buffs at the AA level – and also note which players from Freeman’s article seemed to disappear from the face of baseball’s hallowed earth in 1947 or shortly thereafter.

Hope some of you have some fun with this information. Just a word of caution. If you’ve never done this sort of thing before, be careful. Baseball research is a very addictive pastime.

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Houston Buffs Offer Potent Pitching Staff,

One of Best Defense Clubs in Texas Loop

By Dick Freeman of the Houston Chronicle

For the Associated Press

HOUSTON, April 2 (1947) ~(AP)~ The Houston Buffs will not be a doormat of the Texas League this season, unless they get plenty of tough breaks.

They are better, much better, than they were in 1946 when they wound up in 6th place.

Looking back at the 1946 Buffs, it’s hard to imagine why they finished in the league. They started with some 100 players in camp, and not a single one of them lasted through the season. It was one of those trial and error periods, with accent on the error. The Buffs do have a glaring weakness they have to overcome, but Manager Johnny Keane and President Allen Russell are convinced that the Cardinals will come to the rescue, if at all possible.

They won’t have a single left-handed pitcher, and believe it or not, they didn’t have one in camp last year.

They were pretty glum when they found the seasoned catcher on whom they were leaning on so heavily, Gerry Burmeister, the big power-hitter who had eye trouble last year, but who looked swell in spring training until he hurt his ankle so badly that he was laid up for some six weeks, wouldn’t be available for season opening. But Buff hopes were bolstered along this line when came from Rochester that Joe Niedson, hustling and capable receiver, was being returned to Houston. Joe did the major part of catching for the herd last year, and although his batting average was none too high, he has power.

Gregory Masson, a nice receiver, but not too much at the plate, has been holding down the job.

The outfield is Keane’s pride and joy. It includes three guys who are Speed Demons, who can hit, but who don’t have too much power. They are Hal Epps, Eddie Knoblauch (both familiar figures in the Texas League) and Vaughn Hazen, who comes down from Columbus in the American Association, and can hold his own in this loop.

Backing them are Gil Turner, who wound up as a Buff last season, and Joe Muzzo, who hit a lusty .413 for Johnson City, Tenn., last season.

The regular infield probably will find Jim Halkard at first, Lou Ortiz at second, Billy Costa at short and Solly Hemus at third. Halkard, Ortiz and Costa all were with the Buffs last season and should be better with a year’s experience. Hemus is a sound player, hit .363 with Pocatello last season, and looks as if he will be a big help to the team.

The pitching staff is also impressive. Roman Brunswick, 17-game winner last year; Clarence Beers, Charlie Sproull, Art Nelson, Don Shuchman, are back from the 1946 team. Addition(s) include Jack Creel, former Columbus and Cardinal hurler; Hugh East, formerly with the Giants and Jersey City;  and some fine looking youngsters, with Bob Elsiminger, who 14 games for St. Joseph last season despite the fact that he pitched home tilts while going to college, and Floyd Thierolf among the most promising.

“We believe we can go with any of them defensively, but we are little short on power,” Keane says. “The league is going to be tougher, but we look tougher, on paper anyway.”

~ Dick Freeman, Houston Chronicle, for the Associated Press, Brownsville Herald, April 2, 1947, Page 35.

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Link to the 1947 Houston Buffalos Roster and Statistical Report Page:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/register/team.cgi?id=8dfd3b06

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Epilogue, 2/17.2016:

Of the 31 players who shuffled through the roster of the 1947 Houston Buffs, 11 of them logged some past or future big league service time, with most of them being of the “cup-of-coffee” history file of former big league players. These included:

1) Hal Epps (1938, 1940, 1943-1944)

2) Jack Creel (1945)

3) Roy Lee (1945)

4) Charlie Sproull (1945)

6) Bill Endicott (1946)

7) Clarence Beers (1948)

8) Grady Wilson (1948)

9) Al Papai (1948-1950, 1955)

10) Tommy Glaviano (1949-1953)

11) Solly Hemus (1949-1959)

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 eagle-0range Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

https://bill37mccurdy.com/

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One Response to “Houston Buffs’ Upcoming 1947 Season”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    In the 1985 movie, The Trip to Bountiful, set in Houston in 1947 (but filmed in Dallas), two of the characters talk about the Buffs playing in the Dixie Series.

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