Posts Tagged ‘Houston Buffs’

Buffs Win ’47 Dixie Series over Mobile in Six

May 5, 2015
With 2 outs and two strikes on him in the bottom of the 9th of Games Six of the 1947 Dixie Series, Hal Epps spiked a single between shor and second that scored Billy Costa from 2nd base for 1-0 Buffs' Dixie series win.

With 2 outs and two strikes on him in the bottom of the 9th of Game Six of the 1947 Dixie Series, Hal Epps spiked a single between short and second that scored Billy Costa from 2nd base for 1-0 Series win at Buff Stadium.


Houston Buffs Win Dixie Title

Houston, Oct. 3 (AP) – Hal Epps, veteran center fielder, slipped a single between short and second after two were out here (Buff Stadium) in the ninth tonight to give the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League 1-0 shutout over the Mobile Bears in the deciding (sixth) game of the Dixie Series.

Epps’ second single of the night climaxed an uphill battle for the Buffs in a mound duel between Clarence Beers of Houston and Frank Laga of Mobile.

Beers permitted four singles, permitting only one to reach second base and retiring twenty in order from the second inning to two outs in the eighth.

Laga, prior to retiring after one out in the ninth in favor of Paul Minner, had allowed three singles, but had issued 10 walks.

Solly Hemus started off the Houston ninth by popping out to Third Baseman Bill Hart and Laga then walked Billy Costa and Eddie Knoblauch,

Minner came in to relieve Laga and immediately struck out Stan Benjamin.

Epps took a two-strike count and then hit the sizzler that scored Costa from second with the winning score.

The victory enabled the Buffs to win their first Dixie (Series) championship. After taking the first game here last week, Houston then dropped two to the Bears before coming back to take three straight to finish with a four games to two record. *

~ Lubbock (TX) Morning Avalanche, Saturday, October 4, 1947, P. 8.

* Proof again that we must never believe everything we read in the newspapers. The 1947 Dixie Series victory was not the first, as reported here by the Morning Avalanche. Houston’s 1947 win was  its second championship in this annual competition between the pennant winners of he Texas League and the Southern Association (1920-1958). Houston won its first appearance n 1928 in six games over the Birmingham Barons, before then losing in seven games to the 1931 Birmingham club – and then falling to the 1940 Nashville Vols in five games prior to their second Dixie win in the ’47 Series.

Dixie Series losses by Houston in 1951 to the Birmingham Bears in six, and then to the 1954 Atlanta Crackers in seven, moved the Buffs’ post-season mark in the Classic to two wins and four losses.

Back-to-back six game Dixie Series wins over the Atlanta Crackers in 1956 and 1957 leveled the Houston Buffs’ all-time record in this post-season classic at four wins and four losses. The Dixie Series ceased to exist after 1958, a non-pennant year for the Houston AA Texas League club. The Houston Buffs moved up to the American Association for three final seasons of AAA-level  minor league ball (1959-61) before dissolving in favor of Houston’s entry into the big leagues in 1962.

For much more detail on Houston’s record in the Dixie Series  from 1928 through 1957, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of “Houston Baseball: The Early Years, 1861-1961” (By The Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR, 2014), available for sale through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other major book sales outlets.


Buff Biographies: Before Loel Passe

May 25, 2013
Excerpt from "Your 1948 Houston Buffs, Dixie Champions: Brief Biographies By Morris Frank and Adie Marks (1948).

Excerpt from “Your 1948 Houston Buffs, Dixie Champions: Brief Biographies By Morris Frank and Adie Marks (1948).

Lee Hedrick may have received the most publicity of any man who ever served as a play-by-play radio man for the old minor league Houston Buffalos. And he got it when Morris Frank and Adie Marks included him in their 1948 “Brief Buff Biographies” autograph book.

Too bad we don’t know more about early 20th century electronic media coverage of baseball than we do.

There remains a need for further research on the radio station involvement and play-by-play announcing history of Houston Buffs Baseball from 1925 forward. KPRC-AM went on the air in Houston on May 9, 1925 as the oldest surviving commercial radio station in Houston. Another short-lived Houston station, WCAK, existed as early as 1923. The probability that baseball first reached Houston homes via the airways of either WCAK or KPRC hovers at 100%, and even prior to the Buffs move into the new Buff Stadium three years later.

We do know that Bruce Layer of KPRC handled the play-by-play on the first radio game from Buff Stadium on Opening Day of the very first season in the new venue, April 11, 1928, however, further work is needed on the name(s) of those who took over from there. The same Houston Post-Dispatch article that told us of Layer’s splash on that special day also made it implicitly clear that he was simply doing Opening Day 1928 that one time for the sake of going into the books as the first radio game announcer from Buff Stadium. As sports director of host station KPRC, it was Bruce Layer’s prerogative, and he took it as a record that he wanted for himself. The names of those who took over from there were not listed.

Things stay fuzzy from 1928 through 1942 as to which stations and what announcers handled the radio for Buffs games. When the Texas League resumed in 1946, following the three-year shutdown for World War II, some station and announcer must have handled the games, but the same “which” and “what” queries still apply to that first season of the post-war era.

We do know that Lee Hedrick of KATL-AM did the play-by-play for the 1947 Dixie Series champion Buffs and that he continued to broadcast Buff games, at least, through 1950, the first season for Loel Passe at KTHT-AM. I’m not positive that 1950 was the only year for more than one radio station broadcast, but that’s how I remember it. Further work in that area is also needed.

Loel Passe was the lone word in Houston radio game broadcasting after 1950, or when Lee Hedrick actually departed, but Gene Elston did reach town in time to work with Loel in 1961, the last season of minor league baseball in Houston.

Television broadcasts began over KLEE-TV in 1949 with Guy Savage as the first announcer. When the same station became KPRC-TV in 1950, Dick Gottlieb worked himself in as the TV play-by-play man, staying long enough to be the man on duty in 1951 when a mentally disturbed drinking fan shot himself to death on TV during a Buffs game.

Other names come to mind as TV voices from the 1950s Buff games, but in no particular order  – or in complete form. These include: Bruce Layer (again), former big leaguer Gus Mancuso, and KPRC radio guys like Lee Gordon. There were others.

The bottom line? Far more research is needed.

Buff Biographies: Jack Creel

May 22, 2013
Jack Creel's best wins season with the Houston came in 1949 when he was 16-10, 3.39 for a 7th place club.

Jack Creel’s best wins season with the Houston came in 1949 when he was 16-10, 3.39 for a 7th place club.

Pitcher Jack Creel enjoyed a 179-157, 3.37 ERA record over 15 seasons (1938-44, 1946-53) in the minor leagues. In his one season with the big league 1945 St. Louis Cardinals, Creel went 5-4 with a 4.14 ERA. Unfortunately, an arm injury stopped Creel in 1945 and he never returned to major league play.

Jack Creel’s story was a familiar one for pitchers during the 16 MLB club, reserve clause era of professional baseball. With so few openings at the top, pitchers often threw as hard or as well as they could, for as long as they could do so without complaint. “Minor” twinges in the arm were most often ignored in deference to the code of manliness, but also in fear of being passed over by some other pitcher who played the game without “complaining”.

Former Buffs outfielder, the late Jim Basso, used to put it this way for ball players in general from that day and time: “We were afraid to take time off for injuries. We were afraid of taking the time off and then coming back to find some other guy using our locker and wearing our jock strap. We just played until we couldn’t play.” For pitcher’s of Basso’s post-World War II period, his advice meant “pitch until your arm fell off and then they dragged a one-armed man from the mound and sent him back to the minors to get well doing the same things that got him hurt in the first place in the bigs.”

Sports medicine wasn’t all that great back in the day either. Pitchers relied a lot on liniments and corrective surgeries were often suspect acts of guesswork that often made things worse. After 1945, Jack Creel was 8-11, 4.19 for the AAA Columbus Redbirds before returning to Houston and posting a 14-10, 2.63 mark for the 1947 TL and Dixie Series Champion Houston Buffs. Creel had some kind of arm surgery during the 1947-48 winter and then followed that step with a 12-10, 3.52 record for the 1948 Buffs. By this time, he was 31 years old and well out of range for another shot in the prospect-rich Cardinals farm system.

Jack Creel pitched five seasons (1942, 1946-49, 1952) for the Houston Buffs, posting an overall record here of  61 wins and 47 defeats. When he was on, the native of Buda, Texas and cousin of big league hurler Tex Hughson was a hard-throwing strikeout artist who sat batters down with a wish that the game was already over.  And he was a good man, just limited in accomplishment by the knowledge, conditions, and expectations of his time in the game. He rode in the boat with everyone else, however, and with much company on the “disappointed outcome” side of things. It was simply the way things were.

Jack Creel died in Houston in 2002 at the age of 86.

Buff Prez Fred Ankenman: Some Like It Hot!

March 25, 2012

Houston Buffs President Fred Ankenman (far left) and two unidentified Buffs listen to Babe Ruth speech to the Knothole Gang in 1930. - Photo Excerpt from larger group shot owned & made available to us by the Story Sloane Gallery, Houston.

Do you remember “Some Like It Hot,” the 1959 Marilyn Monroe movie in which 1920s musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon escape from Chicago dressed as women to avoid getting rubbed out by mobsters who know they had been witnesses to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?

In my book, it was one of the funniest movies of all time as the boys hide as members of an all girls band that features Marilyn Monroe as their lead singer. As Josephine (Curtis) and Daphne (Lemmon), the guys bite the double edge of the safety it provides along with the blunting effect it places upon their shared interest in the pursuit of Ms. Monroe. – For comedic plot purposes only, Marilyn Monroe (“Sugar”) cannot detect that her two very interested friends are actually men.

Wow! What a hilarious premise. Even today.

What it brought it to mind was a conversation I had this week with friend and fellow researcher Mike Vance about Fred Ankenman, the Houston Buffs Baseball president from the end of World War I through 1942. In Fred’s autobiography, “Four Score and More,” we may have been handed a double entendre dab of spice on the “More” part of that title that only comes to light when Fred recounts his younger days celebration of the once local holiday in Houston they called “N.O.T.S.U.O.H” – or, Houston spelled backward.

I’m not really sure how it got started, or why it ended so early in the 20th century, but “N.O.T.S.U.O.H” (1899-1915) was sort of like a one-night Mardi Gras affair in which people went downtown to walk around in costume, drink, eat, and party like it was …. WELL … 1915! Fred Ankenman turned 28 in 1915 and he was still in the earlier part of his career as an employee of Southern Pacific. Fred and his wife Nanny were enjoying their young married life in Houston, but Fred’s career with the Houston Buffs was still about four years down the road.

N.O.T.S.U.O.H turned out to be a time for Ankenman to act out one of his purely innocent interests – the art of female impersonation. In one unspecified year, Nanny and her sister decided to go to N.O.T.S..O.H on the streets of downtown Houston dressed in “baby doll” dresses that included skirts that came all the way up to the knees. fred like the idea so much that the decide that his “fun night” needed to include some of the same. He asked his wife to make him a baby doll dress too, which he wore with silk stockings and a corset he borrowed from his sister-in-law.

“I had pretty legs for a man and after a clean shave, I really was the best looking girl in the group,” Ankenman wrote. (Four Score and More, p 25.)

The real ladies quickly tired of being accosted by some of the men who reached out to pinch them and offer a few unrequested hugs.

“They treated me the same way, not realizing I was a man. I told the girls to go on home, but I was going to stay,” Ankenman added. “I remained until midnight when the crowd began to thin out, but only after I had experienced the greatest night of fun in my entire life.” (ibid, p. 25.)

Ankenman goes on to describe specific pick up attempts by various men that he plays to the  hilt with each guy before dropping his voice to its true deeper male testosterone-dripping tone.

Apparently Fred Ankenman failed to encounter the kind of guy that Jack Lemmon ended up with in “Some Like It Hot.” When aging rich man Joe E. Brown as Osgood went after the female-dressed Jack Lemmon in the movie, “Daphne” wouldn’t even shake the guy’s proposal in the end with the disclosure that “what the heck! I can’t marry you, Osgood, because … frankly,  I’m a BOY!”

Had Fred Ankenman used the “I’m a boy” defense against a N.O.T.S.U.O.H suitor like Joe E. Brown, he may have gotten the same response that Jack Lemmon received at the close of the 1959 movie:

“Nobody’s perfect!”

Not even a future iconic President of the Houston Buffs.

R.I.P., Houston Buffs

January 31, 2012

Houston Buffs: Born 1896; Died 1962; Died Again 2012; but they will live on forever in the hearts of a few old fans like yours truly.

All my realistic friends told me that it wasn’t going to happen, but I’m old now. And hope rises in the strangest ways. Thank you, Mr. Jim Crane, for a week of false hope that the Houston Buffs were coming home for a major league reincarnation. It just wasn’t meant to be. The name that so dominated the consciousness of our baseball identity in the late 19th and early to middle 20th centuries is not coming back for a 21st century reprise.

I get it. I don’t like it. But I can live with it.

If you include this past season as worthy of account, our National League club has played baseball the past 47 consecutive seasons (1965-2011) as the “Houston Astros.” Had I been a new-to-Houston season ticket-holder or a six-year-old kid back in 1965, I would undoubtedly feel some of the same strong attachment that those folks who are still around still have for the name “Astros.”

I just don’t have it for the “Astros” name.

To me, “Astros” will always first be the marketing ploy name that Judge Roy Hofheinz slapped upon us after first executing the hope that many of us had that our “Houston Buffalos” would make it to the big leagues as our ongoing identity. Hofheinz did it by renaming the new big league club the “Houston Colt .45s” in 1962 without first working out the naming rights legalities with the famous gun company that made that iconic pistol. Rather than share revenues produced under the gun name, the Judge simply changed the name of the team with the opening of the new domed stadium and the introduction of the club’s new space theme.

“What kind of team plays baseball in an Astrodome? – Why, those would be the Houston Astros, of course?”

“Astros? – What’s an Astro?”

“Don’t ask me, but I think it may be one of those large rocks that hurdles through time and space, going nowhere in particular, but always getting there in a hurry.”

“Can an Astro land in a World Series?”

“Not likely. Hurdling through space, the odds against an Astro hitting earth, let alone landing in a World Series, are infinitesimally discouraging.”

Enough. Enough. We all got used to the name. Some people, the ones who wrote Mr. Crane this week in favor of keeping it, even bonded with the brand. And I must admit, if we were not going into the American League in 2013, there would not be another good time to change our history. We all bled together as a fan base when the “Astros” lost the NL pennants of 1980 and 1986 to the Phillies and Mets. – And we all felt the sting as “Astros fans” when Sir Albert Pujols stung us that night in 2005 with a home run that caused an extra playoff game and messed up our pitching rotation for our only World Series appearance. Going into the American League was the only open door for landmark change.

It just didn’t happen.

Today the name “Astros” has a life of its own – one that goes beyond space rocks, astronauts, or artificial turf. It is the iconic name of Houston’s major league brand – whether we all prefer it or not. It’s time to end this bump-pause in history and move on.

Rest In Peace, Houston Buffs.

Rest In Peace, Houston Buffs. The door just closed forever on your last chance to rumble the herd roughshod over the plains of major league baseball, but don’t worry. Some of us down here will continue to do all we can to make sure that you are both remembered for all time and also celebrated correctly for your important role in Houston baseball history.

Santo Finally Makes It

December 6, 2011

Ron Santo Takes a Whack

Ron Santo and Billy Williams both played for the 1960 Houston Buffs before going on to careers as teammates with the Chicago Cubs as their teams’ defenders of the left field line at third base and left field. Now the guys are together again – in the Baseball Hall of Fame. All I wish to say is that I’m glad it finally happened and, like many others of you, I only wish it could have happened earlier than December 3, 2010, the date that the wonderful Ron Santo left this planet. Posthumous awards always ring the bell  a little too loudly on the empty side, as in “better now than never, but earlier would have been better, when Ron Santo was still here among the living to share and enjoy it with family and friends.”

Ron Santo had a wonderful power stroke on offense and the kind of rocket arm on defense that defines the rare greats of third base history. Only fourteen others have received the call to the Hall as “hot corner” specialists prior to Santo, and three of those men played exclusively in the Negro Leagues, where statistical data was often poorly kept and not well documented – and  the game itself was played under the frequently far more adverse conditions of many ragged fields and unevenly officiated games. Santo has deserved his place in this rarefied company forever and I am grateful that the Veterans Committee finally made it happen on December 5, 2011.

Over the course of his fifteen season MLB career (1960-1974), Ron Santo batted .277 with 342 home runs, and 1,331 runs batted in. He played in nine all star games and won five gold gloves over the course of his career. Ron Santo had to battle the ravages of diabetes in the latter years of his life, but he hung in there, even under the loss of both legs to the disease, doing good, positive color reporting as an analyst on the Cubs’ radio game broadcasting team.

Love live the soul and spirit of Ron Santo. It bears upon its back the larger hope for an eventual Chicago Cubs redemption – and that’s no light load for any soul to carry.

Great Expectations a Slippery Slope for Buff Fans

October 20, 2011

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.

Prodigy Pollet, Impossible to Forget

June 10, 2011

Howie Pollet

The kinship ideas of seasoning and player development hardly ever applied to young lefty Howie Pollet of New Orleans. The kid signee of the St. Louis Cardinals began his pitching career at the age of 18, going 14-5 for New Iberia of the Evangeline League before moving up to Houston of the Texas League to add a 1-1 mark to his rookie season totals. At age 19, Pollet went 20-7, with a 2.88 ERA for the 1940 Houston Buffs. He returned to the Buffs at age 20 to go an amazing 20-3 with a 1.16 ERA for the 1941 Houston club. Pollet did turn age 21 on June 26, 1941. By the time he had finished the season at that tender age of new adult status, hie had registered a minor league record of 55 wins against only 16 defeats and a minor league career ERA of 2.28.

Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey watched Pollet win his 20th game of the 1941 Buffs season and then called him up to help the Cardinals in their close near-miss pennant race with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The loss of Howie Pollet unquestionably cost the 103-win first place Buffs the 1941 pennant as they went on from there to lose to fourth place Dallas, 3 games to 1, in the first round of the post-season playoffs, but that’s the way things still work in professional baseball. In a pinch, the needs of the major league club always come first.

Pollet finished the 1941 season with a 5-2, 1.93 ERA. He reported to spring training with the 1942 Cardinals with a sore arm. That would be the start of an arm injury history that would haunt and deaden the final results of his total career. More serious shoulder issues were yet to come a few years down the road.

Howie went into the army after posting a 7-5 record and an 8-4 mark for the 1942 and 1943 Cardinals. Pollet didn’t have the greatest fastball in the world, but he had great location ability on his pitches and an uncanny, hard-to-discern capacity for changing the speed at three leels on the pitches he did deliver.

After the war, Howie Pollet pitched the 1946 Cardinals to a World Series championship, posting a season record of 21-10 with an amazing 2.10 ERA. Pollet enjoyed one more 20-win season in 1949, going 20-9 with a 2.77 ERA for yet another near-miss Cardinals club, but painful shoulder trouble would continue to haunt his 14-season MLB career with the Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, and White Sox through his last season of 1956.

Howie Pollet finished his MLB career with a record of 131 wins against 116 defeats and an ERA of 3.81.

After baseball, Pollet retired to his adopted home town of Houston to enter the insurance business in partnership with his former Buffs and Cardinals manager, Eddie Dyer. Pollet also kept an active connection with major league baseball, serving as pitching coach for the Houston Astros in 1965  Sadly, Howie Pollet passed away only nine years later in 1974 at the age of 53.

How many potential Hall of Fame pitchers have lost their way to greatness due to arm injury? Probably more than we shall ever know, but we have to place the name of Howie Pollet high on that list. Were Pollet’s arm and shoulder problems the result of genetics, a freak injury, or the product of too much pitching work too early? I doubt we’ll ever know.

On the other hand, there seems to be no doubt where Howie’s talent was taking him, had he not been injured. It’s also too bad that his family had to lose him so early, but that’s the way life works. We don’t always get what we want, but there are a number of lessons wrapped up in that reality too, starting with my favorite:

Every morning we wake up on the sunny side of the grass is reason enough to celebrate our gratitude by making the most of our day.

The Man Who Named Medwick “Ducky”

May 2, 2011

  Long before Richard Justice and the Houston Chronicle there was another major newspaper in this town known as the Houston Post. A third one was the Houston Press, which perished from print even earlier, but none of the local rags covered sports quite like the Post. The great Mickey Herskowitz carried the sportswriting banner for the Post through their abrupt business-shark-kill death in 1996 and before Mickey was the incomparable Clark Nealon, leaning all the way back to the 1930s with both the Press and the Post. Along the way, writers like Morris Frank, John Hollis and Tom Kennedy made their own marks with the wonderful Dame News Girl, the morning Houston Post, along with others too numerous to mention. Does the names Bruce Layer and Clyde LaMotte ring any bells with any of you back-in-the-day Houston sports readers?

Go back far enough and you will run into one name that stands out as the godfather of all who came after him. That would be the one and only Lloyd Gregory, a native Texan and the first great sports writer in Houston publishing history. Gregory got to Houston in time to take over his duties here shortly after Ross Sterling bought both the original Post and also the Dispatch in 1924 and put them into the administrative hands of William P. Hobby as the new Houston Post-Dispatch. Hobby would eventually acquire the newspaper from Sterling and drop the “Dispatch” part of the identity, but the 1930s were a period for dragging Houston full-bore into the marketplace of early 20th century journalism.

With radio in its infancy during the 1920s, and with no TV, Internet, or low-cost telephone access, Houstonians were like all Americans in their growing dependency upon newspapers for up-to-date news. The 1920s were the era of the “special edition” paper that came out when big news couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s edition and there was money to be made is from a special edition run.

Most of the time, the morning Post-Dispatch and the afternoon Houston Chronicle and Press had the time field covered, but big news breaking after 4:00 PM opened the gate on special edition possibility.

Lloyd Gregory was there for the growth of the Houston Buffs as the face of farm team baseball for Branch Rickey and the S. Louis Cardinals back in the 1920s. Gregory was there to greet Rickey and Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis when the two men came to Houston for the original opening of buff Stadium on April 11, 1928. He covered the arrival of lights and night baseball at Buff Stadium in the early 1930s, and saw Houston Buffs baseball through the Great Depression of that decade and into the 1942 stoppage of the Texas League in 1942 due to World War II.

Somewhere in that World War II and post war period, Lloyd Gregory retired from everyday reporting at about the same time I was awakening to baseball with the 1947 Houston Buffs club as a nine-year old. Eventually, his place at the Post writing mentor table would be taken over by Clark Nealon and the others who followed in both their footsteps.

My memories of Lloyd Gregory are of the man who hosted “The Hot Stove League” weekly half-hour TV program every winter into the spring training season from about 1950 to 1952. Gregory would gather other writers around a prop hot stove to discuss the Buffs chances for the coming year with team President Allen Russell and others. By that time, I was a fully-invested baseball nerd and a devourer of statistical data on our prospects for the coming season. That made for some great anticipation of each new weekly show. If memory serves, Morris Frank, Clark Nealon, and Bruce Layer all worked with Gregory on the show, but all seemed to defer to Lloyd as the leader of the pack. I can still here that calm drawling Texas voice of Lloyd Gregory playing out in my memory. He was a good baseball man, the kind of guy that innately left his audience crying for more.

Ducky Medwick

One time writer Lloyd Gregory left a player crying for less, most probably. The issue came up with Joe Medwick, back when Joe was playing outfield for the great 1931 Houston Buffs. Medwick and the terrific Dizzy Dean, of course, went on from Houston to become hinge-pin players for the 1934 Gashouse Gang World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, with both later making it into the Hall of Fame. While he was in Houston, however, Medwick acquired a nickname he never requested as the result of a female fan letter written to Post-Dispatch writer Lloyd Gregory for his “Lookin’ Em Over” sports column.

A female fan wrote Gregory that she loved Medwick, but added that she felt he walked like a duck. She even admitted to growing into the thought  of her favorite Buff as “Ducky” Medwick whenever she saw him walking around the field at Buff Stadium.

Well, columnists have space to fill on a daily basis. Lloyd Gregory protected the identity of his writer, but he divulged the story in one of his 1931 daily columns, He then started referring to the player as “Ducky” Medwick in his game coverage stories.

“Ducky” stuck. Soon everyone else was calling him “Ducky” too. By the time Medwick moved on up to St. Louis, that “Ducky” nickname needed no special packing. It was stuck all over him.

Somewhere out there, most probably in a Houston cemetery by this late date, is the never identified Houston girl who gave Joe Medwick his famous nickname with the help of sportswriter Lloyd Gregory. Too bad Joe never met or maybe married that girl. Any woman who can lay a nickname like “Ducky” on a guy is bound to have held other gifts of good fortune for the man who once caught the light as the object of her affections.

Thank you, Lloyd Gregory, for all the good and fun things you did for Houston baseball.

Last of the Buffhicans

April 30, 2011

Houston Buffs: 1961, 1st of 50 team photos hanging at MMP.

Inside the second floor eatery mezzanine at Minute Maid Park, there is a wall that displays all the team photos in Houston’s major league baseball  history to complete date, from their origins in 1962 as the Colt .45s through 2010, the most recent full season version of the Astros.

But they start with one earlier photo. It is a team photo of this city’s last minor league club, the 1961 Houston Buffs. I was able to free hand snap this featured shot of the team photo, but I cropped the names below the photo as unreadable here anyway. Of course, as many of ou already may have imagined, I was delighted to learn that the Astros had taken the time and effort to include the Buffs in this display at the ballpark. I don’t get into this restricted section of MMP that often because it’s mainly for season ticket holders and those who care to purchase admission to this fuller service section of the park’s food service operation and none of that is my everyday ballpark style. Had I not been there with a friend who partakes of these pleasures, a hot dog in the stands would’ve done me fine. What I got out of this trip was the discovery of the Buffs photo.

Thank you, Mike Acosta! I feel certain that the club’s resident historian and expert on game-used collectibles had to be responsible for this fine example of the club acknowledging our community’s longer history with baseball prior to coming of major league baseball in 1962. Acosta is also responsible for numerous other artifact salvation’s from the team’s move downtown from the Astrodome in 2000. Now add this one to his public acknowledgement of a job well done.

For the record, even though mot of these names cannot be tagged to the players in the photo, here is the roster of all who played for the “Last of Buffhicans” as the 1961 Houston Buffs. You can take their names, if you so wish, and look up their professional records through the data banks available at Baseball Reference.Com:

The 1961 Houston Buffs

Philip Borders, Harvey Branch, Pidge Browne, Cal Browning, John Caffery, Jim Campbell, Wayne Connally, Ron Davis, Antonio Diaz, Ed Donnelly, Sammy Drake, Layton Ducote, George Freese, Dave Gerard, Dave Giusti, Bill Griffin, J.C. Hartman, Tom Hughes, Ben Johnson, Al Lary, Boyd Linker, Gordon Massa, Jim McAnany, Jim McKnight, Henry Mitchell, Wallace Mixon, Phil Mudrock, Cholly Naranjo, Lenny Neal, Gerald Nelson, Ray Noble, Aaron Pointer, Jim Proctor, Dave Roberts, Al Schroll, Barney Schultz, Mow Thacker, John (Jack) Waters, Wally Wolf, Mel Wright, and Bud Zipfel.

Among the many, here is a close up of two Buffs: 3rd Baseman George Freese and outfielder jack Waters. This photo is here because I had an e-mail from Waters’ daughter, Vicki, asking for any kind of photo from her father’s playing days here in Houston. Vicki, the following crop shot with “Buffs Brother” Freese is the best I could do.

George Freese, 3B (left) and John (Jack) Waters, OF, 1961 Houston Buffs

 George Freese hit .314 with 6 HR in his 58 games as a 3rd baseman for the Buffs in 1961. It was his only season at Houston, Over 1 17-year career (1948-1964), Freese batted .301 with 195 home runs as a minor leaguer. In three seasons as a big leaguer (1953, 1955, 1961), Freese hit .258 with 3 HR in only 60 games. George Freese, now age 84, is the brother of former big leaguer Gene Freese.

Jack Waters hit .268 with 12 HR in 147 games as an outfielder for the 1961 Buffs. It was also his only season with Houston. Waters played no major league ball, but the now 79-year old former player hit .279 with 80 HR in a 12-season minor league career that ran from 1952 to 1963.

Sometimes we pass a photo hanging on a wall and find a whole column inside of it, if we are ready to see what’s there. This one is simply the kind of experience that reenforces my long-time habit of taking my camera with me everywhere I go, even to those places I think I am most aware of to the nth degree.

You take the camera because – you never know. Isn’t that right, Joaquin Andujar?