Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Baseball’

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.