When it gets down to the really important stuff, who could have asked for anything more? We of the Larry Dierker SABR chapter pretty much had it all our way yesterday at the May 2012 meeting: a day at the ballpark with family and friends; a meeting that placed us directly in touch with the vision of Jeff Luhnow, the new Astros General Manager; some walk-off out-of-the-park status of change comments by Astros radio broadcaster Dave Raymond; and a beautiful from-the-heart and generationally connected presentation of an incredible West End Park photo from 1921 as shown by Billy Behler of LaGrange, Texas, the great-grandson of Billy Buscha, a pitcher for the 1921 Houston Buffs; and an exciting game in which the scraping young Astros played exactly as Dave Raymond described them, coming back for an 0-4 deficit to homer they way past the big goats on the hill, the Texas angers, by a final score of 6-5.. All of that joy and the quiet satisfaction of walking outside after the game to be duly reminded by our cityscape, Thank God, that we live in Houston, not Dallas – regardless of what all those “Hamilton & Co.” blue and re jerseys we saw on the inside suggested. The double play ending of the game was worth the price of admission in self, with Astros closer Meyers running down Ranger shortstop Andrus at second to end the monkey business at Astros 6 – Rangers 5.
Someone asked yesterday for the names of notable Buffs from the 1921 team picture. – To that request, I say, please go to Baseball Reference.Com immediately and check that question, and any others like it, for yourself. The 1921 club that included Behler’s great-grandfather, pitcher Billy Buscha, also included a 21-year-old first baseman named Sunny Jim Bottomley and a 24-year-old outfielder named Ray Blades. Both men went on to outstanding careers with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Billy Buscha’s young career was pretty much over, even at the time the 1921 glorious West End Park panorama photo was taken. A short time earlier, as verified by former Buffs General Manager Fred Ankenman in a Chronicle story written years later around the time of Buscha’s death from accidental drowning, the 1921 Buffs were playing an exhibition spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
With Buscha pitching, Jack Fournier of the Cardinals had reached third base with one out and Johnny Levan was batting. Levan then lashed a wicked liner through the box that bounced off Buscha’s head, directly back to the catcher for an out. The Buffs catcher then threw the ball quickly to third, doubling off Fournier before he could return to the bag after the catch,
Papers at the time kidded that it should really have been recorded as a triple play since pitcher Buscha was also rendered “out” on the play, but the long-term results were not really funny. Buscha suffered visual, balance, and performance problems after the injury and was soon out of baseball.
No matter what. Billy Buscha was still there in baseball long enough to make a great-grandson proud of him nearly a century later, proving once again, that the wake of baseball rumbles forever down the ages. And yesterday, we were all a part of this particular shake. Who among those at West End that day in 1921 could have known that the day would be seen and celebrated again – just a few downtown blocks away – on May 19, 2012?
Thank you, Billy Behler, for bringing Billy Buscha of the Buffs back into the light of day!
Jeff Luhnow was our principal speaker and – what an infectiously focused man he turns out to be. Bright and intellectually ranging, but down to earth, connected, and pragmatic, the man has travelled through several careers before he found himself in baseball, and he has drawn upon each experience to help him improve at what seems to be his overriding ambition: to get the best results possible from the best decisions available to the organization. Luhnow is not the “Money-ball” stats-only guy that some have unjustly labeled him. He’s more of an “everything can teach us something” fellow, even if we do prioritize the importance of certain information sources over others. We learn from our successes and we learn from our failures. The trick is to grow from these in ways that force us to learn and take responsibility for the lessons of each policy, plan, contract, hire, or goal we put in motion.
I don’t know if the man plays chess, but, if he does, he’s got to be a force. It’s going to be as much fun to watch how the club makes decisions now as it will be to see the results on the field. All I can say for certain after Saturday is – it’s not going to be dull.
Like it or not, you could already see from the first two games this weekend that the Astros-Rangers rivalry is going to heat up after this season. Playing against each other for best upside position in the same division is going to mean a lot more to fans than a dad gum meaningless silver boot prize ever could or will. That’s my take, at any rate.
At the end of the day, still pumped by the spirited way in which the Astros came fighting back to take a 6-5 victory in Game Two of the Rangers Series, it was just nice to hit the streets outside and see that beautiful home-is-here face of the old Gulf Building staring back at me from the base of all his now much taller modern brothers. That’s the same way he looked after Buff games sixty years or so ago. The Gulf just didn’t have quite so much company in his area back then.Nevertheless, the Gulf and Esperson buildings will always be the heart of this city for some of us.
Thanks, Houston, for a beautiful baseball day and night. As always, we press forward with the dream: Our big day will come. We simply must remain steadfast and patient as always.