At age nine, the 1947 Houston Buffs were my first team of hometown heroes, with second baseman Solly Hemus standing out as my first baseball hero. We used to call him by the nickname the sportswriters tagged him – “The Little Pepper Pot” fit both the man and his game. Even us brand new cutting-our-teeth on baseball fans could see it – and feel it. Hemus was the driving spirit of a club that included several fine ball players in Hal Epps, Eddie Knoblauch, Al Papai, Johnny Hernandez, and Jack Creel, just to name a few of the stars that flew across the sky of manager Johnny Keane’s universe.
The 1947 Buffs took a narrow starightway first place finish away from the Fort Worth Cats before going on to capture the Texas League Shaughnessy Playoffs and also the prized Dixie Series championship over the Mobile Bears of the Southern Association.
As old Blues yes, Frank Sinatra used to sing, “it was a very good year!” Naturally, when you start off baseball as a kid following a team that wins everything there is to win, and you are old enough to understand that is exactly just what happened, it spoils you with all those great expectations. I thought the Buffs were supposed to win it all every year. Seasons 1948 through 1950 quickly, if painfully, corrected that wrong idea as the Buffs went into the kind of struggle and fall patterns that came from the parent St. Louis Cardinals sending all their better prospects to play for their AAA clubs in Columbus, Ohio and Rochester, New York.
No doubt about it, however, at least, not in my mind, that the 1947 season also produced the finest Buffalo jersey logo in the local Texas League AA club’s history. The simple circle with the detailed buffalo silhouette inside was always both my first glimpse and forever fetish symbol of Buff celebration. In fact, I never understood why the club did not simply stick with something that worked so well over the years that followed. They also used a deep burgundy red for the color accent on caps and uniform piping and sox that season. The whole look was great, but, like many of the players from year to year, everything in minor league ball, including uniform styles and colors, has always been about constant annual mass turnover, makeover, and sometimes, a roll into a disheartening downgrade in local talent. Because the Buffs were a Cardinals farm club, the only predictable carryover feature was the ongoing presence of red as the team’s primary color and, most of the time, the Buff uniforms from 1948 through 1958, the last Cardinal season here, would look pretty much like the parent club St. Louis outfits, without the birds on the bat. (Two buffs on a bat would have bent the stick past its breaking point, I think.)
Speaking of buffaloes, we’ve always assumed that the Buffalos/Buffs nickname tag stuck in Houston because it naturally derived its identity from our our downtown Houston waterway, Buffalo Bayou. That’s probably true, although I’ve never read anything from a deceased primary source that explained it exactly in those terms, or gave anyone credit for the naming. As we get into our SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) project here this summer on the first one hundred years of Houston Baseball: 1861-1961, we will have to look into this naming question even further. We my never learn who came up with “Buffaloes,” but there’s no reason not to dig a little deeper into it anyway to see what turns up.
Wish we knew better today what has survived from these earlier times as artifacts of Houston’s sartorial minor league past. The 1947 and 1951 Buff jerseys would have a special place for display at the Houston Sports Museum at Finger Furniture on the Gulf Freeway, if they still existed and could be loaned out to this fine place in the name of public service. Both of those seasons saw the Buffs through to Texas League championships, although the ’51 Buffs lost the Dixie Series to the Birmingham Barons.
Have a great week everybody – and let’s hope we get something wet in Houston today from our 20% rain forecast possibility. The drought is having an awful impact on all living things in our area. When April already feels like a Houston August, and you have lived trough that condition already in a previous year, you have to wonder what this August is going to be like.