Kiss of the Cardinals: The 1928 Houston Buffs

1928 was a big year in the baseball history of the Houston Buffs. The St. Louis Cardinals were now the open owners of the local club after several years of controlling the franchise through a straw man ownership situation that wasn't offensive to Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

From early on, Landis opposed the right of major league clubs to own minor league teams - and he was well aware that a cigar-smoking Christian gentleman in St. Louis by the name of Branch Rickey was the originating fountainhead of the whole movement. Rickey, the Cardinals General Manager during the 1920s and 30s was equiivalently in touch with the opposition he faced in Landis and, as history has shown, he was even more determined to make the farm system under the reserve clause the way of the future for baseball, with the St. Louis Cardinals blazing the trail for it's development.

Something happened to soften the opposition of Landis after the Cardinals won their first World Series title in 1926 and then failed to return to the Show in 1927. Perhaps. it was mainly that fact alone. Landis had a chance to see that the Cardinals' 1926 WS win was no guarantee of an unstoppable dynasty. If Landis cared to concern himself at all with the development of "unstoppable dynasties," maybe he should've been looking more closely at the club that did play in both the 1926 and 1927 World Series matches, the "Murderers' Row" that was Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees.

At any rate, Rickey and the Cardinals were busy using this same period of time shoring up the infrastructure of parks in their first top minor league cities. In Houston, that achievement was the new $400,000, 11,000 seat capacity Buffalo Stadium that Rickey and his Houston people built, some four miles east of downtown, but conveniently located on the street car and Interurban rail lines.

Rickey didn't miss a bet when it came to using powefrul moments to support his longer range objectives. When Buff Stadium was set to open with an Opening Day game between the Buffs and the visiting Waco Cubs on April 11, 1928, Rickey invited Commissioner Landis to accompany him on the long train ride from St. Louis to Houston to attend the new stadium's Christening Day. That gave Rickey a lot of time to sideways soften any lingering feelings of opposition to farm clubs in the Commissioner's heart. History would reveal over time that this sacred mission was not completely accomplished - as measured by Landis's years-later release of some top line players, including Pete Reiser, from contractual control by the Cardinals, but it did soften the old boy considerably.

In Houston, Commissioner Landis was treated by Cardinals, Buffs, and locally elected officials as visiting royalty. Everything in the world was done to make Landis feel VIP comfortable during his visit to the Bayou City. Landis left town describing Buff Stadium as the most beautiful new minor league ballpark in America - or words to that effect.

Rickey didn't stop there. He pumped most of the best talent in the Cardinals' new farm system into Houston to put an exclamation point on the season. He got the results he wanted.

The 1928 Buffs finished in first place with a record of 104 wins and 54 losses - and an outstanding home attendance record (for the time) of 186,469 for their first season in the new park.

The Buffs then defeated the second place Wichita Falls Spudders (104-56), three games to one, for the 1928 Texas League flag. In a baseball nansecond, they went on from there to their first post-season appearance series, winning the 9th Annual Dixie Series in six games from the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association.

Who could have asked for anything more? Branch Rickey. That's who.

The 1928 Buffs produced four 20-game winners on their way to happy destiny, and two of their pitchers, along with the 1931 Buffs star Dizzy Dean, would go on to become stalwart hurlers for the St. Louis Cardinals Gashouse Gang clubs of the 1930s.

The names and numbers of all the budding Buffs who who would later make it big in St. Louis are the very proof of everything that Branch Rickey hoped to accomplish through the farm system: build championship clubs with talent you are able to control through their developmental phases.

The two future Cardinal pitching greats included only one of the 1928 20-game winners: Lefty Wild Bill Hallahan (23-12, 2.25) would go on to a major league record of 102-94 in nine big league years. Tex Carleton (10-9, 3.40) would later post a a big league record of 100-76 in eight seasons. The other three Buffs 20-game winners in 1928 were Jim K. Lindsey (25-10, 3.49), Ken Penner (20-8, 3.47), and Frank S. Barnes (20-9, 2.95) All of these men would also see major league service too, though none as successfully as Carleton and Hallahan.

Catcher Frank "Pancho" Snyder (.329, 10 HR, 55 RBI) was both the club's manager and one of the club's leading hitters. Outfielder Red Worthington led the '28 Buffs for average (.352, 7 HR, 89 RBI). Red was second in RBI production.

Centerfielder George "Watty" Watkins (.306 BA, 14 HR, 117 RBI) led the '28 Buffs in homers and RBI. He too was a future Gas House Ganger at the pilot light level in 1928.

The '28 Buffs also benefitted from the good hit/good field efforts of shortstop Henie Schuble (.286 BA, 8 HR, 72 RBI) and they also set up the cradle bed for the bright baseball futures of outfielders Ray Powell (.302, 5 HR, 40 RBI) Homer Peel (.282 BA, 4 HR, 35 RBI) and Carey Selph (.213, 6, 61).

The infield was handled well by journeymen third sacker Ed Hock (.263 BA, 2 HR, 52 RBI), second baseman Stan Baker (.285 BA, 2 HR, 19 RBI) and first baseman Joe Walker (.258 BA, 2 HR, 52 RBI).

They all rostered in as "T-E-A-M" - with Cardinal General Manager Branch Rickey and Buff President Fred Ankenman heading the list of dedicated organizational personalities. It was a force for change that even the great and blustery Judge Landis could only slow without halting.

If the Houston Astros get around to planning a retro uniform game in honor of a past great Houson Buffs club (as the Seattle Mariners are currently planning this season for the 1939 Seattle Raniers), the 1928 Houston Buffs get my vote as the club to spotlight. This club was not only a big winner in Houston baseball history, it was also a landmark team in the evolution of the farm club movement.

 

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: "This article first appeared at Chron.commons the Houston Chronicle website and is published here with permission."

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